Earlier this summer, Walt “Cat” Walker, head of cataloging at the William H. Hannon Library, passed away unexpectedly. The following tribute was written by Ray Andrade ’04, Student Engagement Librarian.
Prior to joining the William H. Hannon Library team in 2003, I was a first-generation Loyola Marymount University student commuting from the east Los Angeles area. I was a full-time college student for 3.5 years (1996-2000) during which I also had a part-time job off campus as a library aid with the Los Angeles County Public Library. However, my connection to LMU and the public library workforce ended abruptly in February 2000 when the pressures of school, financial stress, and other personal challenges took a severe toll on my mental health. Instead of being a member of LMU’s historic class of 2000, I took an indefinite medical leave of absence during my final semester, with only four classes remaining on my way to become the first person in my family to earn a 4-year college degree.
After restoring my mental health, I re-entered the workforce part-time at the L.A. County Public Library (2001-2003). However, because part-time staff were limited to working no more than 20 hours per week, I still struggled financially. Eventually, I realized I needed to obtain a full-time job, especially if I wanted to pay the out-of-pocket costs to finish my final semester at LMU. Where would I find my first full-time job? And will the stress of full-time work lead to a relapse affecting my mental health?
In March 2003, I came across an online post for a temporary (1-year) library assistant full-time position at LMU’s library that only required a high school diploma. I applied and was invited for an interview by Walt Walker in Cataloging. I was told that the job would entail assembling hundreds cardboard boxes, filling them with the library’s least used (i.e. dustiest) books, and shipping those heavy boxes away to an off-site storage facility. At the time, LMU’s Von der Ahe Library had run out of space for new books, so there was a temporary need for someone to box and ship away thousands of old books to make room for new books. It was still many years before the William H. Hannon Library would even begin construction. I didn’t care about the dust and the heaviness of the boxes, I accepted the temporary job offer.
“Thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Walker.”
Shortly after beginning my new job, Walt made me aware that LMU offers tuition remission, a benefit for staff to attend classes at almost no cost. In a gesture of full support, Walt offered to create a work schedule that would allow me to take any daytime classes necessary for me to complete my remaining coursework. This meant that, instead of dragging out an uncertain, years-long process of somehow earning and saving $12,000 to re-enroll and finish my last four classes, I had a golden opportunity to become the first in my family to graduate from a four-year university within the next year – at virtually no cost. However, there was a problem.
I was afraid. In fact, I was terrified. The fear of a relapse to my mental health due to a stressful combination of working full-time and attending rigorous LMU classes brought me to a point where I didn’t want to return to school – ever – for fear of a relapse. (Folks, you’re reading the words of a former 21 year old, first-generation student who landed in a psychiatric ward and lived to tell about it. I wouldn’t wish that experience on my worst enemy.) Even my entire family was opposed to the idea of my returning to school. However, with great care, sensitivity, and patience, Walt convinced me of the importance of finishing my college degree. With Walt’s encouragement and full support, I took my first step towards returning to school and, in spring 2004 (a year after starting my job at LMU’s library), I became the first in my family to graduate from a university. When I arrived home with my family after graduation, I unsuspectingly excused myself to use the restroom, locked the door behind me, dropped to my knees over the sink, and cried because I finally finished the first-generation college journey I never thought I’d complete. It was because of Walt that I finished my degree.
“Thank you for encouraging me and supporting me to finally finish my Bachelor’s, Walt.”
When my temporary position was coming to an end in spring 2004, it became evident to library administrators that the boxing and shipping of low-use books would need to continue far beyond one year while the new library was under construction. It was determined that a new, permanent position in Cataloging would be necessary. Walt advocated for me by convincing the library director at the time that I should be directly appointed into that position and that I was a uniquely qualified candidate who was already doing the exact work required of the permanent position. Note: the new permanent position required at least a bachelor’s degree, and thankfully, my degree was hot off the press. So, in addition to becoming a first-generation graduate in spring 2004, I was also made a permanent staff member thanks to Walt advocating for me.
“Thank you for helping me become a permanent member of the library team, Walt.”
A couple years later (circa 2006), Walt helped me realize that I now possessed several years of experience in public libraries and an academic library setting. “Have you ever considered becoming a librarian?” The thought intrigued me, especially in respect to pursuing some form of library outreach work in public libraries. I realized they were treasures to be discovered. Unfortunately, I also noticed at least a few things that needed fixing, including (but not limited to) a lack of outreach efforts to minority groups and a lack of bilingual, librarians of color. Walt’s question led me to a sense of responsibility that I had to become a librarian to use my experience to better serve (and represent) minority communities. This would require earning a Master in Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree, and I was willing to begin that journey with Walt’s guidance.
“Thank you for encouraging me to begin the journey towards a master’s, Walt.”
Approximately one year after beginning the journey towards my master’s, Walt asked, “Have you ever heard of the Spectrum Scholarship program?” Walt explained that this was a scholarship program from the American Library Association designed to help diversify the library profession. Supported by a strong letter of recommendation from Walt, I applied for the scholarship and was selected to join the 2008 cohort of ALA Spectrum Scholars. Aside from financial support, this national award included an invitation to the Spectrum Leadership Institute – an institute that (more than ever) instilled an ever-lasting sense of responsibility in me to serve communities of color to the best of my ability as a person of color in the library field.
“Thanks for helping me become a national Spectrum Scholar, Walt.”
