What originally brought alumna Silvia Cisneros to SJSU SLIS to earn her MLIS degree was more than a dream of improving literacy among at-risk children in the Santa Ana, California area, which is 85% Hispanic. Her passion for literacy was fueled by a dual desire to help parents. Cisneros’ hard work paid off. The literacy initiatives she developed at the Santa Ana Public Library have yielded positive results and garnered national recognition.
Her hard work was recognized earlier this year when Cisneros received the 2012 Dr. Arnulfo Trejo Librarian of the Year Award from REFORMA, the national association to promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish speaking.
“I have a big passion to help non-native U.S. patrons learn about libraries,” said Cisneros, who was born in the United States and raised in Mexico until she was 13 years old. “My focus has been to create programs that teach patrons about library services, such as having access to free materials. Many patrons didn’t have libraries in their own countries, so this is new to them.”
As the Senior Children’s Librarian at the Santa Ana Public Library, Cisneros works with the community to develop programs to serve their needs. “When I learned reading fluency was key to improving literacy rates, I initiated a reading comprehension program called Literacy on the Move, in which children receive help in reading fluency, comprehension, and listening.”
With the help of a Fellowship from the Eureka Leadership Institute, Cisneros established six sites around Santa Ana for Literacy on the Move, supporting 200 students in danger of failing because of their reading skills. The children attended a series of workshops and then were tested using state exam measurements. “The results so far have been great,” said Cisneros, who will report final statistics in October. “Every single student improved from the first exam to the second, and parents of participants have told us that teachers have noticed improvements. We now have a waitlist of 350 students who wish to participate.”
As the 2010-2012 president of the Orange County Chapter of REFORMA, Cisneros further demonstrated her leadership through an initiative called “Seed to Trees”, a program that has impacted 1,257 at-risk bilingual teens and college students from non-U.S. born families in southern California.
Serving as a mentor in the program, which is designed as Cisneros put it, “to grow our own librarians,” Cisneros hires high school and college students for different jobs in the library, takes them to national library conferences, and tours them through a variety of libraries to introduce them to a range of library jobs. “The students get jobs and exposure to what it’s like to work in a library, with the hope that they will want to pursue a career in librarianship,” Cisneros said.
As part of this program, Cisneros participated in the creation of the 21st Century Librarian Workshop, which was held in Anaheim, California in May 2012. “We invited library school students and 10 librarians from different libraries to have a poster session so students could learn about their jobs.”
Another Cisneros initiative that has gained national attention was her local promotion of Dia de los Niños/ Dia de los Libros (Children’s Day/Book Day), a longstanding Hispanic tradition to connect children and literacy. “I began celebrating Dia de los Niños in our library seven years ago,” Cisneros said. “I started getting so many people in my storytimes, I decided to ask for permission to make this a big annual event. Now, we get over 1,500 people attending what has become a daylong event with performances, music, circus acts, magic shows, dance groups, and free books for children.”
Her successes in this annual event recently earned her the title of California Dia de los Ninos/ Dia de los Libros Ambassador from the founder of Dia and literacy advocate Pat Mora. As a Dia Ambassador, Cisneros will serve to promote this event throughout California and guide librarians who have little or no resources for promoting the event.