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Local library employee earns minority scholarship from state; Cape mother working on master’s

By Staff | May 20, 2008

Cape Coral resident Maria Palacio has won the Florida Library Association’s Minority Scholarship award, a distinction given to those who make library services more accessible, especially to patrons who speak English as a second language.

Palacio has been with the Lee County Library’s Multi-Cultural Programs for the last five years. These programs reach out to diverse communities throughout the county, working with social, civic and faith-based organizations to educate minorities about the benefits of the library system.

Palacio said one of the hardest aspects of her job is working with patrons who do not have a library system in their home countries and do not quite understand the one used in the United States. While some of the programs are great successes — like computer training courses — others, like book discussions, are hit and miss.

“A lot of countries have libraries but you have to pay, and you can’t check stuff out,” Palacio said. “But once people figure it out, they go with it.”

The $2,000 scholarship will aid Palacio’s pursuit of a master’s degree in library and information science from Florida State University. The scholarship will pay for two classes and books, and Palacio hopes to maintain her 4.0 grade average from last semester.

“It’s pretty huge,” Palacio said, smiling. “I’ve never won a scholarship before. And after five years with the library, I thought it was time to become a librarian, and earn that advanced degree. It’s huge.”

Born in Patterson, N.J., Palacio moved to the Cape in 2000 with her husband, Gonzalo, and two sons, Justin and Andres. She was a teacher at Lehigh Senior High before joining the library system in 2003. She hopes the master’s degree will help solidify her position at the library for years to come.

“I hope to stay here. I enjoy the position I have, and I definitely want to go for a management position or a position in administration,” Palacio said. “As long as the opportunities are here, we’ll stay. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Palacio credits her family with being able to successfully juggle everything and maintain her sanity.

“It’s not easy. My kids are really good, my husband is really supportive. It’s hard,” Palacio said, adding, “There’s a fear that something won’t get done, but I just look at all of it and try to do as much as I can.”

Unfortunately, Palacio discovered she won the scholarship the same weekend funeral services were held for longtime friend and mentor Dr. Maria Chavez Hernandez. Hernandez worked with the Florida State University College of Information and American Library Association, focusing on library and information services in the Caribbean region. She passed away from a long battle with cancer.

“She was a mentor,” Palacio said. “Once I met her and saw this fellow Latino, an immigrant, really, who has done so much, I felt like what I was doing was small in comparison. She really taught me to think bigger.”

As she continues working toward her master’s degree, Palacio urges the community to utilize all the resources the library system has to offer.

“I’d like to see the people of Lee County, especially the people I target, come in and use the library and come to all of our programs and bring their kids,” she said.

For more information on the Lee County Library’s Multi-Cultural Programs, or to learn about library resources in Spanish, visit: www.lee-county.com/library.