"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Monday, March 31, 2014

Slice of Life: #WhyLib

Saturday, as I was heading off to deliver a presentation on Twitter as a Personal Learning Network (PLN), I got involved in a Twitter conversation where we were sharing how we had found our way to becoming Teacher Librarians. Within minutes an initiative was born, replete with its own hashtag, #whylib. Andy Plemmons, over at Barrow Elementary, has captured the interaction and explains the initiative here. Sherry Gick, over at Rossville Middle and High School, did a great job of getting us going with her postWe are all adding our stories to this Padlet. Please check both of these resources out and share your #whylib story.

As you can imagine, I was excited to have this hot-off-the-presses example of twitter as a PLN to bring to the presentation, but even more, I was excited about this new vehicle for growing our PLN. I believe that stories change us and help us grow,the stories that get printed in the books we share with students, the stories that live on our blogs, and the stories we tell each other. It is now twenty-four hours later and I have already read a few of my colleagues #whylib stories. The work these colleagues do every day is inspiring, but so are their journeys. I feel closer to these friends having read about how they found their way to teaching in a school library. I look forward to reading more #whylib stories in the coming weeks.

I'll start my story in the middle and, with some trepidation, share the Statement of Career Objectives that I submitted with my application for the School Library Teacher Program in the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

"One of the best aspects of growing up in the South End of Boston was the proximity to everything.  One favorite haunts was the Prudential Center, where I would go to get a raspberry-lime rickey from Brigham's Ice Cream Parlour along with a view of my world.  I would head up the elevators to the Skywalk, where I could see: the YWCA, the Cyclorama, Copley Square, the Bancroft Elementary School, the park, friends' houses, and the place that still is my favorite, the South End Branch of the Boston Public Library.  It is two blocks from my parents’ house.  Getting there for some years involved crossing through an abandoned block, which only made the trip more magical.  There it was -- an inviting oasis.  Judy Watkins was there to greet me with a warm smile and genuine interest in what I was reading.  She knew me and knew what I liked to read.  She was always happy to help find books or steer me in the right direction.  I was an avid reader and she played a significant role in that aspect of my life.

I never stopped reading.  I still love to read, but when I had children I realized how much I loved to read with others and to share books.  Reading for my own pleasure is different for me than reading for someone else’s pleasure.  I enjoy the books I read with my children, but I especially love their reaction to the books and the discussions that ensue. 

When thinking about the next phase of my life and what would make me happy, I keep coming back to books.  It is what I love most.  I want to be a school librarian.  I want to be the person to help a child find the book that opens the door for them and starts them on their journey through literature. There are  many books that have moved me or changed the way I think, how gratifying to think of  helping a child find the book that moves them or changes the way they think.    Having spent a year teaching reading, I am fully aware that reading does not come easily to all children.   It is hard to find a “just right book” in a subject area or genre that interests a child, but there are many good books available and I look forward to the challenge. 

I would like to start my career as an elementary school librarian.  First, I think there is a personal knowledge of and relationship with the students.  I have spent a significant amount of time in my children’s school library and have witnessed the relationship between the student population and the librarian.   Second, I think a school library is the core of a school.  It is an essential resource for students and faculty alike.  It is the gateway to information.  Third, I like the range of reading ability, from emerging readers to independent readers.  I enjoyed my time working in classrooms assisting with reading activities. Finally, I would enjoy being part of a team of educators.  Mostly though, I want to be like Judy Watkins and support children on their literary journey."

Eeep. It sounds pretentious, but at its core, is the reason I found my way to becoming a teacher librarian. I love books. I love to share all things book-ish.

What I didn't anticipate, when I wrote that essay, is how much my understanding of a school library program would change during my time at Simmons and every day since. I also didn't realize how skills gathered and honed during my earlier careers would feed into this one. My path has been a funny one - restaurant owner-Bread&Circus manager -community development consultant- readings specialist-teacher librarian.  It might look as if these occupations are not connected, but they are.

