How I Developed a Crush on School Librarians

By Neva Kelly

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.


What You Can Do Now that the Election is Over

by Dorcas Hand

Now we know who is governor and who will be working in the state legislature; we have our work cut out for us. As you see below, from the timeline TLA’s Gloria Meraz posted to the TLA website ( ) earlier in the fall, there were things we should have done before now. But there is even more we should do – and can still do. Those photos you took in October for Snapshot Day – you can use them now as well. Between now and January, contact your legislators, the ones that have direct impact on your school district and on your residential district.  Use this time as an opportunity to make friends with elected officials. Help them understand school libraries as assets to their communities. Building relationships with these folks will help us know how to keep the conversation going into the future.
You have several goals:
  • You want to remind them how important the students in your schools are to the future of the state of Texas – from your perspective as their librarian. I’m thinking of the Jon Green quote, “So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in school; it’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.” How do school libraries contribute to the community?
  • You want them to know why TexQuest resources matter to your students. Yes, to your students – via your teachers and curriculum. For details,
  • You want them to know why school librarians and libraries matter to student test scores and academic achievement. They need stories that illustrate the data. The data is out there from various states, but the stories that demonstrate the connection for particular students and groups in your Texas schools have a greater chance of getting through to our legislators.
Remember last week’s post? Stand Up, Speak Out, Recruit; Repeat. Well, the RECRUIT piece is even more important when you start reaching out to legislators, especially new ones. Ask your parents and your students to write letters and send copies of projects; having voices beyond our professional ones is really important. The more we can predispose legislators before the budget process begins, the more likely they will vote our way. Just keep those cards and letters moving in the right direction, towards individual legislators all across the state!

  • Fall 2014:  Introduce yourself to your state representative, senator, and candidates and talk about the importance of supporting library issues.
  • October 1 – October 31: Use Library Snapshot Day (you can select any day in October) as a PR and advocacy forum.
  • November 4: General Election
  • January 13, 2015: First Day of the 84th Legislature
  • January 14 – beginning of February: House and Senate leaders appoint committees for the 84th Legislature.
  • February: State budget hearings on Appropriations Bill (HB 1/ SB 1) begin.
  • February 12: Library Virtual Action Day. Plan activities that you and your library supporters can undertake to promote statewide funding for library programming.


Good News – Spotlight Shines on Texas Librarians

by Susi Grissom
First came the news in August that school librarian Irene Kistler, librarian at Northeast ISD’s Ed White Middle School, had been named a state finalist for the Texas Teacher of the Year award.  Irene was selected as a finalist from over 140,000 teachers by the Texas Association of School Administrators, and the fact that a school librarian was honored in such a public and prestigious way was great news indeed. 

September brought another reason for celebration when Colleen Graves, librarian at Lamar Middle School in Lewisville ISD, was named as one of two finalists for School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year Award.  Developed with sponsor Scholastic Library Publishing, the award “honors a K–12 library professional for outstanding achievement and the exemplary use of 21st-century tools and services to engage children and teens toward fostering multiple literacies” (SLJ website). 

Colleen more than fits that description!  Since becoming the librarian at Lamar, Colleen has transformed the librarian into an exciting place where the entire school community can learn, experiment, and create.  After giving the library a physical make-over with new color, furniture, and design, Colleen zeroed in on updating technology and its implementation in instruction.  Through opportunities like “Maker Monday” workshops and “Coding and Robotics” classes, Colleen inspires her students to be independent creators, giving them the tools to use a variety of technologies and resources and then letting them explore and share their products.  She also relies on her active and enthusiastic Teen Advisory Board to work with her on developing exciting projects, encouraging their leadership and input in the process.  A certified Google  Education Trainer, Colleen received a Lewisville Education Foundation Grant in 2013 to update iPad technology for library and classroom use.  Then changing her focus to her aging print collection , she received a second Foundation grant in 2014, funding a proposal entitled, “This is Not Your Grandma’s Library, but Her Books are Still Here!” 

When contacted about her recent SLJ honor, Colleen wrote, “It is such an honor receiving the School Librarian of the Year Finalist Award!  Andy Plemmons and Michelle Colte [finalist and winner of the award] are superstar elementary, and I’m excited to represent secondary school teacher librarians.  I’ve had so much support since I started at Lamar.  My former principal, Mrs. Lewis, helped me makeover the library into a learning commons and helped me buy supplies for our Makerspace.  This award has helped me develop my library programming even further by helping me to reach out to librarians outside of my district.  Now our students are able to make connections with students and experts around the nation.” 

Congratulations, Irene and Colleen!  TASL is proud to call you both Texas school librarians!!




Step up, Speak Out, Recruit Others - That’s What it Takes

by Dorcas Hand

The group Students Need Libraries in HISD (Houston) has worked to encourage librarians and other stakeholders to contact school board members with information to begin to build increased support for school libraries in the district. We can say that the word “library” has been spoken at formal meetings more often in the year since we have begun this effort than it was before; we can also say there is far to go in the process in a climate where much resistance remains. But a few board members are listening and noticing our persistence, even absorbing the documents we send along.

Co-founder Debbie Hall (retired HISD librarian) adapted some of Gloria Meraz’ (TLA Director of Communications) tip sheets for contacting legislators to offer HISD folks tips to contact our board members. The tips are posted here, as well as to and the Students Need Libraries Houston Facebook page.

Step up, Speak Out, Recruit Others; Repeat Often. That is the core message.

These are excellent resources for contacting any community leaders in support of school libraries. And we already know how important it is to remind the community often about the strength school libraries bring to student achievement. Just like when you contact legislators, tell stories with student accomplishments based on library resources, send photos, invite them to visit your library, and even take yourself on a field trip to their office. Heck - take students and parents along! What a civics lesson that could be.

Three easy steps: Step up, Speak Out, Recruit Others. Take them one step at a time - TASL is here to help.