Library Advocacy Skills for Health Justice in Puerto Rico

By Juan Carlos Vega, MLS, Activist Librarian & Information Consultant.  Article first published in SALIS News Vol.31 No.3 Fall 2011 – www.salis.orgGuest blogger and Steering Committee Member for the Network for LGBT Health Equity.

Someone once told me that my self-designated title, Activist Librarian, is a redundant one. Throughout our history, librarians have advocated for many issues pertaining to education, information access, copyright issues, and others. More recently, we face issues dealing with the relevance of library spaces and print books, since the emergence of the e-book and other current technologies have taken hold. Our profession is at the forefront of many local and national advocacy and policy issues. Although there may be a level of redundancy, my title comes from the need to show the world that librarians engage in more than cataloging books and providing assistance at a reference desk. My work as an Activist Librarian vigorously engages my information skills for social and health justice causes and community advocacy in Puerto Rico and among disadvantaged groups in the U.S.A.

In October 2010, I read a blog post from the Future Librarians for Intellectual Freedom, a group of library and information studies students who are interested in promoting intellectual freedom and social responsibility in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, that stated: “Social equality issues such as access to information, documentation of society, and free distribution of knowledge are core principles of modern libraries and archives. However, these principles are often de-accentuated in the day-to-day management of libraries and archives and information professionals can find themselves detached from a social justice perspective.” This post immediately resonated with my primary goals as a librarian wanting to disseminate information for healthier communities. My purpose as an Activist Librarian was to translate into action and steps to create change, information that otherwise would get lost among the information bombardment that we encounter every day. My title continues to be a direct action as a community advocate utilizing librarian skills.

Tobacco control has provided the framework to engage in other issues like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual (LGBTT) equity, family health, obesity, and hate crimes. It was the basis from where the first LGBTT Community Health Survey of Puerto Rico: 2009-2011 was developed. We wanted to learn the smoking prevalence among this marginalized community. As of today, the survey showed a difference between the general population and the LGBTT communities in the U.S.A. in socio-demographic descriptive data, general health, tobacco use (39.7%) and some other health risk factors like alcohol consumption (64.8%). Due to this effort, the Puerto Rico Department of Health has included the LGBTT community as a population in disparity in its tobacco control strategic plans and has begun collecting gender identity and sexual orientation data in the local Quitline, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveil-lance Survey (BRFSS), and other surveys.

National and international organizations like Substance Abuse Librarians & Information Specialists (SALIS) Association, the National Latino Tobacco Control Network (NLTCN), the Network for LGBT Health Equity, the Latino Commission on AIDSThe Praxis Project, Lambda Legal, and Movement Matters have played a vital role in supporting local health initiatives and in my quest to disseminate current trends and models, publication development and promotion, conference and webinars opportunities, funding availability, and federal standards to follow. They are the portals to continue my work as a librarian in local communities while contributing to the national and local public health debate.

In March 2011, in coordination with volunteer community members, we put together the 1st LGBTT Health Summit of Puerto Rico. I managed all the required coordination using my library skills for information dissemination, publication development, use of current technologies, and integrating multicultural and multilingual perspectives. After several years of engaging in tobacco control in Puerto Rico, we were able to move to health and social justice work with over 140 participants, 36 panelists, and the support from national, local, health, and government entities that made this a historical success.

As seen in this photo, relationship building was a key element when outreaching to Latino/a communities present in the diverse crowd that participated in the 1st LGBTT Health Summit of Puerto Rico. Tobacco control groups like NLTCN, the Network for LGBT Health Equity, and Legacy Foundation were essential partners in this endeavor.

Librarians and information specialists need to prove our relevance today, evolve in our information gathering and dissemination skills, and engage interest from users. For the last four and half years I have developed relationships with researchers, community members, local coalitions, university students and professors, non-profit organizations, volunteers, and even try to show my nephews that being a librarian is a cool and wonderful profession. It has taken time to build these relationships, but my personal and professional investment has provided me with the opportunity to really understand the local perspective and what are their information needs to move towards healthier communities.

Published by Activist Librarian

Mi nombre es Juan Carlos Vega. I am constantly exploring the role that information access and libraries play in community development and engagement and in the reduction of health and social disparities. I was part of the original team digitizing cartographic materials at the Library of Congress and have managed special libraries at the National Latino Council on Alcohol & Tobacco Prevention, The Praxis Project, the Art Museum of Puerto Rico, and the Sila M. Calderón Foundation. I have lived in Michigan, Maryland, Florida, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. Visit to learn more about my work and let's engage in a conversation about how to create change!

2 thoughts on “Library Advocacy Skills for Health Justice in Puerto Rico

  1. Dear Juan Carlos, congratulations on this new article and thank you for the work you do by bringing information on LGBT issues to more people. I believe that it is actually the lack of information that causes social justice problems. When we can understand and accept other people as equal human beings there is better outcome in human relationships and people tend to be happier individuals. Your contribution as an activist and librarian makes a different in our society. Thank you. Respectfully, Hector Javier Rocafort

  2. There is no doubt that more information is crucial in order to keep public policy aligned and GLBT communities informed. So, your dual role as Activist Librarian is clearly cemented in your passion for both; as an activist for human rights (for what is equal to all) and your passion for keeping bites and pieces of information flowing. Specially in Puerto Rico where lately public policy created or rewritten by lawmakers tends to diminish the contributions of minority groups and is avidly pushed by religious groups and people with political agendas against others. In an era of rapid information exchange we need to trust people like you for the most updated information. Keep up the good work and never abdicate! Your brother, CGomez.

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