To my fellow LIS Black, Indigenous, and People of Color [Series]: ALA Ethnic Caucuses Part 1

Before even starting library school, students can join local and national associations, such as the American Library Association, often at a student rate. Within ALA are five ethnic caucuses: the American Indian Library Association (AILA), the Asian Pacific American Library Association (APALA), the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), the Chinese American Library Association (CALA) and REFORMA—the National Association to Promote Library Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking.

These ethnic caucuses aim to improve library services for their associated communities by providing student scholarships, advising ALA on concerns related to their constituency, and providing support for the recruitment and retention of librarians and library staff of color (among many things!). The Joint Council of Librarians of Color (JCLC, Inc.), which emerged from the collaboration of these caucuses, “advocates for and addresses the common needs of the American Library Association ethnic affiliates.”

While these caucuses are open to any ALA member, remember to center the voices of those whose ethnic identity matches that of the caucus. With very low numbers of BIPOC entering library school, it’s important to connect these students with resources, support groups, and professional development opportunities – something all the ethnic caucuses do. Babak, a librarian at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, emphasized the strong sense of community and belonging that students feel when engaging with these ethnic caucuses. It’s important that as students of color, we can “have an ethnic identity [we] want to bring to [our] everyday life and librarianship without feeling strange about it.”

In this first part, I talked with folks involved with Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA), and REFORMA.


Some of the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association’s (APALA) goals are “to provide a forum for discussing problems of APA librarians and the exchange of ideas by APA librarians with other librarians; to support and encourage library services to APA communities; and to recruit and mentor APA librarians in the library/information science professions.”

Alvina, a MLIS student at Pratt, told me that APALA is “a community that supports me as a person on multiple levels: on an individual to individual basis, a part of a city community, and as a network across the country.” Mentoring can foster these individual to individual relationships. From personal experience, I’ve found APALA’s mentoring program to be exceptional. I’ve joined other mentoring programs through other associations but APALA’s is consistently well-structured and active. While I’m interested in archives, my mentor last year, who was an academic librarian, helped me immensely when it came to applying for internships and scholarships as well as navigating workplace and classroom microaggressions and bias. I felt I could talk openly about my toxic experiences to someone who knew what it’s like. I’ve had other mentors before who were white and, while I’ve benefited from their guidance and support, having a mentor who is also Asian American has been incredibly helpful when it comes to understanding and processing the unique experiences and challenges we face. I’ve even met my mentor at ALA conferences – it was nice to have a buddy at some sessions!

APALA socials – both local meet-ups and during conferences – and the Literature Award Ceremony at ALA Annual are other ways to create and strengthen these connections. Elisa, a former MLIS student from the University of Washington (UW), and I both attended the APALA social at ALA Midwinter last year in Seattle. We recently were reminiscing about all the people we met – including people who we would go on to work with, collaborate with, and support at conferences. Elisa describes the community “like having a bunch of aunties, uncles, and older cousins making sure I got fed, nurtured, and protected within the field.” Alvina also sums APALA up nicely: “Students can find emotional, academic, and career security through mentorship and community created by a family like APALA.”


The Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA)’s main purposes are to “promote better communication among Chinese American librarians; to serve as a form for the discussion of mutual interests and professional concerns among Chinese American librarians; and to promote the development of Chinese and American librarianship.

Amanda, a former UW MLIS student, received a scholarship from CALA. Along with financial assistance, she also had the opportunity to develop a project from a connection she made through CALA. The US China Railroad Friendship Association sent out an open invitation via the CALA listserv to collaborate directly with the UCFRA on hosting a book display or other event. Amanda developed a book display at the undergraduate library at UW with collaboration from the East Asian Librarians and coordinated an exhibition of an art professor’s work that “revolves around bringing to light the plight of Chinese railroad workers and miners in the PNW [Pacific Northwest].” You can find promotional materials for the event here. Even if you’re not sure how much of a commitment you can make to an ethnic caucus, joining as a student and being on their listserv can help you make amazing connections!


REFORMA’s goals include the “development of Spanish-language and Latino-oriented library collections; recruitment of bilingual, multicultural library personnel; promotion of public awareness of libraries and librarianship among Latinos; and advocacy on behalf of the information needs of the Latino community Liaison to other professional organizations.”

Fellow HLS writer Conrrado wrote a great post on REFORMA’s recent conference back in May – make sure to check it out to hear about sessions he attended.

Mayra, a MLIS student at SJSU, recounted how overwhelmed she felt when she started her master’s program at San Jose State University. She attended a Southern California REFORMA meeting and connected with a recent SJSU graduate. This graduate gave her “helpful tips and advice regarding courses, professors, and additional scholarships I should apply for.” Ethnic caucuses can be great places to connect with former students from your program who can provide mentorship (informal or formal) and support for navigating the program, particularly as a student of color.

Furthermore, Mayra felt more accepted and understood after joining REFORMA and connecting with other first-generation graduates. Sharing stories of similar challenges in reaching higher education and how they overcame some of those challenges helped Mayra as she navigated graduate school. These experiences helped her “become a more confident student who can now also help other students facing similar challenges.” She also hopes to “continue empowering others and helping them feel included in the LIS profession.” Not only can students receive support from these ethnic caucuses, but they can learn how to become leaders, supporters, and allies themselves.

Denisse, a librarian at the University of Denver, suggests looking to see if there is a local chapter to volunteer with – this is also a great way to meet other local REFORMA members. She also recommends joining committees as “it’s not like ALA where you have to be an intern or apply [but] it’s more informal and personal. As long as you express interest and commitment, you can join a committee.” This is a great opportunity for students looking for professional development work but not sure where to start.

Next month’s post will feature AILA, BCALA, and other non-ALA ethnic caucuses and groups.

Cover photo from Pixabay.

Kelli Yakabu is a MLIS student at the University of Washington focusing on archives and digital collections. You can follow her on Twitter @kelliyakabu.

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