Leyla Cabugos, an assistant librarian at the UC Davis Library, has been selected by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Diversity and Inclusion Committee as one of 18 diversity scholars for 2017-19 from around the nation.
Leyla, who is currently pursuing her master’s degree in library science at San Jose State University (UC Davis does not offer one), is also the UC Davis Library’s inaugural Diversity Fellow. The ARL and Davis programs share the goal of cultivating a more diverse workforce in research libraries.
We asked Leyla about her path from working as a plant scientist to her present role as librarian subject specialist for plant biology, plant sciences, and plant pathology, and what this national recognition means to her.
Q. You didn’t start out as a librarian. Tell us a bit about your past career as a plant scientist.
Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in botany. I was particularly interested in ethnobotany, the study of interactions between plants and human society.
When I was 4 years old, my parents took a year to volunteer on organic farms in Australia and New Zealand. One of the places we stayed was run by the Seed Savers Network in Australia, an organization that arose to facilitate the exchange of plant varieties among gardeners. They remained an important part of my life, and I did an internship with them after high school.
When I reached graduate school, I still had this interest in crop diversity. I needed to figure out a research emphasis, so I did an internship with an organization in India called the Green Foundation. I had a wonderful experience there, but the take-home message was really that the people I was working with considered a core element of their success to be the fact that they were working within their own community. That inspired me to focus on Honolulu, where my graduate program was located. To help people connect to the plant world in our own urban community, I pursued research that aimed to facilitate the development of green-roofs in the sub-tropics. I later went on to work as a researcher for a company that sought to integrate local fuel and food production, and to direct a program that supported the development of school gardens.
Q. How did you make the jump to working as a librarian?
Since finishing graduate school, my approach to my career had been to identify an effort I was inspired to contribute to, then try to find a role for a botanist within that. When it came time for a career change, I decided to focus more closely on the particular functions that have I related to best in my past work.
I knew I enjoyed organizing information and stewarding resources from my time as Seed Curator for an heirloom seed company in Northern California. Both my outreach role for the Organic Seed Alliance, in which I developed regional support systems for farmers to access tools and connect with one another, and my work facilitating the development of learning gardens at 14 schools, involved providing resources to practitioners whose work inspires me. I found this deeply rewarding. In reflecting on the people in my life who have provided services like that to me, the agriculture librarian in my graduate program came immediately to mind. I interviewed her, and a number of librarians who specialize in plant-related disciplines at other libraries, and these conversations suggested academic librarianship would be a good fit for me. One of those librarians was Axel Borg here at UC Davis, and that conversation opened the door to joining the UC Davis Library as the inaugural Library Diversity Fellow.
Q. Why is it important to cultivate diversity in the field of librarianship?
We strive to cultivate a welcoming environment for patrons. I think a big part of that is being relatable, and one way to facilitate that is to have a staff that is representative of the wider population. This offers points of connection with patrons, perhaps a common vocabulary, or even just the visual affirmation that their identity has a place in this context.
Diversity in librarianship is also important because of the breadth of needs and interests we serve with our programs and collections. I’ve had an unconventional career so far, and the diversity of my experiences has allowed me to add value to patrons’ use of the library, through consultations and outreach, even while I am learning the fundamentals of librarianship.
Q. What professional opportunities will you gain as an ARL Diversity Scholar?
I’ll participate in a leadership symposium and a mentoring program, through which ARL will connect me with a professional librarian at another major research library. There is also financial assistance for both tuition and professional development.
Q. What does it mean to you personally to have been selected as an ARL Diversity Scholar?
It is profoundly reassuring to know that there is a large community of past ARL diversity scholars and mentors at research libraries who have a strong interest in helping me find a place in this field.
One of the most important things I expect to get out of this program is an expanded awareness of other people’s experiences of life, particularly of libraries, and of the considerations to bear in mind in order to create a welcoming environment for people in the library.