February 17, 2018

Cecilia Tovar | Movers & Shakers 2015 — Community Builders

Cecilia Tovar


Principal Librarian, Public & Branch Services, Santa Monica Public Library, CA

MLS, University of Arizona, Tucson, 2007

“Pico Branch Library Buzz,” Santa Monica Daily Press

Photo by Bob Stefko

Bilingual Bridge Builder

A Mexican immigrant who grew up in an Arizona border town, Cecilia Tovar entered college thinking she’d help people by becoming a court interpreter for Spanish speakers. Instead she found her bilingual niche at the University of Arizona’s School of Information Resources and Library Science in the Knowledge River Program, which trains librarians in culturally sensitive information services for Latinos and Native Americans.

Those are the kinds of services Tovar has created since graduating in 2007. First, she established Spanish-language and bilingual programs at a new branch of the Yuma County District Library, Pima, AZ. Then in 2013 the Santa Monica Public Library (SMPL) brought her on to design, launch, and staff a new branch planned for Pico, the city’s most culturally diverse and economically disadvantaged neighborhood. Tovar’s task: create a range of bilingual and Spanish-language services and programs for the neighborhood’s 95,000 residents.

As branch manager of a yet-to-be-opened Pico library, Tovar recruited, trained, and led a bilingual staff. She pored over four years of documents on community needs, then reached out to community leaders for more input—and to spread the word about the bilingual and Spanish programming on the way.

When the library held a soft opening on April 28, 2014, more than 700 visitors streamed in. Since then, the library has circulated more than 100,000 items, held over 80 programs, and signed up 1,000 new library users—“a significant number given that the Fairview Branch is only a mile away,” Tovar points out.

Among the Spanish and bilingual programs Tovar developed are Cuentos para Pequeños (Story Time for Preschoolers); Lectura Buena (Good Reading), a book club for adults; and health workshops for everyone. Because the library is located within Virginia Avenue Park, which offers a range of community programming for low-income residents from age pre-K through adult, she collaborates with park staff to meld library and park services. For example, she scheduled preschool story time to follow parenting workshops held in the park’s community center.

In January, Tovar became the principal librarian of public and branch services for SMPL. “Cecilia is a vibrant, positive leader who shares a passion for youth and adult literacy,” says Rod Gould, former Santa Monica city manager. “With her deep understanding of bilingual and bicultural issues and exceptional interpersonal qualities, Cecilia is forming positive bridges across the city.”

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. Teresita Gallardo says:

    I am very proud of you Cecilia we need more people like you in our community keep up the great work.

  2. Susan Annett says:

    Cecilia is one of those individuals who walks well among many cultures. She is an asset to her community and to the profession. This recognition is well deserved.