Interview with American Library Association President Lessa Pelayo-Lozada

Lessa Pelayo-LozadaPres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion, Native Hawai­ian Lessa Kananiʻop­ua Pelayo-Loza­da is a war­rior. With politi­cized book bans on the rise, the nation’s librar­i­ans bat­tle to pro­tect intel­lec­tu­al free­dom. Lessa works to strength­en the ALA’s com­mit­ment of keep­ing the nation’s libraries as safe spaces that offer every­one — regard­less of their socio-eco­nom­ic sta­tus — free and equal access to news, infor­ma­tion, and edu­ca­tion. The fight is daunt­ing, but Lessa and are all in:

We are resisters at our core. We pro­tect all our patrons, uphold intel­lec­tu­al free­dom, and serve our com­mu­ni­ties. Yes, the wins we see every day are a reward, but know­ing that we have resist­ed for yet anoth­er day and con­tin­ue to pro­vide that safe space is a reward in and of itself for me, and I hope for all of you as well.  — Lessa Pelayo-Loza­da, Amer­i­can Libraries Magazine

Lessa is the first Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander to be elect­ed pres­i­dent of the ALA. She is also the youngest per­son ever elect­ed to that posi­tion. We are grate­ful that this hard-work­ing, ded­i­cat­ed leader made some time to talk sto­ry with us. 

Con­grat­u­la­tions on your elec­tion to pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Librar­i­ans Asso­ci­a­tion! For those who haven’t met you, could you please tell us a lit­tle about yourself?

I am a mixed-race, con­ti­nent born and raised Native Hawai­ian woman from South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. I’ve been in pub­lic libraries since 2007 and have worked as library page, clerk, Children’s Librar­i­an, Teen Librar­i­an, and now am the Adult Ser­vices Assis­tant Man­ag­er at the Palos Verdes Library Dis­trict in South­ern California.

I am the cur­rent Pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Library Asso­ci­a­tion and am a past Pres­i­dent and Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Asian/Pacific Amer­i­can Librar­i­ans Asso­ci­a­tion. I have also served as a board mem­ber for the Cen­ter for the Study of Mul­ti­cul­tur­al Children’s Lit­er­a­ture for the last ten years and con­tribute to our best books list annually.

I used to dance hula for Kaulana Ka Hale Kula ‘O Nā Pua ‘O Ka ‘Āina in Tor­rance, Cal­i­for­nia, and am a cur­rent mem­ber of the Hawai’i’s Daugh­ters Guild of Cal­i­for­nia. My hus­band, Chris­t­ian Loza­da, and I co-authored the book Hawai­ians in Los Ange­les from Arca­dia Press.

Where did you grow up? What high school did you grad from?

I’m born and raised in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, in the cities of Tor­rance and Gar­de­na. I went to Bish­op Mont­gomery High School in Torrance.

Go Knights! Have you always want­ed to be a librar­i­an? When did you real­ize that being a librar­i­an was your calling?

Orig­i­nal­ly I want­ed to be an ele­men­tary school teacher, teach­ing either kinder­garten or sec­ond grade. While I was work­ing at Bor­ders Books, I met a num­ber of librar­i­ans from the Los Ange­les Pub­lic Library who showed me that librar­i­an­ship was a viable career path – one I thought I would fol­low after I would spend time teach­ing. After two days in the teacher cre­den­tial pro­gram, how­ev­er, I knew for sure that librar­i­an­ship was my call­ing and start­ed work­ing as a page that same sum­mer and have nev­er looked back!

What made you decide to run for the ALA’s high­est office?

Two things:

First, as an ALA Exec­u­tive Board mem­ber from 2017–2020 and chair of the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee on Orga­ni­za­tion­al Effec­tive­ness from 2018–2020, I iden­ti­fied the need for ALA’s struc­tures to change and become more nim­ble in today’s chang­ing world. The work I began as an EB mem­ber I hoped to fin­ish as pres­i­dent, and I am hap­py to say that we have got­ten a num­ber of things accom­plished dur­ing my year, such as mod­ern­iz­ing the ALA bylaws which will go to a full mem­ber vote this spring.

Sec­ond, the pan­dem­ic and all the ways that library work­ers were show­ing up for their com­mu­ni­ties inspired me to run for Pres­i­dent. As a front fac­ing library work­er, I saw all the ways that we need­ed ALA to show up for us, but as some­one who under­stands the capac­i­ties of ALA, I also knew that the cur­rent struc­ture couldn’t sup­port the labor needs of library work­ers. I ran to push the enve­lope in work­ing on for­ti­fy­ing the ALA struc­tures that can sup­port these needs, such as the ALA-Allied Pro­fes­sion­al Asso­ci­a­tion, a com­pan­ion orga­ni­za­tion to ALA. Although the process has been slow, we’ve been mak­ing progress in this realm.

What are some of the biggest chal­lenges that librar­i­ans face today?

The biggest chal­lenge fac­ing libraries, library work­ers, and librar­i­ans today are book chal­lenges. The unprece­dent­ed num­ber of book chal­lenges and the tox­i­c­i­ty and harass­ment of library work­ers around these book chal­lenges is cre­at­ing dif­fi­cult and impos­si­ble work­ing con­di­tions for many across the coun­try. To help com­bat book bans, I encour­age folks to vis­it and explore ways they can fight back. We can’t do this alone as library work­ers – we need the pub­lic to join in this fight!

