The New Librarian

I started this blog with the intention of creating a space where I could reflect on my classroom practice teaching middle school math and science.  I came up with the name, Teacher Evolution, to remind myself how important it is as an educator to challenge myself, take risks, fail, learn from my mistakes, and continue to grow.  This is what I want for my students and I expect no less of myself.

It is with great pleasure that I announce to my legions of readers (all two of you) the next step in my evolution as a teacher.  I am now the librarian for a K-8 school in New Orleans.  Crack a virtual bottle of champagne across the bow of this blog – it is now about my adventures as a new school librarian!

Library of love...photo © 2009 Nicola Jones | more info (via: Wylio)

This position has taken me to a new school.  As I said good-bye to the school I worked at for the past two years, some of my colleagues were surprised: “You’re leaving the classroom?  But you love teaching!”  Others gave me a knowing smile: “That will be nice.  Some peace and quiet for a change.”  These reactions underscore what I’ve learned in my grad school classes over the past year, that there is widespread misunderstanding as to what it is that a (good) school librarian actually does.

I get it.  Although I have fond memories of school librarians from my childhood, as a teacher I’ve worked with some real stinkers.  The don’t make a sound, don’t touch the books types.

Then, in 2007, I took a job at a school in Los Angeles where I met the intrepid Nora Murphy, the teacher-librarian who changed my life.  Working with Ms. Murphy opened my eyes how positive and far-reaching a school librarian’s influence can be.  Her library was the heart of the school.  Students flocked there at lunch, before and after school to return and check out books.  Teachers, including me, came to her to for feedback on our lesson plans.  She made my research assignments more manageable for students by bookmarking quality websites and creating pathfinders.  She was an enthusiastic collaborator and co-teacher, turning her library into a second classroom for many of us, and my teaching improved as a result of working with her.  She facilitated a faculty young adult book club, exposing us to compelling titles that we could recommend to our students.  She organized and led staff development meetings showing teachers how to incorporate technology into their instruction.  She attended department meetings and served on school-site council committees.  Ms. Murphy was (and still is) everything AASL tells us a school librarian should be.  She is a treasure.  For a teacher looking to challenge himself, to move into a leadership position without giving up teaching or the daily interaction with students, I could not have asked for a more inspiring model.

So for the record, my motivation for moving from the classroom to the library is not about getting away from students.  It’s not about escaping the classroom.  It’s not about looking for a peace and quiet.

And if you’ve read this far, I hope you won’t mind me listing some reasons I did become a school librarian, especially considering that many people are questioning the value of school librarians in the age of the internet.

I became a school librarian because:

  • I love teaching kids.  I love teaching math and science.  But now, instead of trying to cajole kids into liking math or telling them we don’t have time to learn about that really cool rock they found because it’s not in the scope and sequence, I get to teach kids how to learn about whatever it is that they are passionate about.  You like butterflies?  Let’s find out more about butterflies!
  • As Blanche Woolls says in her book, The School Library Media Manager, “the media center is the only room in the school where no student need fail.”  How wonderful to motivate students by their interests rather than the threat of a bad grade.
  • Our “digital natives” are not as good at navigating the internet as adults imagine.  Can they get to Facebook?  Yes.  Can they find the information they need for a research assignment and evaluate it for accuracy, timeliness, authority, or relevance?  Can they search effectively through the morass of information found on the internet? Anyone who has been a classroom teacher can tell you that our students desperately need instruction in research skills, and it is hard to find time for this in the classroom.  Accessing and evaluating information is a skill that adults take for granted, and it is extremely short-sited to neglect its place in the school curriculum if we want our students to succeed and develop as critical thinkers in the information age.
  • Once students do find the information they need, do they know what to do with it?  MOST students I know think it is perfectly acceptable to copy and paste a website and turn it in as research.  Librarians teach students about copyright laws and ethics, about citing sources and synthesizing information, about building upon the knowledge of others rather than plagiarizing.
  • And sure, students can get to Facebook, but do they know how to behave once they get there?  Bullying is easier than ever with current technology and social media.  Many students make bad decisions online that can come back to haunt them.  Librarians teach students about digital citizenship, addressing an area of their lives that is extremely important to them but absent from the traditional curriculum.
  • I get to collaborate with other teachers!  As a classroom teacher, it is not always easy to find opportunities to interact with other adults.  As a librarian, it’s my job to work with every teacher and ensure that the library supports and enriches their curricular efforts.  I get to work on lesson plans with people from every department!  I’m lucky to have landed at a school with fantastic teachers who are excited to have a librarian, and I look forward to supporting them as much as I look forward to learning from their expertise.
  • I get to work with every student in every grade level, from the pip-squeaks up to the older ones that I’m accustomed to.  Far from getting away from students, as a librarian every child in the school is my student.
  • I have a reason, indeed I’m expected to spend time geeking out on the latest technology and web resources related to education.
  • Did I mention I love books?

I am extremely grateful for my ten years as a classroom teacher, and I look forward to being challenged and growing as an educator through school librarianship.  I know I have chosen a career path with tenuous job security in tough economic times.  There is no telling how long I will be able to enjoy this position, but I intend to make the most of it while I it’s mine.  If funding dries up, if the library closes its doors, I’ll gladly make my way back to the classroom, and as my mentor and friend Nora points out, a better teacher because of my experience as a librarian.

So in my opinion this blog title, Teacher Evolution, still stands.  The teacher is evolving!  I was hired at a school that its entire facility, including the library, during Hurricane Katrina.  We are currently in a temporary building without a library.  A new building – with a big, new library! – is currently under construction and is slated to open this winter.  I look forward to writing about my experiences as a new school librarian, with a rare and fortunate perspective of seeing the construction of a new library and putting together a collection from scratch.

Even better than a new building with new books is the incredible administration and faculty that I will be working with.  I’m so impressed with everyone I have met so far.  My principal has been introducing me to future colleagues as “our new librarian.”  It has a nice ring to it.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The New Librarian

  1. Pamela Thompson

    Chris I love you and and your blog.
    You were the best teacher next door ever!
    When is your first day?

    • Thanks Pam! I love you too! Those days next door were the best, weren’t they?

      Technically I start August 4, but I’m already working on developing the collection with my practicum classmates at UNO, writing the selection policy, planning the library curriculum for students from kindergarten through eighth grade. There are a million things to do. I’m going to be very busy this summer!

  2. Chris I’m so proud of you. You continue to inspire me after all these years. I can’t wait to read more stories about your adventures as a new librarian. Also, as someone who was ok with the old library model of monk-like silence and a glacial atmosphere, I have to say that you’ve really opened my eyes to what a school library and librarian can be. I never thought it could be this rich, dynamic, super-engaging learner’s paradise. It wasn’t like that when we were kids save for a puppet show at Halloween once a year. The role of school librarian is more important than ever–to guide students through the nebulous cyberage we’ve entered, to teach research and to inspire a love for reading and stories. To create a safe place where students’ interests and curiosities are encouraged and nurtured. Your new students are lucky. They have no idea.

  3. Chris, this is amazing. I have missed you so much over the years, and I am so pleased to see you in education. It is a perfect fit. I hope your new librarian job is wonderful they are lucky to have you.

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