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Cindy Mediavilla Selected to the California Library Hall of Fame

Cindy Mediavilla (’77, MLIS; ’00, Ph.D.) was inducted into the California Library Association's Hall of Fame earlier this year. An author of numerous books for the American Library Association and an historian of California library history, she is pictured here at the 2019 D23 Expo, a Disney fan club event. Photo by Tim Ahern.

UCLA IS alumna’s work shines a light on the history of public libraries in the Golden State.

Throughout her career, Cindy Mediavilla (’77, MLIS; ’00, Ph.D.) has carried on the longstanding tradition of librarianship as a public service. The 2022 inductee into the California Library Hall of Fame was honored earlier this year not only for her career as a librarian and library administrator, but for her contributions to chronicling the state's library history. In addition, Mediavilla’s extensive expertise and research on library homework programs across the nation has established her as a leading expert on this important service to communities. 

For nearly 45 years, Mediavilla has worked for public libraries throughout Southern California and for the California State Library, where for ten years, she managed several statewide grant programs. After overseeing an after-school homework center for the Orange Public Library (1992-94), she was awarded an American Library Association (ALA) research grant to study homework programs across the country. Mediavilla’s research resulted in her first book for ALA, “Creating the Full-Service Homework Center in Your Library,” published in 2001. She has since written and co-authored several books for ALA on outcome-based planning and evaluation, library gardens, and updated homework centers.

Mediavilla has served the California Library Association (CLA) in many roles, including assembly member-at-large, newsletter editor, conference planning chair, and CLA president. She is a founding member of the CLA Library History Round Table (now Interest Group) and led the campaign to create a California Library Hall of Fame, for which she chaired the selection committee for ten years. 

Mediavilla’s proudest achievement is her 26-year career as a librarian educator at UCLA and San Jose State University. In 2005, she was honored with the UCLA Library and Information Studies Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Award and in 2016, she was recognized as  CLA’s Member of the Year. 

Mediavilla shared her experiences with The Latest, including her journey from public librarian to librarian educator, digging into the history of California’s libraries, and how libraries serve their communities with a variety of services beyond the bookshelves. 

What drew you to a career in libraries?

Way back in the early 1970s, when I was attending LA Valley College, a counselor would meet with students who planned to go on to a university after receiving their AA degree. I was an English major, so she suggested three possible career paths: teach, become a lawyer, or become a librarian. The third option struck a chord, so after getting my BA degree at UC Santa Barbara in 1975, I went directly into UCLA’s library school. 

Right out of library school I became a librarian at the Glendale Public Library. Professor Andy Horn, who lived in Glendale at the time, coordinated the internship program at UCLA. He was very hands-on with placing students into internships he thought would benefit both the student and the library. I started as an intern at Glendale and then became a full-time librarian after graduating with my MLS degree in 1977. 

My first professional job was as a “services to shut-ins” librarian. I took materials out to people who could not leave their home, for whatever reason. But in 1978, Proposition 13, the property tax initiative, was passed, severely limiting the amount of property taxes California could collect. The measure was devastating to all publicly-funded agencies, but especially to California’s library profession. I was laid-off, like many other library workers statewide. I ended up working in a corporate library, part-time for six months, before joining the Alhambra Public Library in 1979. 

I worked in Alhambra for three years as a reference librarian. By 1982 I had been in the profession for five years and thought that if I was going to go anywhere in my career, I needed to join a larger organization. So, I went to work for the San Diego County Library, where I worked for ten years and moved quickly up the career ladder. Working for San Diego County was my most seminal professional experience.

What led you to teaching?

Toward the end of my time in San Diego County, an opportunity came along to lead workshops for the state library. The county library got a lot of grants from the state library, and our director, Catherine Lucas, liked when her staff worked on state library projects. 

One such grant project trained paraprofessionals – that is, library workers who don’t have a master’s degree – how to provide effective reference services. Catherine encouraged me to become one of the workshop trainers and I absolutely loved it.  

Meanwhile, the library school at San Jose State had begun offering distance education classes to master’s students around the state. This was back in the early 1990s, when SJSU was a true pioneer in something that's sort of normal now. Back then, there were no online classes and most people didn’t even know what the internet was. SJSU started a satellite program in San Diego, so, in 1990, I started teaching part-time there as an adjunct faculty member while I was still working for the San Diego County Library full-time. Once I got my doctorate from UCLA in 2000, I stopped teaching for SJSU and taught exclusively for UCLA. 

How did you choose UCLA for your MLS and your PhD?

In those days, people didn't take a year off - you graduated with your BA and if you wanted a master’s degree, you applied and continued your education. I was a very young and naive 22-year-old in 1975. I had gone to school straight from kindergarten all the way through 12th grade and then into college with no breaks at all! I applied at UCLA because I lived in Los Angeles. Luckily, I was accepted because I knew nothing about other library schools. At that point, the school was located inside Powell Library, down in the basement. 

Though I knew I wanted to be a librarian, my enthusiasm for the profession didn't actually begin until after I graduated and started practicing. Robert Vosper  was my advisor and  Robert Hayes was the dean. I had no idea that I was attending classes during what would later be considered the school’s “golden age.” 

After receiving my MLS, I worked for almost 20 years as a public librarian, but started feeling like I needed to spread my wings a bit. In 1992, I left the San Diego County Library, where I had worked for ten years, and went to work for the public library in the city of Orange. 

I was in charge of the central library and an after-school homework program in the middle of the Latino barrio in Orange. The homework program was held in a small library branch that was open only after school. It was here that I became absolutely infatuated with the idea of helping kids with homework in the library and started to think about getting a doctorate. 