What are your great­est strengths that you bring to the ALA and its membership?

One of the great­est strengths I bring are my val­ues of kuleana and kōkua. My com­mit­ment to library work­ers and libraries is root­ed in these two val­ues and help me to keep per­spec­tive on the long road ahead towards being spaces of life­long learn­ing, edu­ca­tion, and true inclu­sion when it comes to access to infor­ma­tion and I believe allow me to com­mu­ni­cate a spe­cif­ic vision that can be shared by ALA mem­bers everywhere.

I also can facil­i­tate a great meet­ing and work hard to ensure all voic­es and nec­es­sary stake­hold­ers are includ­ed in deci­sion mak­ing, mod­el­ing the inclu­sion that I hope we all embrace.

What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?

Learn­ing new things! Whether it is learn­ing some­thing through a ref­er­ence inter­ac­tion, learn­ing a new song for sto­ry time, or learn­ing anoth­er person’s sto­ry, it’s impos­si­ble to get through a day as a librar­i­an with­out learn­ing some­thing new – and some­thing you might not have sought out to learn on your own!

Dur­ing your cam­paign, you received many endorse­ments. What does this recog­ni­tion mean to you?

The num­ber of endorse­ments and sup­port I received dur­ing my cam­paign was a huge hon­or and a tes­ta­ment to the rela­tion­ships I try to devel­op in doing work on behalf of the asso­ci­a­tion. Even if I didn’t win the pres­i­den­cy, know­ing that I had all of those peo­ple to do great work with in the future, and have done great work with in the past was a big win.

Can you share a bit of your cur­rent work?

Right now I am focus­ing most of my time on my role as ALA Pres­i­dent which includes being the pri­ma­ry spokesper­son for the asso­ci­a­tion, chair­ing the Exec­u­tive Board and Coun­cil, and work­ing with ALA mem­bers and com­mit­tees to fig­ure out the path for­ward around book challenges.

The role of spokesper­son is a big one, as it includes media inter­views like the one I did for Teen Vogue as well as trav­el­ing the coun­try and inter­na­tion­al­ly doing keynote speech­es and speak­ing on pan­els like I did when I vis­it­ed Hawai’i for the Hawai’i Library Asso­ci­a­tion Con­fer­ence and Cen­ten­ni­al Celebration!

I am also a mem­ber of the pro­gram com­mit­tee for the Inter­na­tion­al Indige­nous Librar­i­ans Forum to be held in Hon­olu­lu this Novem­ber. I hope folks will join us!

What advice can you give some­one who might be con­sid­er study­ing library science?

Be firm in your “why” – why you want to work in libraries and what kind of impact you want to make. It can be a dif­fi­cult field when book chal­lenges, con­tin­ued bud­get cuts, and hier­ar­chi­cal bureau­cra­cies can pre­vent you from doing your job, but rec­og­niz­ing the impact you have, can, and will make on your com­mu­ni­ties can help keep you motivated.

I also always encour­age folks to be open to the myr­i­ad of oppor­tu­ni­ties avail­able in libraries. There are so many paths you can take and you don’t always know what they all are when you start in libraries, so be open to new oppor­tu­ni­ties and expe­ri­ences you nev­er thought pos­si­ble. That kind of mind­set helped me to become ALA President.

And a few niele ques­tions, if you’d like to answer:

Who is your hero?

I have a lot of heroes! My grand­fa­ther and grand­moth­er, Alcario  and Mary Pelayo, are my pri­ma­ry heroes. They mod­eled and inspired me to live a life of ser­vice and lead­er­ship and sup­port­ed my many, many inter­ests grow­ing up, even if they didn’t always under­stand them.

Who is your biggest supporter?

My hus­band!

What is your proud­est accomplishment?

Putting on the 2018 Joint Con­fer­ence of Librar­i­ans of Col­or as a Steer­ing Com­mit­tee Member.

What do you enjoy doing in your down time?

Bak­ing, exer­cise, hiking.

Where can read­ers find you online?


Maha­lo nui loa, Lessa, for shar­ing your man­aʻo with us! As an author, life-long learn­er, and library patron, I offer my best wish­es to you for your con­tin­ued success!

4 thoughts on “Interview with American Library Association President Lessa Pelayo-Lozada”

  1. Great infor­ma­tive inter­view on a high achiev­ing Hawai­ian Lati­na , I am so grate­ful that you use your plat­form to spot­light one of our own . Look­ing for­ward to many more interviews,

    • Maha­lo, Luis! It was such a plea­sure meet­ing Lessa. Librar­i­ans are fac­ing such dif­fi­cult chal­lenges, so itʻs great that a wahine koa — a war­rior woman — is their leader.

  2. I love how Lessa’s guid­ed by the val­ues of kuleana and kōkua, two terms I had to look up. Togeth­er, they remind me of the Jew­ish con­cept of tikkun olam, doing good to repair the world. Lessa sounds like a fan­tas­tic leader! Send­ing her strength as she nav­i­gates the rough waters of cen­sor­ship and book ban­ning, while help­ing librar­i­ans gain sup­port in all areas of their work.

    • Maha­lo nui for your kind words and encour­age­ment, Jilanne. She sounds like the leader the ded­i­cat­ed librar­i­ans of the ALA need now.


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