Mason Librarian Reaches out to Spanish-Speaking Population

Posted: September 24, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

Mario Ascencio
Mario Ascencio
Photo courtesy of REFORMA

Mario Ascencio spent countless hours devouring books as a young boy at his local library in southeast Los Angeles. “When it was time to close the library, I would be that kid who would still be there,” he says.

Fast forward to 1990, when Ascencio was working at Maywood Cesar Chavez Library, another library near his home. A woman, speaking in Spanish, asked Ascencio if she could take out videos. Ascencio assured her she could as long as she completed a library card application.

“Soy analfabeta,” she replied, which translates to “I’m illiterate” in English.

Ascencio, the visual arts liaison librarian at University Libraries, says that moment made him realize he could make a difference as a librarian.

“For many international students, libraries in the United States are like gems,” he says. “We actually take them for granted, I think, mainly because they’re free. In some other countries, libraries are for the elite and require membership, and sometimes libraries are not geographically accessible.”

Today, Ascencio is president elect of REFORMA, a national association to promote library and information services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking population in the United States.

Started in 1971, REFORMA has actively sought to promote the development of Spanish language library collections and to promote the library profession as a viable career. REFORMA currently has 26 chapters throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, and is an affiliate of the American Library Association.

Ascencio works closely with the Office of Diversity Programs and Services (ODPS) and the Hispanic Student Association (HSA) at Mason, and served as the HSA co-faculty advisor in 2003-04. He is also on the university’s Diversity Council.

“My presidency helps to bring awareness of the library and information profession on the Mason campus,” he says. “Faculty that I work with informally hear about the various issues that libraries are facing, and Mason students can think about the library and information profession as a viable career option. It also demonstrates to the outside community that Mason is committed and supportive of professional development opportunities and getting involved.”

Ascencio also takes this message beyond the borders of the Fairfax Campus. In November, he is scheduled to make a trip to Central America, as well as Mexico, sponsored by the State Department’s U.S. Speakers Program. Addressing an audience of librarians from various academic, public and school libraries, he will talk about library leadership and the technologies used by libraries. Among them are iMasonLibraries, Mason’s own instant messaging reference service; as well as Zotero, a Firefox extension developed at Mason’s Center for History and New Media that helps researchers collect, manage and cite library and information resources. He made a similar trip to El Salvador last April.

He is also scheduled to be the keynote speaker in March 2008 at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington summit, “Challenges and Opportunities: Information Access for North Carolina’s Spanish-Speaking Population.”

Ascencio has a BA in art history from California State University, Northridge, and a minor in Italian. He attended the UCLA graduate school of education and information services and received his MLIS in 1999.

He is a member of the American Library Association (ALA); Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL); and the District of Columbia Library Association. He recently served as chair of the ALA Spectrum Scholarship Jury, member of the ALA Council Committee on Legislation and ACRL’s Government Relations Committee. He is part of the first ALA Emerging Leaders cohort.

“Mario is a very progressive librarian. He is involved in many good things regarding the academic units he works with,” says John Zenelis, university librarian and associate vice president for Information Technology. “I would characterize him as a rising star among academic librarians. Certainly his election as president of REFORMA is an indication of his ability. He is certainly an excellent librarian. He is supportive and helpful to the students as well as faculty members in the academic units he works with.”

Ascencio says outreach and instruction are ways to bring awareness and value to libraries. When Mason librarians are invited by the faculty to teach library classes, whether it be an undergraduate course or a research methodologies course, Ascencio says, “We discuss the valuable online resources that the University Libraries subscribe to and help to conduct serious research. Most of the time, students and faculty members leave a library session having learned some new tricks about doing research. But the most important thing for our students and faculty to remember is that despite all of the library’s resources and the search engines out there, librarians still remain the best and original search engine.”

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