Leveraging Librarians

This post is written by member Oona Abrams, editor of English Leadership Quarterly

 When I was seventeen years old, my (not so) secret wish was to be cast as Marian the Librarian in New Trier High School’s 1992 production of The Music Man. Really, what was there not to love about Marian Paroo? She was the stunning beneficiary of all the books in River City’s library, single, self-sufficient, uncompromising, and unapologetic about her high standards—in short, my heroine.

Par for the course in my high school theater career, I was cast as Marian’s mother. Meh. Mrs. Paroo wasn’t a fan of Marian’s high standards. She wanted her daughter to “manage her expectations” when it came to both books and romance. But Marian was stubborn. She could see through all the pretense of her persistent gentleman caller, Harold Hill. And in the end, by keeping both her standards high and her heart open, she helped Harold discover the most authentic and successful version of himself. While I never got to play the role of Marian the Librarian, I will always share her passion for books and high standards.

This past April, I chaperoned a field trip to the New York Public Library. The CHS Book Club went on a tour with one of the docents there, and it struck me how enraptured the students were. They were stunned by the volumes of periodicals, by the amount of information that is physically stored in one place. And, like most book lovers, they adored the gift shop. It was tough to get them back on the bus, but the enticement of visiting two NYC bookstores did the trick. Of course the architecture and design of NYPL are awe inspiring, but in addition to those details, our students were in awe of the quiet places held sacred there. It reminded me of some of those scenes in the River City library when Harold Hill is scolded for raising his voice, and it certainly stood in contrast to our school library, where students rush in droves during their study hall periods to collaborate—often loudly.

In addition to following rock-star librarians like John Schumacher, Elissa Malespina, and Joyce Valenza on social media, I’m fortunate to have two librarian friends with whom I have regular contact. Mike Curran, who is my school’s LMS, and Susie Highley, a science teacher turned LMS from Indiana. I talk with Susie almost every day on Voxer. She is my first resource for everything from the latest tech tips to a book recommendation for myself, a student, or a family member. I see Mike almost every day as well—he is a steward of learning and a navigator of change in our LMC. As I write this, our library is being redesigned. At the beginning of every marking period, I send Mike a list of titles I’d love to see the school library carry, and he always manages to get them. And they don’t go up on a shelf—he has them displayed in the front hallways and at the entrance of the library. Every time I begin a new unit (memoir, argument, narrative nonfiction), Mike has a cart of books at the ready for my students to peruse. He brings it down to my classroom, allows students to check them out from there, and keeps a running list of titles on our library database for my future reference. This past spring, Mike spread the word about the 2017 NerdCampNJ among his community of librarians, which resulted in a strong cohort coming to share their expertise with literacy leaders. And then, of course, there are my town librarians. I often joke that I’m as popular with them when I walk in the door as Norm is on Cheers (“Oonz!”)

Librarians play several roles, but the most important one is modeling the inquiry and curiosity that we most want to see in our students and in ourselves. And here is the part where I feel like a bit of a fraud, because there are many years in my career when I simply did not take my students to the library at all, when there was either “not the time” to do it or I settled for a source that came up in a Google search instead of encouraging students to take a deeper dive into databases; when a newborn at home and too many papers to grade meant that I did not take the high road like Marian and instead took the path of least resistance, like Mrs. Paroo; when the librarian in the high school I worked in was just not someone as warm and invitational as Mike or Susie and as such was not someone with whom I wanted to “play nice.” Have you been in this spot too? I sure hope I’m not alone in my confession here.

Throughout the August issue of ELQ, you’ll see that the authors of the articles, like Marian the Librarian, have kept their standards high and their hearts open. They have passion for helping educators and learners on their journeys, and they are “future-ready.” I hope you enjoy the issue as much as I have as I’ve worked on it. As a new school year approaches (or, in some states, begins!), may we all be inspired to collaborate in the ways we see modeled in these authors’ stories.

Oona Marie Abrams has been a high school English teacher since 1996. Editor of English Leadership Quarterly, Abrams has also been selected as an Emerging Leader Fellow by the Council on English Leadership (CEL). She resides in Bergen County, New Jersey with her husband and four sons.

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About Lu Ann McNabb

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb is the Policy & Alliances Associate for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Lu Ann has long been an advocate for teachers, students and education. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said, "Education is the anvil upon which democracy is forged."

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