Back in 2012, I was chairing a meeting of Aransas County ISD’s Curriculum Team when the district’s five librarians burst into the conference room with noise-makers and flowers. “Congratulations, Dr. Kelly!” they cried. “You’ve been named the 2012 TASL Administrator of the Year!” Such an honor was completely unexpected and exceptionally humbling because of one somewhat embarrassing fact about me: five years earlier, when I came to Aransas County ISD in 2007– with 23 years of experience in education at every level from early childhood to graduate school – I did not truly understand the critical role of school librarians. One certainly would have been hard pressed to consider me an advocate. I viewed librarians in the traditional light of managing a collection of books and making kids be quiet. I always thought librarians were nice to have, but not necessarily essential. After all, I had worked in schools that were getting by with a paraprofessional managing the library.
But those lovely librarians from my school district opened my eyes. Two things happened in the spring of my first year at ACISD. First, they used money from a library grant to have teachers attend the annual TLA conference. How wise! They had the foresight to know that teacher attendance at the conference would promote a partnership between librarians and teachers that would be long-reaching. They all came home on fire and shared their desire to start a new grassroots team within the district – the Library, Media, and Technology Collaborative, or LMaT. Inspired by their enthusiasm, I asked to be a part of the group, and was able to witness their leadership and innovative spirit blossom. Today, seven years after its formation, LMaT is a thriving collaborative that organizes an annual district-wide Media Fair and develops policies for ever-evolving technology use in ACISD schools. In addition to staff members from all campuses in the district, LMaT now includes high school student representatives. Media Fair consistently receives the highest evaluations of all professional development sessions within the district, and observation data reveal that teachers have increased both the quantity and quality of technology integration.
The second thing that happened that spring was that I received from the librarians their Annual Report and Five-Year Plan. This 25-page document floored me! I had no idea what they truly did on their campuses! I met with my superintendent and asked that the librarians be given the opportunity to present the document to our School Board. I still remember that first presentation. The Board members were as shocked and impressed as I had been, and made several comments to the effect of “This is nothing like I remember from the library when I was in school!” and “Well, these aren’t my momma’s librarians!” Thankfully, this has turned into an annual report to the Board. With each presentation, the librarians showcase their innovative practice and demonstrate to Board members the myriad ways they are supporting district academic goals.
After that first year, everything snowballed. The librarians invited me into their world, and I began to pay attention to their role in our schools: providing monthly professional development to staff, securing resources for teachers, teaching research skills, advancing technology integration, planning and facilitating parent education, providing enrichment experiences for students, networking with colleagues in other districts, presenting at conferences, spending hours and hours staying abreast of children’s and young adult literature so that they would have that just right book for every student… This was not the school librarian I remembered from my childhood. These professionals were constantly challenging themselves to do more to support teachers and contribute to student achievement, to ensure that the library is truly the hub of the campus, and to help every student and every adult be an effective user of ideas and information.
In short, over the next few years, I developed a huge crush on our school librarians. It really was their fault, because they were passionate and talented, and they were willing to step up and make themselves indispensable. I became an advocate for our librarians and their programs because they were just so incredibly good. So good, in fact, that our library programs were recognized as a model for others in the region. So good that, in the midst of difficult staffing decisions, administrators and school board members continue to confirm their value by maintaining all professional and paraprofessional library positions in the district.
There are far too many people out there who are just as ignorant as I was seven years ago. The evidence of this is seen in the number of school librarians who were reassigned to teaching positions and replaced with paraprofessionals when school budgets were slashed in 2011. I strongly believe that school librarians must advocate for themselves as we face an upcoming legislative session in Texas that could once again impact public school budgets. This is not the time to be modest! You must educate others – your school board, your central office administrators, your campus administrators – so that they too will really come to understand the vital role you plan in the success of our students.
Neva Kelly, Ed. D, served as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Aransas County ISD from 2008-2013. She currently works as an educational consultant. In 2012, Dr. Kelly won the TASL Distinguished Library Service Award for School Administrators in recognition of her continued support of ACISD library services.