Building a Second Home for Students: Pia Alliende, 2022 School Librarian of the Year Finalist

The district librarian for Redmond (OR) School District is passionate about diverse collections and creating welcoming spaces for Latinx children.

2022 SCHOOL LIBRARIAN OF THE YEAR FINALIST: Pia Alliende, district librarian, Redmond (OR) School District
Pia Alliende, district librarian, Redmond (OR) School District
Photos by Jill Rosell


Elton Gregory Middle School (EGMS) was stuck in the past, and it wasn’t alone. Throughout central Oregon’s Redmond School District (RSD), the average publication year of library collections was 1998. For one school, it went back to 1989.

The books didn’t reflect the Redmond students and families, either. At Elton Gregory, over 20 percent of the 688 middle school students identify as Hispanic, and 11.5 percent list Spanish as their first language.

So, when the pandemic hit and the library closed, Elton Gregory library technician Pia Alliende set to work modernizing and diversifying, curating a collection that spoke to those students who needed the most support.

“The Latino community has been growing, and it’s hard for them to go through the system, because they don’t have the support in their language, and what they do have is not enough,” says Alliende.

She knows the challenges her students and families face firsthand. Born in Chile, she arrived in the United States as a graduate student to study history on a Fulbright grant. After she finished school, finding a job proved difficult because of the language barrier, but eventually she became an interpreter in a Virginia school.

There, Alliende worked with a family coordinator to advocate for the large percentage of students and parents originally from Latin America. She also discovered the power a school library could have not only for students, but for families.

“Many of the activities were in the library,” Alliende says. “I knew libraries because I was a researcher as a historian, but that opened my eyes.”

After returning to school to receive her master’s in library science, Alliende worked as a library media specialist at Redmond High School before moving to Spain to be the head librarian at the International School of Seville San Francisco de Paula.

Alliende returned to Oregon and arrived at Elton Gregory in fall 2020, with no budget. But she was undeterred. She applied for, and received, four grants totaling nearly $25,000. She also got creative. Just weeks before her 60th birthday, she set out on a multiday, 347-mile bike-packing race across Oregon and raised nearly $2,500, which she divided among all the school libraries in the district.

It’s no wonder Alliende describes being a librarian as a role “made of love.” That outlook was inspired by her parents, avid storytellers and readers. Learning was so important growing up that a family friend once said that when the Alliendes sat down to dinner, they took the dictionary out to guide the discussion.

Pia Alliende with her bike.“What I do is my passion,” Alliende says. “I put a lot of my energy into it because I believe in it.”

With the funds she raised, Alliende updated and diversified the collection at EGMS and weeded antiquated books, particularly those that perpetuated stereotypes, while increasing access to digital materials. She received the Sora  reading app for free for the district with about 400 titles thanks to an Overdrive offer to all U.S. schools. Then she purchased more ebooks, read-alouds, and audiobooks in English and Spanish with a grant from the State Library of Oregon. She also pushed for more videos to be added in English and in Spanish.

Kelley Messina teaches seventh and eighth grade language arts at EGMS. She says the changes Alliende has made in the library have been amazing, especially in a short amount of time and coupled with the challenges of remote learning.

“The new books are modern and address diverse topics and populations,” Messina says. “She’s made digital services that we didn’t have available to teachers and students. Most of all, she’s made the library a place where students are welcome.”

Reminded of her experience back in Virginia, Alliende knew it would take more than an updated collection to make the library a welcoming space, especially for Latinx students and families. She created a Latinx Club where students have formed deep connections with one another and Alliende, and have also had the chance to see themselves truly reflected in books by helping Alliende select new ones to purchase.

“That’s something I’m very passionate about, to make all students feel welcomed and loved,” Alliende says.

Messina says she sees how much students now love visiting the library, excited about the books they have access to. It’s especially true for her Latinx students.

“It has become abundantly clear to me that they find her a safe, welcoming presence in a world they don’t always find comfortable,” Messina says. “I appreciate her positive, inclusive attitude and her patience in helping move us in a healthier intellectual direction.”

Alliende’s efforts in this work extend beyond the walls of EGMS. A vocal advocate for creating diverse libraries, Alliende also serves as part of the Redmond School District Equity Task Force and is co-chair of the Oregon Library Association’s EDI and Antiracism Committee. At Hugh Hartman, the district’s new bilingual elementary school, she has been a critical force in helping launch its library program.

She was the first to volunteer for the library development team, and she used funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to hold a monthly family night and host an in-person event with Mexican American children’s author and 2022 Newbery Medal winner Donna Barba Higuera.

Alliende was recently named the Redmond district librarian. She’ll now officially serve the more than 7,000 students in the district while continuing her role at EGMS.

She is optimistic that being named a School Librarian of the Year finalist will draw attention to the need for more funding and staffing for the types of programs she’s been leading.

“Hopefully the district sees we need more support for the libraries. Not just for books, but for the people in the libraries who are so important because of the students they serve­.”

She adds that for so many of her students, the library has become like a second home. Her dream is to “invite families and have workshops in the library” and to create a space “where people can think and share information and find the books they love.”

It’s a scene that doesn’t sound that different from her dinner table back home in Chile, opening the dictionary to launch into that night’s conversation. 

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2022 School Librarian of the Year LogoAbout the Award

An annual award presented by School Library Journal (SLJ) and sponsored by Scholastic, the School Librarian of the Year Award honors a K–12 library professional for outstanding achievement and the exemplary use of 21st-century tools and services to engage children and teens toward fostering multiple literacies. Judges were: Amanda Jones 2021 School Librarian of the Year; Dr. Mike Daria, Superintendent, Tuscaloosa (AL) City Schools; SLJ editors; and a Scholastic Trade Publishing representative.

Learn more about the award and past winners at

Andrew Bauld is a freelance writer covering education.

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