A few of my beliefs and how my occupations influenced them:

A Smile Goes a Long Way
I owned and operated restaurants with my husband (during college and for a short time after). I had started waiting on tables at fourteen and grew up understanding the value and impact of good service. Knowing what will make a person happy and being willing to find a way to make it happen can make any business better and any interactions better. This may seem like a stretch, but greeting people with a smile, being a problem solver, and understanding the impact of a person walking away feeling good about an interaction are just part of my being. A part of my being that serves me well in my school setting.

My Experience is Not Your Experience
My childhood was wonderful and unique, but it would not have been for everyone. The experiences I had growing up helped cement the idea that we are all individuals and cannot represent any other individual or group of people. I left the restaurant business and entered the field that I felt drawn to and that fulfilled my college studies. (I was a political science major with an economics minor.) I joined a community development consulting firm, where I worked in low- and moderate-income communities across the country developing loan consortia and programs to support minority economic development and affordable housing.  During my time working for the firm, I acted as a mediator, I helped bring the banks to the table, I led many meetings, and I wrote a lot. I spent a good deal of time listening to people's stories, each of our stories is unique. We are who we are because of the experiences we have had. Each student is an individual.

Technology is a Powerful Tool
In the restaurant, I was in charge of handling the accounts payable and the accounts receivable on a 1982 IBM computer (oh, this things was so new and so cool).  The flashing green lines held a mystery that I wanted to unravel. I went on to work on Lotus 123 spreadsheets and I was hooked.  By the time I got to the consulting firm we were writing our own code at the command prompt. I remember liking Microsoft Word over word perfect, but then getting so angry when Microsoft Word became all knowing and started to take the fun out of coding one's writing. The modem that we used to send files down to the office in Florida was an external box that required some serious set up. Technology has always been a tool for me, the fun now is seeing how the students can use technology as a tool to consume and produce content, express themselves, and share their understanding.

We are All Learners
I have earned a degree in each of my last three decades (20's, 30's and 40's).  I hope I never stop wanting to learn new things. I love being a student, working hard and puzzling out assignments. Unfortunately, I can't afford to be a student all the time, but I can be a learner all the time. Each day in my school library, I am learning beside the students and I am puzzling out lessons, units, activities. 

Stories Connect Us
Judy Watkins put into my hands The Dark is Rising and for that simple gesture, I will never forget her. This act planted a seed, a seed that sat dormant for twenty five years. During my time as a reading specialist, I found myself down in the library looking for books that would teach what the basal readers or other boring (I am sorry!) and didactic books that went along with the program were meant to be teaching. Daniel Pinkwater's The Big Orange Splot was a much more fun way to learn about blending, the same goes for learning about digraphs and trigraphs, inferring and sequencing. I think that good stories resonate within us and the things that we are learning during that process are more easily assimilated because of this. Stories connect us to learning in many ways. I come from a bookish family (my parents were avid readers), but the relationship that Judy Watkins had with me was different. She wasn't related to me, yet she knew me and she knew what I liked to read. I didn't have libraries in my schools until I reached 7th grade and even then, I don't think we went to the school library more than three times over the next six years. I wanted to be Judy, but I wanted to be that person in a school setting that I never had. 

There you have it, more or less, I became a teacher librarian because I love books and because I (somewhat egotistically) wanted to be the person who would put that one special book in another person's hand. But I have grown (thankfully), and become wiser (a process that i hope has not stopped!).  I am not sure that being the person to put the book in a person's hand is really my goal anymore. I think I just like being part of the bigger reader and story picture. 

I really just love going to work every day. I love going into a space filled with books and technology; a space where I get to explore and learn about the power of technology with the students; a space where I am able to a part of the magic that happens when reader and story connect, and, if I'm lucky, I get to see where the journey goes from there. 

April is School Library Month
a perfect time to share your #WhyLib story. 
You can find information on the initiative here
We are all adding our stories to this Padlet
What's holding you back? 


  1. I love this #WhyLib. Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Beautifully said, all of it. I'm so grateful you do what you do with the zeal that you do it. xx

    1. I am sorry that I never thanked you for these comments!