Catching Up with Becky Calzada, Incoming AASL President

Calzada speaks with SLJ about forging connections, a counternarrative about school libraries, and more.

Courtesy of Becky Calzada

At the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) June 30 meeting at ALA Annual in San Diego, the president’s gavel will pass from the current president, Courtney Pentland, to the incoming president, Becky Calzada.

Leading the organization through these challenging times, Pentland, school librarian at North Star High School in Lincoln, NE, focused on building relationships.

“One thing that has become very apparent to me over the last few years is that what we do as school librarians is still a mystery to people in our school communities and across the country,” says Pentland. “One of the best ways to ensure that accurate narratives about school libraries are shared is to consciously build relationships with others so they know what is really happening.”

She ends her term optimistic.

“As AASL strengthens partnerships with groups both in and outside of ALA, I know the support for the vital work school ­librarians do will only increase,” says Pentland. “I am confident that the board will continue to keep school librarians and their learners at the forefront of their hearts and minds as they pursue their goals under Becky’s thoughtful leadership.”

Calzada, library services coordinator for the Leander (TX) Independent School District, also puts a premium on partnerships and connections.

“Building relationships will definitely be part my work,” says Calzada. “It’s the foundation of all work, in my opinion.”

Calzada is a longtime leader in the field. She is a member of the ALA Policy Corps and served on the AASL Board of Directors and ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee. She is also a cofounder of FReadomFighters, a grassroots organization started by Texas librarians to ­support their peers and the community in the fight against censorship attempts.

SLJ caught up with Calzada and asked her a few questions before she takes on the role.


At its best, what can AASL be for its members?
Like any organization, I think that it can be a voice for a profession. But I also think AASL can be a connector for people. I know the power of a network. We have so many different chapters across the country of varying sizes. We have large chapters like in Texas or in New York, but then we also have very small ones. I think about small chapters, like in Wyoming, that maybe have less than 50 engaged people. I believe that AASL can be a really important source of information for these chapters, for those members. Not just one for professional learning and sharing, but as a connector in terms of, “Here’s what’s happening across the country.” To have a network to lean on if you have questions about things, and then, of course, just to stay up on trends.

I also think [it can] be a source for advocacy. AASL has been doing a lot of work behind the scenes supporting lawsuits with regard to intellectual freedom. AASL can be an additional voice in the conversation when there are any kind of advocacy issues at the state level—with the permission, of course, from the chapter. We never want to ­impede and override. We always do things in collaboration with our chapters.

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Do you come into your term with any specific goals?
I have been thinking a lot about that. Right now we’re working on and finalizing a strategic plan. A lot of my goals will center on that strategic plan, which we haven’t released yet.

But in terms of a focus for me, I ­definitely want to share what’s happening across our school libraries and cities across the country. There’s been a lot in the news about the challenges that they’re facing. I mean, literally, the [book] challenges, but also ­challenges around funding or the lack of a ­librarian or the removal of librarians from a school.

While I want to hear about those challenges—highlight them, and amplify the impacts—I also want to share the celebrations. I don’t think we talk enough about that. That’s an important counternarrative, so that people understand what’s going to happen when they don’t have that professional [librarian] in that space—what students are going to miss out [on] when that person is not there organizing those activities, creating those dynamic learning opportunities, or purchasing those really important materials that students need and teachers need.


Quote: While I want to hear about challenges—­highlight them and amplify the impacts— I also want to share the ­celebrations. I don’t think we talk enough about that. ” —Becky Calzada


How do you balance the different needs of different chapters? For example, while some may be consumed by censorship battles, in other places that might not be an issue.
That’s when it’s so important to always maintain a pulse for what the needs are. That’s why we’ve got chapter ­leaders that can tell us what’s happening.

Because I am a listener—I mean, that’s just what I do, I always listen—I also ask a lot of questions. Part of what I am going to do is meet with chapter leaders and ask them, “What are the challenges you’re seeing? What are your needs?”

I’ve also been thinking about what we can do with regard to sharing and learning [opportunities], to make sure that there’s a balance that addresses all of the members. I’m not saying that there’s not a need for people to learn about intellectual freedom, but I also know that there’s [already] a lot of learning that’s happening around that, so that doesn’t have to be the sole thing that we have to be. I think more about creating a resource bank for [those] needs, but then also creating banks of information or opportunities for learning around other areas of need. Maybe it’s around internet access, maybe it’s advocacy and building a coalition so that if anything happens, we’re ready. Or maybe it’s about telling your library story and what that could look like.

We know that there are a lot of the same people who are doing some really great work, and I appreciate them. I’m in that group, too. I want to step aside and give people the platform, so that they can share, and we get new ideas and some fresh voices at the front, too.


What would you like to say to the AASL membership?
We have been living in very ­challenging and unprecedented times. I’ve been through all these challenges. There have been setbacks, obviously, but there have also been some celebrations where we have seen the resilience of so many professionals. I understand that there have been some really ­extreme cases, outlier kind of situations, where people have come after school ­librarians. There’s no place for that. I’m not going to condone that. That’s obviously not OK. In those ­situations, I know that librarians have to do what they have to do to take care of ­themselves.

But I also know that whenever you go through a challenge, if you pause and kind of pay attention to the landscape, there are lessons for us to learn, that grow us. But we have to pause and pay attention. So what’s been another bright spot is that through those opportunities, just as librarians have always done in the past, we adapt, and we ­adjust, and we do better.

My message is: Stay strong, stand together, lean on one another when you need to, because that’s what’s going to get us through these times.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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