And then there are those other, more personal things; fear of Covid, fear of any kind of illness, testing positive (something I have managed to evade so far), loss of family and friends, coworkers and neighbors (something I have NOT been able to avoid), isolation, screen fatigue, weight gain (yup!!), vaccination anxiety, etc.
For those of us who remember the Blizzard of “78, Covid 19 has eclipsed the drama 100-fold but both events will have a long lasting legacy for those that remember them. There are other legacies, of course, such as the personal ones we leave behind, our mark upon the world, upon our families, upon our jobs. Now that I am eligible to retire, though not quite ready to do so yet, I nevertheless have considered what I will leave behind in the job that I love and it does help to guide me in some of my choices. Before I talk about my plans though, I'd like to highlight the legacies of a few of those who have already retired from the school library world, what they have left behind, and what they are doing now.
Kathy wanted to continue to be an “active contributor to our profession” when she retired from her school library position at the Boston Arts Academy. Kathy was in the second year of her MSLA presidency at the time and continued to serve school libraries and school librarians for another 12 years, seeing through her presidency, mentoring incoming president, and then continuing on as MSLA Executive Director.
Kathy is a skilled organizer, which she put to use refining the MSLA organization, adding her voice to advocacy, and taking on the executive board handbook, updating the language to reflect current goals and practices. The time and significance of this effort cannot be overstated. Several positions had to be created to take on the many hats she wore as executive director, including archivist, since all MSLA records were filed away in the safest place Kathy knew - her basement. There are fun memories for those who assisted Kathy in weeding and disseminating this treasure trove of MSLA history. Kathy provided sustenance (read into this what you will) for those that participated, highlighting another of Kathy’s qualities - always ready to party.
During those so called retirement years, Kathy worked on various task forces and committees within the national school library organization, which culminated in being named co-chair of the AASL National Conference in 2015. This experience allowed Kathy to share ways to make our own MSLA conferences more relevant and more professional.
Fully retired now, Kathy has returned to an early passion, her music, learning the Celtic Harp, and sharing her beautiful music on her YouTube channel, Kathy Lowe Harpist, as well as her Facebook page. While Kathy says she did not consciously consider her legacy, her eye toward the future of school libraries in general, and MSLA in particular, was exactly that.
At her retirement in 2014, Ann knew she didn’t want to just “cut the cord” with MSLA because she truly believes in how vital school libraries are to student learning, as are her relationships with school librarians, and understandably Ann now feels some level of guilt that her retirement prevented her from experiencing “the tumult” of the pandemic in the schools, though she ruefully admits thanks at avoiding the dangers of working.
While MSLA president, Ann was a fierce advocate for school libraries to be included in the ‘game of education’ as she called it, which was (and continues to be) the battle with the DOE to include school library standards in the Curriculum Frameworks. Ann continues to advocate as she also continues in her role as MSLA webmaster since the 1990’s. The Forum has undergone many changes over the years, from a print newsletter to its current online platform with articles, archives, and links that provide a lifeline to school librarians and it remains an invaluable resource.
If you know Ann, you know that travel and her grandchildren are the joys of her retirement. Ann’s name could never be mentioned at an MSLA board meeting without someone saying where is she now? Despite being retired though, Ann always consulted the calendar and planned her trips around conferences and the awards committee, another of her involvements. Sadly, this pandemic has hit hard in limiting Ann’s ability to move around the globe.
For Ann, her legacy is more about making a difference through continued involvement and ongoing contributions to the MSLA. Despite all that she has achieved, including rising to the top spot in Massachusetts school libraries, Ann nevertheless gives credit to those she sees as the heroes of the profession, the ones who set the example of passion and leadership for school libraries; Peggy Hallisey, Doris Smith, Shelly Glantz, and Donna Guerin.
I admit it, I have admired Valerie since I found out she hailed from the district where I live, work, and have raised my family. In fact, as she was preparing her library for the creation of the first MA Learning Commons, I met Valerie when I picked up VHS cases they were giving away, circa 2007. Then I visited again for the grand opening of the Learning Commons in 2008 and was blown away by the transformation. How does one run a school library, manage the district libraries, and attend to a major construction project at the same time? Valerie did it. Amazing.
And then there are all the accolades and awards she has received, both from the district where she taught, to regional and national organizations like NESLA and AASL. When you talk about a titan in the field, you can’t help but think of Valerie. So beloved and respected is she, in fact, that Valerie was asked to be a regular contributor to the Forum. Her column, Ask a Library Legend, is not only aptly named but also the most popular column in the newsletter.
Despite the national and local recognitions that Valerie had garnered, and in stark contrast to the appreciation shown Kathy and Ann upon their retirement, Valerie was laid off from her position without warning in the fall of 2014. The library world was shocked that her beautiful, state of the art, heart-of-the-school library was now managed by a tech integration specialist, at that time. But way leads on to way, as the poet said, and Valerie never returned. She left behind a library admired by all, a strong program that survived the budget cuts, and a vision for her community that lives on. That is quite a legacy. She followed that up with two years in a Catholic school library but then was in demand to teach at both Salem University and Leslie so the die was cast.
Today, Valerie still misses her teenage students but loves being able to shape the future of school libraries in her current position as a senior instructor and Program Coordinator of the Library Studies Program at Salem University, which she loves. She has been able to put to good use all the knowledge and skill she acquired as a school librarian.
Valerie admits, unapologetically, that she does not wish to be part of the pandemic turmoil. One of her recent assignments asked her students to create a school library reopening plan and, in her words, “were an eye-opener as to the myriad of issues, roadblocks, and actual abuses of space and personnel in the school library world.” Teaching graduate students keeps Valerie in the game, and acknowledges that for everyone retirement means something different. She thinks of Carolyn Markuson, another legend, who worked into her eighties, while others never look back as soon as they are eligible. Her advice is to stay active as long as you can, make sure you remain relevant, and think of retirement as a time of transition, change, and regrouping. Notice there is no mention of rest from this remarkable woman.
And lastly, me
I have worked in my school library every day since the closure last March, with the exception of a few weeks last April/May when my district wasn’t yet organized. The library is still closed and all librarians and paras are doing different things in their buildings based on their principal’s needs but mostly equipment management, providing tech support for remote learning, classroom coverage, and creating and managing our remote learning website and resources. This is exactly what Valerie was referring to - issues, roadblocks, and abuses of space. The silver lining? I led all hiring for the last 12 years so I can say I am completely satisfied and indeed proud of the district library staff that I assembled. Staff development is a good legacy.
This pandemic year also brought my retirement plans into focus. I am glad I got to be a part of the pandemic tumult. I have enjoyed assisting students, parents, and staff in making remote learning work but it was due to the fact that the tech department was severely understaffed. Also, my evaluation is going to be difficult to write this year since goals have shifted. But I learned that I am not too old to roll with the punches and adapt to change, and most importantly I am definitely not ready to retire. There’s a new world of education emerging and I want to be a part of it.
So many variables affect the roads we travel down and the choices we make. Those, in turn, affect what we leave behind. I’ve written about Kathy, Ann, and Valerie, and the choices they made but also how negative situations, as with Valerie, can offer opportunities if you embrace them. I hope they have inspired you as you consider your legacy, what lies before you, and how it may affect school libraries, your library, your community, and you.
FYI - I have used quotes from Kathy, Ann, and Valerie with their permission. I did not include citations since this is for our association and didn’t think it was necessary.