February 17, 2018

Lorena Mata | Movers & Shakers 2004


I Can Do That


Fresh out of library school, Lorena Mata has already made a mark on her community. At the San Jose Public Library (SJPL) she conducts public Internet classes in Spanish and English and gives quarterly English and Spanish-language presentations at neighborhood academies. She has also made herself a favorite with the business community with her presentations at San Jose’s Entrepreneur Center and the Chamber of Commerce’s annual business fair.

Her bilingual, bicultural skill makes Mata a kind of utility infielder for the library. She works with the children’s librarian on library card campaigns at schools, as well as the library’s literacy program, for which she visits English and Spanish-speaking childcare providers. She even provides live chat reference in English and Spanish for the library’s QandA Café.

Bridging cultures is nothing new for Mata. The daughter of Mexican immigrants who spoke little English, she grew up as her family’s translator. Mata became resourceful at digging up the information her family needed for day-to-day existence in a country with rules and institutions they didn’t understand. While a library page, she watched librarians help people just like her own family and thought, ‘I can do that.’

Mata spent several years as a clerk at SJPL, where her bilingual ability made her an asset in outreach. She provided Spanish-language assistance in the homework center and other services to the Spanish-speaking community. During that time, she also worked for a rehabilitation services group, translating interviews and documents for Spanish-speaking clients and counselors. That’s where she learned the difference between libraries and other social service agencies: the agencies helped people, but libraries also gave individuals the tools to help themselves.

After finishing her degree in psychology, she went on to library school, with the help of an American Library Association (ALA) Spectrum Scholarship. Now a librarian, Mata continues to delight supervisors like Joan Bowlby, ‘by saying those four words managers love to hear, ‘I can do that.”

Bowlby talks about Mata’s ‘generosity of spirit,’ a quality also demonstrated by her eagerness to participate in professional organizations. She has presented a workshop on bilingual formats for story times and storytelling and offered it at REFORMA, ALA, and California Library Association conferences.

Mata has served as president of Bibliotecas Para la Gente, the northern California chapter of REFORMA–another of her ‘I can do that’ moments. She also demonstrated that service can be great fun. At a REFORMA fundraiser during the 2001 ALA conference in San Francisco she turned one of the local libraries into a salsa hot spot, where librarians were ‘swaying across the nonfiction area and, by the end of the evening, snaking around the bookshelves in a conga line.’

That Mata accomplishes all these things is especially remarkable given that outreach is only half her job. She spends the rest of her time at the general collections reference desk. Whichever task she’s engaged in, Mata never forgets that ‘the knowledge we pass on to others is one of the most precious gifts we can give people to empower themselves.’ She wants all the people she serves to be able to say what she does: ‘I can do that.’




Current Position: Librarian II, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library, San Jose Public Library, CA
Degree: MLIS, San Jose State University, 2002
Who knew?: Met her husband, a police officer, when he was working with children at the library