February 17, 2018

Dalena Hunter

Since July 2007, Dalena E. Hunter has been librarian at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She was promoted to that position just a month after she received her Master of Library and Information Studies with Distinction degree from the program at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Hunter’s studies were partially financed by the Louise Moses-Davis Memorial Scholarship from the California Librarian’s Black Caucus.

Hunter began working as a library assistant at the Bunche Center while she was a graduate student. Prior to that she had been a reference desk assistant at UCLA’s Young Research Library and a graduate student researcher at the school. Here, she represents the Class of 2007 from American Library Association (ALA)–accredited MLIS programs.

Beginning library work

Hunter got her first library job as messenger clerk in the Porter Ranch Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). “That job is one reason I decided to become a librarian,” she says. Her basic duties were opening and closing the branch and shelving books. Inevitably, people would ask her questions.

“I was often asked to recommend books for children, and since I was a voracious reader as a child, I was able to do it. I helped kids with their research, and I really loved helping them become comfortable using the resources of that library. I enjoyed that part of the job and talking with all the volunteers who worked there, many of whom were teens.”

Hunter also liked what the library did for people and was happy to be paid “to do something as enjoyable as working with those children and their parents.” It was then she decided that a career made up of that kind of work would be gratifying.

“I didn’t think of librarianship before that job. I was always at the library reading as a child, and the library was always a comfortable place for me, free and open. When I got to work there and met people from the community, I loved it,” she says.

The Moses-Davis scholarship she won is given to a student interested in public libraries. Coming from a predominantly African American neighborhood, however, and seeing how public resources are allocated to neighborhoods in a city, prompted Hunter’s shift toward research libraries. Now, in her research, she focuses on African Americans in librarianship, critical race theory, and the education and socialization of African American children. She is interested in building up the archives and history of the Bunche Center.

Mentors and teachers

Rosalind Goddard, bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at Los Angeles City College and a former branch manager at LAPL, was and is Hunter’s mentor. A librarian for 40 years, she counseled Hunter, connected her to others in the field, and encouraged her career development.

Anne J. Gilliland, chair of the UCLA Department of Information Studies, served on Hunter’s portfolio committee. She has helped Hunter a great deal since then. “I began wanting to be a public librarian,” says Hunter, “but after I started taking courses, I developed a strong interest in archives and academic libraries. So my course work started in one place and moved to another. I organized my oral presentation to show this path and why I took it.”

Hunter singled out a class she had with the great UCLA Emeritus Professor Robert M. Hayes. “He is in his 80s, and he had more energy than everyone in the class.”

Before graduate school, a bit more than a year as a sales assistant with a television advertising broker taught Hunter how to deal with a lot of personalities and how to juggle many duties. “It definitely wasn’t fulfilling, and when I finally received a raise, I decided to leave,” she says.

Hunter now lives in the Koreatown neighborhood of L.A. She expects to stay in research libraries and work in archives and is fascinated by the role and contributions of academic institutions in the community.

Invisible racism

For now, being at the Bunche Center seems a perfect fit for someone who thinks as deeply about the subtle impacts of racism as Hunter does. “When I was younger, I noticed that a lot of African Americans visited the library. Later in college and in the profession, I noticed that there were not a lot of us. In my family and among all the people I know, many had said, ‘I have never met a black librarian.’ People are sometimes uncomfortable approaching librarians if they don’t look like them,” Hunter says.

These considerations influence her work in archives as well. “A lot of African American history is lost. We lose our primary resources. This is because so much of our culture is oral. Our ways of determining provenance are sometimes different,” Hunter asserts.

“We have to learn that racism doesn’t only exist in people’s minds. It exists in institutions that we have created. It means that it is not enough to simply outlaw an action, we need to look carefully at the institutions that were formed. A lot of racism becomes invisible to us.”

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.