February 17, 2018

Ben Ocón | Movers & Shakers 2002

“Leer es poder”

“In the political sector, information raises consciousness; in the business sector, it gives people a chance to be successful”

Reading is power. That’s not just a belief for Ben Ocón but the story of his life. Ocón was only six when his family moved to East Los Angeles, where he became an eager user of the bookmobile and other libraries. Since then, libraries and activism have been equally important parts of his life.

As an undergraduate, he devoted time both to his student job at Stanford’s old Main Library and to walking picket lines at Safeway and teaching English as a second language (ESL) to immigrants. But until his supervisor took him and another Latino student to lunch and told them that the library profession needed people like them, it hadn’t occurred to him that as a librarian he could do for other minorities what libraries had done for his family, and for many other immigrants, over the past 100 years: give them the tools to change their lives.

In his earliest jobs in Los Angeles, he reached out to the Latino community, conducting bilingual story hours for children and introducing the Dia de los Ninõs/Dia de los Libros celebration–activities aimed, he says, at showing children “the wonder of reading.” While steadily building the library’scollection of Latino heritage and ESL materials for his library, he also began presenting training workshops for other librarians on providing service to Latinos.

When he took a job at the Salt Lake City Public Library, where there was a burgeoning Latino population, Ocón built up its collection of ESL resources at the same time he developed a Spanish-language catalog for the library, Spanish-language tutorials for staff members, and Spanish-language versions of library forms.

He began promoting library services in Spanish-language newspapers, Latino businesses, church bulletin boards, and street fairs and working with community groups on a variety of literacy initiatives. He explained that libraries empower people, that “information is a commodity that allows people to act: in the political sector it raises consciousness, in the business sector it gives people a chance to be successful.”

As computers and the Internet have become ever more powerful learning tools, he is very concerned that the Digital Divide could present new barriers to minorities and is determined that libraries will be an important part of the solution by providing equal access to technologies.


Current position: Manager, Day-Riverside Branch, Salt Lake City Public Library

Degree: MLS, University of California at Berkeley, 1979

Active in: REFORMA (he is currently president), ALA’s Office of Literacy and Outreach Services Committee

That’s why he doesn’t limit his work to his own library. Ocón uses the bully pulpit, speaking frequently at library conferences, to spread the word. He has been helping Utah libraries develop Latino collections and outreach programs. An outline of his strategies for “Effective Outreach to the Latino Community” is available at the Utah State Library site, www.state.lib.ut.us/latino.html.

Ocón has been active in REFORMA since the late 1970s, as well as a founding member and president of the Utah chapter. In 1999, in recognition of his work in the organization, he was chosen REFORMA Librarian of the Year. This year he was elected president of REFORMA, running on a platform of “Renewing Our Spirit of Activism”; the challenges he has pledged to focus on include scholarship aid to bring more minorities into the profession and meeting the specific consumer health information needs of minorities.

Ocón is a man of enormous dignity and sense of mission. Indeed, his friend and REFORMA colleague Ronni McDonough often tells him to lighten up a little. Well, maybe after he retires. Meanwhile, Ocón has a job to do. Making the world a better place is serious work.