Yet, I find it important as ever to celebrate important successes and strides.
MSLA President Jen Varney is the Librarian at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School in Cambridge, MA
Well, what a year, huh? As I sit down to write this column and reflect on the past year, I am almost at a loss for words. Welcoming students back into school buildings and into our libraries after 18 months of pandemic disruption would have been more than enough of a challenge. But of course, the universe thought that throwing relentless COVID surges at us would be an added bonus, and hey— how about some book challenges and ominous censorship news coming in from other parts of the country while we’re at it? Educators are feeling more burnt out than ever, and school librarians have every reason to feel this way.
Yet, I find it important as ever to celebrate important successes and strides.
Shawnee Sloop is the Library Media Specialist at the Fletcher Maynard School in Cambridge, MA
1. What's your name, title and school?
Shawnee Sloop, Library Media Specialist, Fletcher Maynard School (Cambridge Public Schools)
2. How did you come to librarianship?
I’ve always been an avid reader and have fond memories of childhood visits to the local library. I studied English at the University of Delaware, and when I graduated I worked for a handful of years in marketing and social media. My experience in those roles left me feeling unfulfilled and without joy. As I took some time to think through what I wanted to do with my life (the age old question) my sister suggested I think about librarianship. I did some research and learned about the LIS program at Simmon University. From there, things just fell into place and I began my career in school librarianship.
3. How would you explain the importance of your role to a nonlibrarian?
The school library, and by extension the school library teacher plays an essential role in a child’s development and education. The library is much more than “the room with books.” In the library’s physical and digital spaces, students foster a love of literature, critical thinking skills, a growth mindset, and they are given the chance to enjoy their time in a safe space where all are welcome.
4. What are you working on right now?
This is my first year at FMA and so I have spent the better part of the year getting to know my new collection! I’m in the process of finishing up a collection analysis of the 500’s and even doing some collection maintenance.
5. What is going well?
Relationship building with students and staff is such an important part of this job. It is a service position after all! We serve the entire school community. I believe that my goal of taking time to connect with the school community is paying off.
6. What is the most challenging thing so far?
Being new is challenging anywhere, and I would say that the most challenging thing so far is just taking in all the new information and getting my footing. I finally feel like I’m getting comfortable and getting into my routine.
7. What's the most unexpected thing about your new job?
The most unexpected thing about my job is probably the number of times I hear my name repeated on a daily basis! It’s astounding how many questions students will direct at you.
8. What are you reading or watching?
I just started watching a Hulu miniseries called “Under the Banner of Heaven” which is based on the Jon Krakauer book of the same name. Definitely for fans of true-crime. I am currently reading Outlawed by Anna North, which is an alt-history, feminist fiction novel set in the wild west. It’s great so far!
9. What do you hope the MA School Library Association can do for you?
I feel so grateful for the MA School Library Association! It is such a wonderful community that I look to on a regular basis when I need to problem-solve, brainstorm ideas, or connect with MA school library peers. I hope that MSLA continues to be that resource for me throughout my career.
Liza Halley is the Library Teacher at Plympton Elementary School in Waltham, MA
Two Roads Converged In the Yellow Woods: Poetry and Comics
As a reader of my column, you know by now I am obsessed with reading graphic novels and finding ways to connect comics to the classroom. What you might not know is that I set my alarm extra early every morning so I have time to write and read poetry. I am a person who is moved by the power of language. Since middle school, I have been writing and reading poetry, attending workshops, teaching poetry in my children’s schools, and, as a teacher librarian, working to connect students to poetry all throughout the school year. As I write this article we are in the waning days of National Poetry Month and I want to turn your attention to the convergence of poetry and comics.
Valerie Diggs is a former President of MSLA and currently works as a Senior Visiting Instructor at Salem State University, where she also serves as the Graduate Program Coordinator of the MEd Library Media Studies program
Would you recommend starting a Friends of the Library program for a school library? Could you discuss some of the benefits as well as the drawbacks to creating a group like this?
Does your school library need friends? I am not sure any of us could answer no to that question. Libraries of all types have struggled to garner support, recognition, and funding for resources, programs, and other needs to help our libraries run smoothly and efficiently. While parent organizations can be sources of funding and support, their focus is across the entire school. A “Friends” group is just for the library. We need that.
Luke Steere is the librarian at Wilson Middle School in Natick, MA
I. My Sixth Grade Guided Inquiry Class
At Wilson Middle School my Guided Inquiry Design (GID) class is focused on student’s self-schemas. Whatever topic they would like to research, they study. The challenge is squeezing it all into 16 sessions: the trimester special is split with a tech ed course. This is not a total bummer: one of the things the time restriction breeds is more focused topics. I encourage a lot of sharing within the inquiry community to see how seemingly disparate topics can connect to overarching themes.
Gillian Bartoo is the District Cataloger for Cambridge Public Schools in Cambridge, MA
As I stated in my previous column Dewey, even “simplified” Dewey, tends to be far too academic and detailed for most K-8 libraries and, in some ranges, even at the high school level. The younger the patrons of the library, the more willing we need to be to go off Dewey without totally scrapping it. I cling to Dewey in general because I think there is real value in teaching students universally predictable systems of organization, particularly in a world that is increasingly organized with proprietary algorithms and taxonomies that are often complex. Using Dewey is one of the ways that we teach and model logic, pattern, and organizational principles. It makes the students independent users in any library that uses Dewey and prepares them for more complex book organizational systems like Library of Congress Classification.
