Spectrum Scholar Spotlight: Luisa Leija

Luisa Leija

A record fifteen iSchool master's students were named 2020-2021 Spectrum Scholars by the American Library Association (ALA) Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services. This "Spectrum Scholar Spotlight" series highlights the School's scholars. MS/LIS student Luisa Leija holds a BA in Chicana/o studies with an emphasis in Xicana art history from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MFA in writing from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco.

Why did you decide to pursue an LIS degree?

Library and information studies is a field where my experience and passions come together in a meaningful way. I have been working in youth development and outside-of-school-day programming on campus and at community centers and community-based youth organizations for over 16 years. I've worn many different hats, from teaching artist to deputy director. I have found public libraries to be a place where I can transfer my skills, education, and experience to serve as an important resource and advocate for underserved populations. It's a stressful time to be embarking on a new career path, yet I believe it is a time when profound changes can happen. I don’t have a romantic idea about the profession. Having worked at a public library for a few years, I intend to do my part in steering a more equitable, asset-based model of service.

Why did you choose the iSchool at Illinois?

Illinois is a world-class research university. It has the academic rigor, commitment to diversity, and support for graduate students I was looking for in a master's program. I want to be challenged by the best in the field. That way, I will bring the best to my work.

What particular LIS topics interest you the most?

I am interested in decolonial studies and critical race theories applied to public library spaces; youth, teen, and family services; migrant, bilingual, and bicultural services; digital librarianship; culturally relevant STEAM programming; and inclusive collection development.

What do you do outside of class?

Lately this looks different due to COVID! I enjoy yoga, making up games for my son, hiking, running, anything outdoors, Zoom hangouts with friends, late night Netflix marathons, and DIY-ing just about everything. 

What does being a Spectrum Scholar mean to you?

This opportunity is one of the biggest honors I've ever received. I had doubts about the field being "for me" due to the fact that it tends to exclude people of color. Being named a Spectrum Scholar means that everything I've been working on all these years truly has been important. Even though I know the value of this work, some have been quick to critique, dehumanize, or not want to pay for the true value that people of color bring to the table. This program means I am coming home, in a sense, to a place where incredible mentors and peers of similar intersections understand the struggle, and where we can offer something to each other that we've maybe yet to know.

What career plans or goals do you have?

I hope to become a children's librarian in the future and continue my work with youth and families, and in time, lead a department or branch. From there, I don't know yet! I want to be embedded in a community, while engaged in large-scale issues, and contribute to making libraries more equitable for the diversity of communities served in public spaces of information. Most importantly, I want to center anti-racist, decolonial, LGBTQ, and critical pedagogies into my approach to librarianship.

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