Upon returning from the Spectrum Leadership Institute, I had a renewed passion for taking on any form of library outreach work for minority communities, even though my position in the Cataloging department was completely behind the scenes. In 2010, Jamie Hazlitt (LMU’s Outreach Librarian at the time) approached me with a perfect opportunity. Knowing that I was a graduate student without any teaching experience (and knowing that I’m Latino and fluent in English and Spanish), Jamie invited me to promote, coordinate, and deliver a “Library Orientation and Tour” event in Spanish for predominantly Spanish-speaking custodians from LMU’s Facilities Management department. This was a perfect opportunity for me to tie together my personal identity with my professional pursuit of library outreach work. Would my supervisor, Walt, be okay with me taking time away from my usual responsibilities in Cataloging to pursue this outreach project? Of course, Walt was in full support.
“Thanks for allowing me to conduct LMU’s first Spanish language Library Orientation and Tour for staff, Walt.”
Immediately after the library orientation and tour, the 15 custodians in attendance approached me (with painful humility) and shared that they would need basic computer training before they can use the library’s website, catalog, or other electronic resources. I realized that, for whatever reason, custodians and other facilities staff were not receiving proper computer training, even though the university’s formal communications were online through email and websites. At the time, some custodians didn’t know how to turn on a computer, how to open a web browser, or how to properly use a computer’s mouse. As a future member of a profession that advocates for computer literacy, information literacy, and literacy in general, I wanted to step in and make a difference. “Walt: would it be okay if I began coordinating weekly computer literacy workshops for LMU’s Facilities Management staff?” Walt didn’t hesitate to express his support and allowed me to consider time spent on the workshops as “work” time, even though this endeavor was far from my responsibilities in the Cataloging department.
“Thanks for letting me offer weekly computer workshops for facilities staff, Walt.”
Although the new computer workshop program was a meaningful initiative, it became overwhelming to coordinate over 40 faculty, staff, and student volunteers who helped tutor more than 50 facilities staff members who attended the workshops. Let’s not forget: I was still in graduate school. Plus, in 2010, I got engaged to a classmate and had an upcoming wedding in 2011. Life got overwhelming and symptoms affecting my mental health began to resurface.
Having learned from my past, I knew that slipping into a mental health crisis was a very slippery slope. In fear of a fast-approaching relapse, I suddenly withdrew from graduate school (without notice) and got a “fail” in the course I was taking. This placed me on academic probation. To my unfortunate surprise, earning a “B-” in my next course disqualified me from graduate school. To make matters worse, I learned that my graduate school had a policy of not reinstating disqualified students. I was crushed and slipped further into depression because I only had three more courses to complete. (Yes, this was a very similar situation where mental health issues prevented me from completing a degree with only a few classes to complete.) Although I was devastated, I had Walt in my corner and he refused to let me give up on myself. By joining forces with Dean of the Library Kris Brancolini, Walt helped me appeal my disqualification and I was reinstated in January 2013. To prove my potential, I finished my last three classes towards my Master’s degree with perfect grades.
“Walt: Thank you for refusing to let me give up on myself and for helping me complete my journey towards a Master’s degree.”
In addition to completing my master’s degree in 2013, there were a couple of other things that happened due to Walt’s support. “Ray, I have an extra ticket for the annual LMU Staff Appreciation Luncheon. Wanna go?” I never turn down a free lunch, so I joined Walt and Dean Brancolini at the luncheon. After LMU staff were recognized for 5, 10, 15 or more years of service to the university, the moment came to announce the 2013 Staff Member of the Year. To introduce that year’s recipient, Dean Brancolini was invited to the stage. “Oh cool,” I thought. “They probably make the Deans take turns to announce every year’s recipient.” Moments later, she began talking about someone who launched a basic computer literacy program to serve LMU’s facilities staff.
Although the computer workshops never would have happened without the desire of facilities staff to acquire computer skills for their personal and professional development, I was awestruck and honored to receive the 2013 Staff Member of the Year award at the same institution where I first set foot as an 18 year old, first-generation Latino from east Los Angeles. As humbled as I was for the award, my coordination of those workshops never would’ve happened without Walt’s support. That year, the library also received an Inclusive Excellence Grant from LMU’s Office of Intercultural Affairs to support the workshops. Once again, this would’ve been impossible without Walt’s support.
“Walt: Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to pursue outreach projects like the computer workshops that led to being recognized as Staff Member of the Year and the library’s reception of an Inclusive Excellence Grant.”
Equipped with a master’s degree and a strong advocate, in 2014 I was promoted to Programming Librarian, a newly created position on the library’s outreach team. Although it was bittersweet to clean up my cataloging cubicle and no longer have Walt as my supervisor, I was prepared to transition into a librarian’s office and finally begin outreach work on a full-time, professional basis – all thanks to Walt. Given all the personal challenges I faced during my journeys towards a bachelor’s and master’s degree, he clearly went far beyond being a just a supervisor and mentor.
“Thanks for helping me become a first-generation librarian at my alma mater, Walt.”
From hiring and supervising me in 2003 when I assembled cardboard boxes and packed up dusty books, to helping me become a first-generation librarian with an office just a few doors away from yours, you obviously became my first mentor and much more. You cleared a path for me and walked by my side every step of the way with constant support, patience, and care. The impact you had on my life changed everything.
For everything you ever did for me: Thank you, Walt.
Your colleague and friend,
Ray Andrade, LMU Class of 2004
Student Engagement Librarian
Loyola Marymount University