Director Biography & Philosophy Statement
José A. Aponte
Bachelor of Arts - Bard College, Annandale-On-Hudson, New York
Masters of Library Science - University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ
"Going forward, libraries have a compelling future grounded in our traditional role as the convener in the community 'commons,' both bricks and mortar as well as virtual: indeed, a public space that defines community sets collective expectations of civility and constructive engagement in our democratic institutions and historical responsibility as global citizens."
Aponte's mother, a library administrator in the Albany Public Library, planted the seeds of his thirty-seven year career in libraries and community activism in elementary school and before.
In a time before public daycare for kids, José and his sister Gloria would take the public bus to the library daily after school to do homework, read books, and wait for their mother, Hortensia, to finish her workday at the John A. Howe Branch Library. In the chronology of his library work, José's mother offered him his first job in libraries (at the age of eight) reading stories to youngsters who could not read. The pay for this important first-time employment opportunity was a nickel per story read.
Following his graduation from Bard College, Aponte wrote, directed and performed off-Broadway for two years until convinced by his mentor to pursue his cultural work through a career in library science. So never giving up the love of theater, music, art and Latin American culture, he accepted a scholarship to the Graduate Library Institute for Spanish Speaking Americans at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.
At the University of Arizona, Aponte pursued his MLS condensing a two-year curriculum into a long year of study. Indeed, José began his work as a professional librarian with the Tucson Public Library before his formal graduation from the graduate program. To that point, José did not attend his formal graduation ceremony because he was working that day at the Main Library reference desk.
It was in Tucson that Aponte met and married his wife of 34 years, Cynthia Reyes, a fine artist and fellow University of Arizona Alumna. He and his family moved to Santa Barbara, where he was promoted to a supervisory librarian in charge of the library's Ethnic Services Division and the Eastside Library. After three years in Santa Barbara the family moved to San Juan Capistrano where José worked as Principal Administrative Librarian in charge of the San Juan Capistrano Regional Library for seven and a half years. Following a stint as Director of the West Palm Beach Public Library in Florida, José and his family moved back to California where he was appointed Director of the Oceanside Public Library in 1996.
This diverse city of 172,000 people, with its long tradition of public library support and dynamic community participation, presented the professional challenges and potential for transformation that excited Aponte. During his first two years, he and the library team drafted the library's first Strategic Plan. The plan was executed and written entirely by staff and the managers; community outreach for José and his team translated into dozens of individual meetings and numerous community focus groups to determine service priorities and a timeline for their implementation.
Midway through Aponte's tenure in Oceanside a new Department of Library and Recreation Services was created in the city and José was appointed the Director of the Department of Community Services. The first year's plan included drafting a strategic plan with an emphasis on critical hours programming for at-risk youth.
In December 2000, Aponte was appointed to the position of Deputy City Manager of Neighborhood and Community Services with the City of Oceanside. In this capacity he was charged with overseeing the administration of Library Services, Parks and Recreation, Housing and Neighborhood Services, as well as the Public Information Office. Numerous projects were realized during his tenure, including completion of a new branch library and the city's first skate park, as well as plans and final funding for a new senior center and neighborhood community center. In addition, city departments under his direction were recognized with four California League of Cities Helen Putnam awards of excellence, including awards for the Library's Community Computer Center and the Worn with Pride: Celebrating Samoan Artistic Heritage exhibition (featuring the first published catalog of Samoan fabric art and tattoo in the States). José reconnected and reaffirmed his support of public library services throughout his tenure as Deputy City Manager by hiring progressive leaders in the library who added services and funded capital expansions.
In June 2002, Aponte received and accepted a White House appointment to the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries Advisory Council. In short, for a librarian at heart who once received 25 cents an hour to read to other children in the library, the mission of the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries was particularly fitting. The Laura Bush Foundation exists to support the education of our nation's children by providing funds to update, extend, and diversify the book collections of America's neediest school libraries. In doing so, the Foundation provides students increased opportunity to learn to read, to become better readers, and to advance academically.
Upon reflection and in view of his appointment to the First Lady's advisory council, Aponte reconsidered his career choices and goals and made the decision to return to his original passion, public libraries. To that end, in January of 2003 José accepted the position of Executive Director of the Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD) in El Paso County, Colorado. Serving a population of approximately 500,000, the District is comprised of 12 library facilities, two bookmobiles and a literacy program. In less than three years, José and the stellar Pikes Library District team built two new libraries and engineered four expansions. Additionally, the Library team successfully completed a five-year strategic plan. José is proud of his association with this award winning library district and the Colorado Springs cultural community. Moreover, he would no doubt, still be working there if it were not for the relocation back to San Diego and the reunion with his sons and extensive California family.
In January 2004, Aponte received a Presidential appointment to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Sciences (NCLIS). A permanent, independent agency of the Federal government, NCLIS helps to effect policy concerning libraries and the dissemination and use of information in the United States, providing advice to the President, Congress, and other policy makers.
Aponte received the REFORMA 2004 Trejo Librarian of the Year Award at the 2004 ALA Conference in Orlando, Florida, for his "outstanding library work, locally and nationwide, contributions to REFORMA, and the promotion of Latino culture." He was greatly honored to receive this recognition.
Aponte joined the County of San Diego Library team as the Library Director in March of 2005. The San Diego County Library team was recognized in 2012 as the Library Journal Library of the Year. The award recognized the library's commitment to constructive social involvement in our community's social and educational landscape framed by our extraordinary fiscal and historical circumstance. To that point the library has added capacity, building nine new libraries in eight years while concurrently adding access to services and libraries by adding programs and hours despite a cumulative 32% reduction in library budget. More practically, José leads an outstanding team of public servants in the County Library with 33 libraries, two bookmobiles, a literacy program and a $34 million library program budget.
José and his wife Cynthia live in Oceanside, California with their cats, Eva Luna and Thriller, where he continues to pursue his second love, endurance sports. As a member of the United States Triathlon Association's Duathlon Team, in 2002 José won the World Duathlon Champion in Weyer, Austria, as well as the National Duathlon Champion in Nashville, TN.
Most recently, Aponte will be recognized by his Alma Mater, Bard College, with the John Dewey Award for Distinguished Public Service in spring 2013. The award will specifically acknowledge the San Diego County Library's innovation in responsible community services as exemplified by our Inmate Reintroduction project and the monthly Housing Clinics which feature mortgage loan assistance and legal counseling in partnership with the local non-profit Housing Opportunities Collaborative.
"The foundation(s) of a truly democratic society: public education, and the public library."
"Libraries need to be more than a passive repository for the quiet contemplation and study of ideas: libraries must be partners in their respective communities’ strategic vision building social capital. And changing lives."
"With the information technology explosion, the role of the public library as a source of creativity and information resources for social, civic and economic empowerment grows more critical daily."
- José A. Aponte, Executive Director
On Public Service: "Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."
- Muhammad Ali
Libraries transform communities and create public value: they are the catalyst that brings disparate groups together to build social capital, both virtually and in bricks and mortar institutions.
Libraries inspire, nurture, inform and educate our citizens in a public sanctuary that promotes stronger economies capable of competing in a global marketplace, enabling working people and managers to grow through self-directed learning. Everyday across this country and the world, libraries demonstrate with our partners that by using accessible state-of-the-art technology and traditional information and cultural resources we are an essential public service that remains a vital foundation and cornerstone for a safer, healthier, productive and inclusive society.
More specifically, using a philosophy that cultivates talent, advocates tolerance and promotes state-of-the-art technology we have built the foundation for the library of the future.