Who was one of the first Mexican American librarians in California? Who was one of the co-founders of REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking? Who was the first Mexican American women to hold the office of ALA Executive Director? If you answered, “Elizabeth Martinez,” you’d be correct!
Elizabeth Martinez was born on April 14, 1943 in Pomona, California. Growing up in Orange County, she always wanted to promote cultural understanding no matter what field she worked in. Martinez didn’t originally focus on working in libraries, but they held a special place in her heart since she was a child, as she often went to her local public library. However, while pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies at UCLA, she took a course in children’s literature to fulfill a credit. This course opened her eyes to the world of librarianship and her goal was set. She then graduated from the University of Southern California with a Master’s in Library and Information Science in 1966, becoming one of California’s first Mexican American librarians.
From 1966 to 1994, Martinez worked as a librarian in different capacities in Orange County as well as a lecturer at California State University and as the head of both federal and local projects. One of these projects, “The Way Out Project,” was a federally funded project with the goal of improving library services for Spanish-speaking and African American communities.  Martinez and the project staff sought to both increase the recruitment of “Spanish-speaking, Mexican American, and African American librarians” and create more diverse collections and programs aimed at these communities. In 1971, Martinez, along with Dr. Arnulfo Duenes Trejo, co-founded REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking. While she worked tirelessly, she obtained a Certificate of Management at the University of Southern California in 1978 and a Certificate from the Executive Management Program at the University of California in Irvine in 1986. After solely working and studying in California, Martinez went national when she became the first Mexican American woman Executive Director of ALA in 1994.
This wasn’t the first time Martinez worked with ALA as she was an involved member. She was an Elected Councilor from 1971 to 1974, a member of the Accreditation Committee from 1985 to 1987, a member of the President’s Commission on Library Service to Minorities in 1987, and a member of the Intellectual Freedom Committee from 1991 to 1993. As ALA Executive Director, Martinez spearheaded several programs, including the ALA Goal 2000 and the Spectrum Scholarship Program. The ALA Goal 2000 was “a five year plan to position the association and profession for the 21st century and to ensure the public’s right to a free and open information society.” With the plan, Martinez created the Fund for America’s Libraries, a charitable foundation for the ALA, accumulating over $8 million in its first year of existence; and increased membership to an all-time high by that point of around 57,000 members. The Spectrum Scholarship Program was created as the Spectrum Initiative in 1997 to provide funds to 50 BIPOC library science students and create a more diverse profession.
After ALA, Martinez continued working with libraries, and in 2007, she moved to Salinas, California, to revamp the library system. From 2007 to 2013, Martinez revived the Cesar Chavez Library, inviting children and adults to use new features of the library such as “a special room with collections from nearly all the cultures that have lived in the area, from the Ohlone to the Irish to the Korean.” She retired in December 2013 after establishing a long career that demonstrates the reach that librarians can have in their communities and beyond.
The ALA Archives holds materials related to Martinez in Record Series 12/1/4, Box 2, Folder: Martinez, Elizabeth, 1995-97, and Record Series 81/1/20, Box 3, Folder: Women of Color in Librarianship: An Oral History – Martinez. Her personal papers are held at Stanford University’s Special Collections and University Archives: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8n58t77/.
Below are selected lists of Martinez’s awards and honors, her publications, and publications referencing/about her.
Awards and Honors:
- 1976: REFORMA, George I. Sanchez Award
- 1982: League of United Latin American Citizens, Orange County, Hispanic Women’s Recognition Award
- 1997: MANA, A National Latina Organization, Las Primeras Award https://www.hermana.org/las-primeras
- 2010: REFORMA LA Chapter, creation of the Elizabeth Martinez Scholarship http://reformala.org/scholarships
- ALA Equality Award
- REFORMA, creation of the Elizabeth Martinez Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2020: California Library Association, California Library Hall of Fame, https://www.cla-net.org/page/HOF2020EM
Publications written by Elizabeth Martinez
- “Chicana Bibliography,” NEW DIRECTIONS IN EDUCATION: estudios femeniles de la Chicana, UCLA, Daytime Programs and Special Projects, 1974
- Co-editor for Special Issue on Library Service to the Spanish-Speaking, Wilson Library Bulletin 53, November 1978
- “Racism: It Is Always There,” Library Journal 113, no. 18 (Nov. 1988): 35-39.
- “Diversity: The 21st-Century Spectrum,” American Libraries 28, No. 3 (Mar. 1997): p. 32 https://www.jstor.org/stable/25634357
- “Chicano Librarianship.” American Libraries. American Library Association, November 2, 2010. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2010/11/02/chicano-librarianship/
- Jaguar in the Library: The Story of the First Chicana Librarian, Floricanto Press Hispanic Latino Books, 2020
Publications written about/referencing Elizabeth Martinez
- Vazquez, Lilia. “Elizabeth Martinez: Interviewed by Lilia Vazquez.” In Women of Color in Librarianship: An Oral History, edited by Kathleen de la Peña McCook, 152-170. American Library Association, 1998.
 Found in Record Series 12/1/4, Box 2, Folder: Martinez, Elizabeth, 1995-97 https://archon.library.illinois.edu/ala/index.php?p=collections/controlcard&id=8047.
 Melendez Salinas, Claudia. “Woman thanked for turning Salinas library around.” Monterey Herald (Monterey, CA), published August 5, 2013; last modified September 11, 2018. https://www.montereyherald.com/2013/08/05/woman-thanked-for-turning-salinas-library-around/.
 Martinez, Elizabeth. “Chicano Librarianship.” american libraries. American Library Association, November 2, 2010. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2010/11/02/chicano-librarianship/