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Between the Lines: April Member Spotlight

Between the Lines: Member Spotlight, TLA Membership, TLA News

Joel Bangilan

Librarian, Boniuk Library at Holocaust Museum Houston


What inspired you to become a librarian?
I graduated from the University of Houston with a B.A. in English Linguistics and a B.A. in Spanish. My first job out of college was as a library paraprofessional with Houston Public Library; I worked as a specialist in the children’s library at the Tuttle Branch in Denver Harbor. That part of town had Mexican and Mexican American residents. There were days where we could go all day speaking just Spanish. Working in that community gave me opportunities to see language operating in many different levels and let me use my Spanish language degree right away. Storytelling and children’s reference got me hooked on the profession. It was professionally satisfying seeing minds ignited when the person found what they were looking for, discovered something new, or made a connection between ideas and thoughts.  The rewards of seeing children and adults enjoy the power of storytelling still drives me today. I remember my first day at work and my new supervisor asked what I thought of the job. I admitted that I could do this work for the rest of my life. The truth is I have seen some of those kids grow up to be adults who love to read, write, sing, talk, play, and learn.

What is an innovative practice at your library/organization that you’d like to share with others?
Due to my background as a public librarian, I brought to the Boniuk Library the opportunity to access more than what was locally available.  The focus of the Boniuk Library is to support the research needs of staff, members, volunteers, and docents; however, we have visitors who come in person, researchers who call, or those who write from all over the country and other parts of the globe. Despite the fact that non-members do not have borrowing privileges,  I help everyone discover what we have here on campus and help them discover what might already be available to them from their own public library or through an interlibrary loan. That seems to be an innovation here. Many researchers don’t realize that their own public library or university library has materials that they can access either online, by email, or personally borrow!  In many ways, my research library will not have to acquire access to costly databases or resources that are already accessible through public libraries. Through that practice, Holocaust researchers can discover some things that are immediately available.

Additionally, the library’s audience scope has opened to include not just teens and students, but also very young children. No one is too young to learn about sharing, community, or cooperation. I started a weekly story time and La hora de cuentos for the youngest children. We are working with the concept of making the library space welcoming and useful to parents and whole families. Through story time, parents can see reading models and discover the literature appropriate for their children that discusses values, kindness, community, morality and so much more.  We also reserve the library just for teens for Teens Takeover Tuesdays at 3 PM. The library is reserved just for teens to give them freedom to express themselves and feel accepted; freedom to read or view what they want; freedom to discuss the issues that are important; and a place and time to work together for social justice. The Boniuk Library supports a lifetime of learning and whole families learning together.

If you could have dinner with three authors (living or dead), who would they be and why?
Greg Pak, author of X-Men: Magneto Testament; Chris Claremont, author of X-Men 1975 to 1991, and Jenny Lawson, author of Furiously Happy. The comic book writers (Pak and Claremont) because they wrote the stories that are pivotal to my personal development. And Ms. Lawson because her perspectives on mental health and her work give me comfort that it is ok to be broken, healing, and improving.

What are you reading right now?
So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo

What is your most memorable Texas Library Association Experience?
In 2020, I was on the local arrangements committee. I was employed by Harris County Public Library at the time. One of my responsibilities was to line up some entertainment for the opening events. Looking at the possibilities, I saw an opportunity for inclusion and diversity. Historically, we see little connection with tribal libraries in Texas. It was important that TLA reach out to the indigenous people of Texas and offer support and attention to their needs. I went out to the Alabama Coushatta reservation near Livingston and talked to the leaders about coming down to Houston for our conference.  We made a few tentative arrangements, but then the pandemic outbreak forced us to cancel that in-person conference.  I was disappointed that we could not feature indigenous Texas cultures in our conference, but the reaching out to the leadership of the reservation seems to have started bridging that flaw in TLA. I still watch what the tribal library has to offer. Although the Boniuk Library is my primary responsibility, it would seem there are opportunities for collaboration on issues concerning human rights in the future.

Anything else you would like to share?
Visit Holocaust Museum Houston, the Boniuk Library is on the third floor.

“I am a TLA member because…”
I want to be part of the solution. I do indeed have a critical eye and see room for improvement, but I want to make a difference. That can’t be done from the sidelines or the bleachers. The whole team has to be in the game.