UCLA was the nearest doctoral program in library science, so I met with Professor Virginia (Ginny) Walter, who at that point was in charge of the program. She was very encouraging and liked the idea of having me study after-school homework programs for my dissertation. 

In 1993, I was laid-off (again!) due to the recession of the early 1990s. I was 40 years old and needed to seriously consider what to do next in my career. I got a full-time job with the Downey City Library, but knew what I really wanted to do. I applied for the doctoral program at UCLA and was accepted. I went back to school in fall 1995, exactly 20 years after starting the MLS program at UCLA in 1975.

I took my very first doctoral seminar with (UCLA Professor Emerita) Mary Niles Maack. I was determined to do my dissertation on after-school homework programs; but then Mary called me into her office and asked me to research a woman named Carma Leigh, who was California state librarian from 1952 until 1971.

Coincidentally, I had known Carma when I lived in San Diego, occasionally meeting her at library functions. So, I ended up writing a biography of her for my dissertation, using a leadership framework that Carol Leland and Lena Astin had developed. 

I graduated in 2000 with my doctorate and was hired by department chair Michelle Cloonan as assistant director of special projects for the IS program. I also started teaching at UCLA.

What have been the highlights of your involvement with the California Library Association and the American Library Association?

In 1990, I was still working for the San Diego County Library, when Catherine Lucas, who looms very large as one of my professional role models, was voted president of CLA. As president, she asked staff if they were interested in helping with her presidency. Again, this was a time in my career when I was thinking I needed to be doing more. And so I started becoming very active in CLA. 

In doing my dissertation on Carma Leigh, whose career in California spanned from the 1930s to the 1970s, I developed a deep institutional knowledge of CLA. Indeed, most of my dissertation research involved the history of California public libraries across the 20th century. To this day, whenever CLA members or others have questions about California library history, they still come to me even though I’m now retired and only moderately involved in CLA. 

Since retiring in 2016, I’ve written four books, all on library topics. I even renewed my interest in after-school homework programs and wrote an updated version of my first book for ALA. The revised edition is called “Creating and Managing the Full-Service Homework Center” and includes information on online homework help and other homework help innovations not available when I wrote the first book.  As the one person who has written most extensively on this topic, many people still consider me the leading expert on homework help programs in the US.

In recent years, I’ve also embraced the concept of outcome-based services and so, with Virginia Walter and Melissa Gross (also a UCLA doctoral graduate), have co-authored the book “Five Steps of Outcome-Based Planning and Evaluation for Public Libraries,” for ALA in 2016, and most recently “Five Steps of Outcome-Based Planning and Evaluation for Youth Services,” which ALA just released this month.

And the book on libraries and gardens? That sounds very intriguing.

About 15 years ago, my husband and I hired a landscape architect to design a plan to replace our grass lawns with drought- tolerant and native California plants. Since then, our gardens have been featured several times as part of the Theodore Payne Foundation’s well-known annual native plant tour. Well, as I was looking for another topic to write about during retirement, I started noticing articles about libraries creating outdoor programs focused on effective landscaping. 

No one had ever written a book on library gardens, so I approached ALA. The editor who had overseen my other books, loved the idea and, in fact, knew of another librarian who was interested in writing on the same topic!  So, she paired me up with Carrie Banks, who works for the Brooklyn Public Library. 

Our philosophy was that even if community members aren’t familiar with their local library, they certainly know gardens. Therefore, libraries should use their gardens to attract more users. Gardens can be used to teach kids about STEM and healthy eating, plus teach adults how to grow their own drought-tolerant native plants. As we saw, outdoor programming became especially important during the pandemic. 

Your interest beyond libraries extends to another great California institution, Disneyland.

I was one-and-a-half years old when Disneyland opened in 1955. My family didn't have money for vacations when I was young, but we usually went to Disneyland at least once a year because, back then, it was affordable. 

As I've gotten older, I've become more and more nostalgic about the park and spent much of the pandemic reading about its history. What was immediately apparent about Disneyland's history was that it's been mostly written by men and probably not coincidentally, not much has been written about the women who contributed to its early success. Therefore, one of my former students, Kelsey Knox, and I are writing a book, “Early Women of Disneyland: Artists, Entertainers, and Guest Relations,” which is due to our publisher, Lexington Books, in December. It's been a fun and enlightening project!

Who have been the biggest influences on you and your work? 

Ginny Walter and Mary Niles Maack are very important to me. I had lunch with them recently and I see Ginny all the time. Mary inspired me to become a library historian, for which I am forever grateful, because I do love doing historical research. 

Carma Leigh also remains a dear influence, even though she died several years ago. I asked her once what it was like being one of the few women in state government in the 1950s. “There were other women,” she said, “but they were secretaries.” Amazingly, she didn’t see herself as a groundbreaking role model, even though few women held positions of power in state government during the 1950s and ‘60s. The positive impact of her influence on California library service is still being felt today.

What would you like to say to recent graduates who are about to embark on career in libraries?

Libraries of all types are facing grave challenges right now. Not only were their doors closed for almost two years during the pandemic, but now conservative political factions are actively campaigning to remove all materials related to sexuality, LGBTQ, and what they consider “critical race theory” from library shelves.

Today’s IS students are imbued with a strong sense of social justice, which I’m hoping will help them stand strong against these threats to intellectual freedom. Of all the things I've accomplished in my career, UCLA students continue to give me the most hope for the future and are definitely what I’m most proud of. 

Before I retired, I used to sit on a lot of the portfolio panels. It’s been six years, but this year I thought, well, let me see what's going on, so I volunteered to be on a panel. I was so blown away by the students--they were all so stellar and I'm just so proud of them. I wish them great success. I know they’ll be wonderful.