Colleen Simpson is the Library Media Specialist at Lester J. Gates Middle School in Scituate, MA
We are few and far between, but there are a handful of us out here in secondary ed. library land that teach on a fixed schedule. I’ve read so often that a flexible day is best for librarians, and often thought about what my position might look like if I was able to push into classrooms regularly. I do, however, fully embrace my role in the specialist rotation as I see every student in courses twice throughout their time in the building and I give direct instruction in information literacy, news literacy and media literacy.
My course is called Research Media Projects and appears on student schedules as RMP, which is how we refer to the class. We are on trimesters and students take RMP for half of one of those– a six week schedule we call a minimester– in both 7th and 8th grade. It is part of their regular specials rotation and, as I often am asked by other middle school librarians, all student assignments are graded as they are in all specials.
Patsy Divver is the Library Teacher at Millis Middle/High School in Millis, MA
and the recipient of the 2022 Judi Paradis Action Grant
At the end of June, I will be retiring from a role that I’ve held for over 33 years. This “library person” identity began back in 1988 when I officially was ‘the library mom’ for my oldest daughter’s kindergarten class. What fun going in and digging through those many picture books, introducing the art of reading to young minds! From the beginning, I was hooked on books, and I have enjoyed my role as school library teacher over the past 25 years.
Heather Lobenstine is the Library Teacher at Shutesbury Elementary School in Shutesbury, MA
We are pleased to present some original poetry by Heather Lobenstine. Enjoy!
Bestiary of Young Library Patrons
I hear them coming, down the aisle of our library
clucking over the fairy books, pecking amiably at their covers.
When a Ripley’s Believe It or Not catches one’s eye
she squawks, and there’s much bustling
at the juicy pictures.
I see him, fastidious forager.
He has slipped behind my desk, is rifling through
the return bin, has his paws on the latest Dog Man
which is surely on hold for someone else.
I’d tell him to put it back but
raccoons are fearsome when approached.
Her teacher has sent her to find a book;
she plods through the stacks, not finding one
worth sticking her neck out for.
“What’s the biggest book in this library?” he asks.
Together we carry the unabridged dictionary to a table
where he unhinges his jaw—or maybe it’s his backpack--
and swallows it whole. He won’t need another book for a week.
The Wild Boar
This omnivore snuffles through one display
after another, arriving at my desk with breath redolent
of early readers, biographies, even holiday books
long buried underground.
The Guinea Pig
“Do you have any books about…” fill in the blank
with the latest game or show. All too often
I forget to feed her, leave her squeaking softly
in her too small cage.
The Border Collie
The day after library day he is back, pushing each book
through the return slot, eyeing me expectantly.
“Would you like to check out more books?”
I ask. These words arc above us and he is off--
fetching the stick I’ve thrown.
Janice Alpert is the Library Media Specialist at Lynnfield High School in Lynnfield, MA
On Friday November 19th, Lynnfield High School Helpdesk students set out on an ambitious mission. The mission was to purchase components to build a powerful and high performing computer for the LHS Makerspace that would not only keep up with the new Dremel 3D printer, but would be aesthetically pleasing too. The students were given an overall budget and then they strategized to see how to allot the money to the variety of components they needed to build a computer.
Deeth Ellis is the Head Librarian at Boston Latin School in Boston, MA, and a Doctoral Student, School of Library Science, Simmons University
The next step in my doctoral program is to conduct a research study about Massachusetts principals’ knowledge and perceptions of the role of school librarians and school libraries. I have chosen to focus on the librarian’s shared leadership with the principal, one of the four points of leverage outlined in the February 2022 Forum article. Points of leverage are areas of action that require attention from administrators and librarians. Those four points are: school libraries as places of active learning, building capacity for collaboration, role of the principal (revised as “shared leadership with the principal”), and state agencies. Through advocacy, promotion, and an evidence-based approach to decision making at the school, the role of school librarian and school library can be clarified and strengthened through evaluation of these four areas.
Maria D'Orsi is the Library Teacher at Medford High and Vocational Technical High School in Medford, MA
Some time ago, I was reading the blog of one of our MSLA members and she listed all the things she did in one day. It was a blow-by-blow listed on a vertical timeline. Seeing the many activities in a simple list was stunning, and revelatory, and inspiring. I have never forgotten it and when I answered the call for Forum articles this Spring, I thought about that blog and how I would love to see how others would make their lists. So, to that end, here’s my timeline to start us off, my Day in the Life (of a School Librarian).
Reba Tierney is the Library Teacher at Waltham High School in Waltham, MA.
For this "From the Vault" we head back to April 2012, and revisit the feature, "Off the Shelf: Listserv Hot Topics" in which editor Audrey Borus rounded up features from the MSLA ListServ. Some of these "Hot Topics" are still trending today, including summer reading and banning books. Here are some highlights.