Everybody Needs a Librarian

Notes from the Classroom

booksplosionDuring a power outage this afternoon, I decided it was time to tackle a major problem in my house: the books-plosion.

This–the image on the left–was just my daughter’s room. We had similar piles in the living room and my son’s room.

It was time to cull the herd.  

I put the children to work and came back about an hour later to discover the herd was still quite large. However, a budding young librarian had been organizing.

I listened at the door as my son, who’s eight, talked to my five-year-old daughter about his system of organization: These books are really more for me, Molly. But this shelf will be great for you while you’re learning to read.”

It was one of those heartwarming parenting moments, and I watched as he helped her pick a “just right” book to add to her own shelf. I’m sure he’ll continue giving his sister recommendations for years to come, but at some point, my daughter will probably need recommendations from a real librarian. I’m hoping that one will be available at her school.

Last week, The Detroit News ran an opinion piece about the need to restore certified library staff to our public schools, and as I read about the horrifying numbers of dwindling librarians in public schools, I realized that I needed to share my story. At Novi, we’ve retained our librarians, and I’ve had the benefit of seeing firsthand the impact a certified librarian can have on a school.

Fostering a Culture of Reading

Certainly, anyone can–and should–give book recommendations to students. But you can’t understate the impact of having someone whose job it is to read widely and share that knowledge.  

An example helps explain why. Two years ago, a young man came to me insisting that he hated reading. I went through all of my usual winners that hook kids, but I was unsuccessful.

So I sent him to our librarian, Bethany Bratney. She managed to figure out he was interested in organized crime, and she matched him with the right book: Son of the Mob, by Gordon Korman.  

Bethany comes weekly to my AP Language classes and recommends books that will push students’ thinking, and help deepen their contextual pools. She visits our co-departmental special education classes and book-talks our Playaway collection, giving kids access to all kinds of books they may not be able to read independently.  

To foster a culture of reading in a school, then, it’s essential to have someone whose job is to know books that will be the right fit for all different kinds of kids.

Spreading the Book Love

Her job doesn’t stop at recommendations, though. Bethany has been key in our efforts to celebrate reading with our students.

dress up

Our last New Years reading party, with students’ reading resolutions. Click to enlarge.

For the past two years, she and I have co-hosted a New Year’s Reading Resolutions party in December, and a Reading in the Sunshine summer reading kick-off in June. In February we made Book Valentines. Last fall she helped another teacher participate in the Global Read Aloud with her students, and this semester she’s encouraging kids to Read Without Walls, and find books that help them learn about other people and cultures. Bethany also leads two different, well-attended staff book clubs–one for “fun” books and one for professional books.

Could all of these things happen without her? Maybe. But would they? I don’t think they would–at least not all of them.

Team Teaching

Still, her job extends even beyond all of that.

I teach a research-intensive class, and Bethany has become a regular visitor. I considered myself pretty adept at the old interwebs until I watched Bethany model how to narrow a search in JSTOR. In other classes, she teaches the basics of source evaluation and citation.

She also helps support writing in the content areas, and works with our science and social studies teachers to teach research techniques. We don’t have it all figured out when it comes to teaching research skills or research writing. But we’re getting a lot of help approaching this in a systematic way.

Everybody Needs a Bethany

Unfortunately, you can’t have ours. But, if you’re lucky like me and you teach in a district with a certified teacher librarian, I hope you’re taking full advantage of this person’s skills!

If your district has cut those positions, I’d encourage you to advocate for their return. We, as teachers, need to communicate to the those in power how important teacher librarians are. We simply cannot expect to build vibrant reading communities in our schools without the help of qualified professional librarians. 

Hattie Maguire (@TeacherHattie) is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her sixteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition, AP Seminar and doing Tier 2 writing intervention. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.

Position Statement on Standardized Assessment in Michigan by the MAISA General Education Leadership Network

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This position statement outlines MAISA GELN’s support for the Smarter Balanced assessments.  Oakland Schools is a part of this network and stands behind the statement.