Reaching out beyond the library

Many children do not have everything they need to succeed.

One person is helping as many students as she can. 

During her off hours, Outreach Librarian Lisa Valdez donates her time to Bright Star, a nonprofit program that provides resources to children who do not have easy access to them. 

Valdez said that seeing these children become prepared for life is what she loves most about helping out with this program.

“The whole point is that they don’t know what they don’t know until they’re introduced to it,” Valdez said. “They don’t. And when they start to realize that this is something I deserve or this is something that’s okay for me to do, you see their willingness to learn, and you see how their lives are being shaped and changed. That makes it worth it.”

Valdez helps these young students with writing resumes, doing interviews, finding careers that interest them, applying to college and budgeting money. She said she wants to make sure she is helping people even if she knows she can’t help everyone.

“Like they say, pay it forward, if you just did that for one person,” Valdez said. “Oh my god, if you just got off yourself, and just did that for one person it makes all the difference.”

Valdez did not take a conventional path to becoming the outreach librarian. Early in her career, she wanted to be either a social worker or probation officer. 

After realizing that those professions were not where her heart was, she decided to work for the city at the Department of Transportation at age 19. Out of 200 employees, she was the only woman and she did her job full-time while still going to college part-time. 

While working for The Department of Transportation and helping people from many different cultures, she realized that she wanted to study cultural anthropology. 

She then ended up doing her service learning for school in Cambodia where she taught at a Cambodian dance academy. Toward the end of her program, she ended up having to make a major career decision. She had to choose between working at libraries or working at museums.

“So the best directions for me to go was either libraries or museums,” Valdez said. “And I was like, ‘I’m not about to work in museums.’ So I chose library.”

Valdez chose libraries because she believed they highlighted all of the aspects that she loved about anthropology.

“It was the closest thing to where I could feel I was doing research,” Valdez said. “The research that I was doing as an anthropologist was still very interesting and it was still very community oriented, which to me, libraries are still very community oriented. 100%, they still get to deal with people and you still get to change lives.”

She then got a full scholarship to the University of California, Los Angeles to pursue her master’s degree and worked in the Santa Monica Police Department at the same time. She had to share a job with a coworker and work multiple 10 hour shifts, but she received her master’s degree in the end. 

Valdez was now able to work as a librarian, but she felt that she was not working to her full potential at public libraries. 

“I felt like I was kind of limited in what I was able to do,” Valdez said. “In the public libraries, I still wanted to do outreach. I still want to work with the community but the libraries in which I was working, I spent more time just regulating folks.”

Valdez then realized she wanted to work in colleges because that is where she believed she could be most successful at what she wanted to do. She found her forever job in 2014 with the help of Project MATCH and she’s been at Pierce ever since.

“I’m not looking for anything else,” Valdez said. “I’m not. I feel like I feel like I’m home.”

D’arcy Corwin, lead of the Brahma Pantry, said Valdez is consistently reliable.

“Lisa’s amazing,” Corwin said. “She is definitely somebody that I always go to. She’s definitely first on my list because she is so student centric and student focused.”

Valdez also incorporates her personal interests to her work. She likes graphic novels and runs a program through the library for them. She highlights a certain book or collection of books for students to read. She also hosts panels at Comic Con and Long Beach Expo. She sometimes invites professionals she meets at the events to speak with students. 

Clay Gediman, Pierce’s library technician, said Valdez’s deep love for comics has gotten her connections in the industry. 

“She’s pretty out there with everything,” Gediman said. “I mean, she’s really geeky and it’s funny, because I am, too. She’s one of the few people I can have these conversations with on campus. The comic book stuff she’s involved with, she knows the writers, the illustrators. She knows a lot of people in it.”

Valdez recalled a time she went out of her way to help a student. She helped a student with taking notes and once they were finished, she noticed him fold up his paper and slip it into his pocket. 

A few days later, he called the library desperately asking for her. Once he reached her, he asked if she remembered what he wrote for his notes because he could not find them. 

Despite seeing many students that day, Valdez still remembered him folding up his piece of paper. She told him to check the pocket of the jeans he was wearing that day for the notes. They were still there. 

Valdez remembers little details and uses her life experiences to help students.

“I’ve got a young son at home too,” Valdez said. “Everything is in his pocket. I do love the experiences that I have with the students like that. And then it’s so funny when they say, ‘You know what?’”

Valdez also teaches classes, which include Library Science 102, Counseling 40 and Counseling 20. In these classes, librarians such as Valdez help with research skills, reading, comprehension and writing at a college level. These classes are CSU and UC transferable and are a part of the IGETC. Valdez recommends them because she believes they will prepare students for their college careers and give them the tools needed to succeed. 

“You need to be taking that class to make absolutely sure that you have chosen the right career for yourself,” Valdez said. “Find out everything you can about that career—the good, the bad, the ugly. When we’re talking about college research, this is the class you should be taking before you start writing anything.”