Former refugee pays it forward as a librarian
Touger Vang had no previous experience with libraries before coming to the United States as a refugee from Laos in 1982 at the age of 10. Today he is a public services coordinator for the Yolo County Library in West Sacramento, California, where he manages early literacy programs and adult services program and outreach activities. In his role, he also looks for opportunities to collaborate with local schools and nonprofit organizations on partnership activities.
As a librarian Vang is committed to providing equal access to information. He says, “I am a strong believer in providing access and opportunity to those who need it the most, like when I first came to the U.S. and was learning English. I want to help those who need it because someone helped me.”
Vang fondly remembers his elementary school library and his first visit to a public library, but it was his high school library in North Carolina that had the biggest impact. He credits his high school librarian, Eileen L. Brewer, for being a role model. He says, “Ms. Brewer’s influence during my early years inspired and instilled in me what a librarian should be. She showed me that a librarian is someone who is kind, humble and puts the mission of helping others at the forefront. We still keep in touch.”
He continues, “Ms. Brewer was one of the nicest teachers I had. She helped me with research and she provided a safe environment to learn and grow. She could have closed the school library during lunch periods but she didn’t. My older brother, cousins and I went there during lunch to read newspapers and magazines, and we would have discussions and debates about current events. It kept us from getting into trouble.”
Vang also remembers Ms. Brewer making accommodations for him to study in the school library. “She allowed me to be there for independent study even when there were other classes using the library. She was always willing to go the extra mile to help students.”
After Vang graduated and Ms. Brewer retired, he heard the school library was no longer open to students during lunch periods. “Being accessible is very important. That’s why in my work I’m so passionate about removing barriers for people who can’t speak English. The library is the one place where people can do all kinds of learning.”
With school libraries preparing to celebrate School Library Month in April, Vang wants the public to appreciate the value and transformative power of school libraries as much as he does. He states, “A school library is a very powerful place that can influence students with positive experiences throughout their years of studying. I don’t understand why so many school districts in the U.S. are cutting funding or underutilizing their school library. The result of a school librarian’s work is not always immediately seen, but they help students succeed in life. School librarians help to produce doctors, lawyers, teachers and librarians. I wish everyone could see that.”