DA op-ed: In praise of school libraries—and librarians
I love libraries. It’s a love that began when I was in preschool and continues to this day. My love of listening to and reading stories dates back to my early childhood in suburban Chicago.
Libraries sparked my curiosity and imagination so much that every day I would beg my teacher for a pass to the Hickory Elementary School library.
I enjoyed reading the works of Virginia Hamilton, Judy Blume and Paula Danzinger and anything that had a Disney stamp on it. And I spent hours reading books after school and on weekends at the public library.
My parents, both teachers, were born and raised in the Jim Crow South: Shreveport, Louisiana, and New Orleans. Along with their ancestors, they were a part of the great 1960s migration of African Americans who escaped the Deep South for the promise of a better life and better jobs in Chicago.
For them, libraries served as a conduit to freely dream, imagine and excel academically. They were ecstatic that my school library and the public library were well stocked. And they were relieved that I would not be denied the ability to enter and check out books because of the color of my skin.
My joy every couple of days was visiting the library to check out unlimited books and magazines. The library was a place of solace for me—an introverted girl.
Libraries gave me a voice that I didn’t have before and strength that I didn’t know existed within me.
Finding my passion
In college, I majored in mass communications with an emphasis on broadcasting for television. I worked for a couple of years for a local origination satellite company, and then I moved on to corporate America.
But then I had enough, and it was my late father who sat me down and made me realize that I was not working in a field that I was passionate about. When he suggested school libraries, it made sense—but I didn’t want to go back to school.
My father eased my fears and assured me that because I was passionate about reading, I would breeze through school, and he was right. But I quickly learned that sometimes the path taken is filled with challenges, confusion and events that make you stronger.
Getting into ‘good trouble’
I have served children, teachers, staff and communities for more than 20 years through school libraries. My experience spans three school districts, two district library managerial positions, five schools, two departmental directors, and 13 principals. I have learned to adjust, bend and comply.
And from time to time, I even got into what civil rights hero and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., has famously called “good trouble.” As Lewis has explained: “Sometimes you have to get in the way. You have to make some noise by speaking up and speaking out against injustice and inaction.”
All but one of the schools that I served were designated as Title I, and in all of these schools, I had to clean up and rebuild the library. I was often the lone voice that defended student choice, The Right to Read, and student access to technology.
Riding a roller coaster
Working in school libraries is not easy. It’s a roller coaster of events and emotions that are not for the weak. Committed warrior librarians possess the same driving force: a deep and abiding love for libraries.
It’s also not easy to remain focused at a time when school librarian positions and programs are being written out of the district budgets across the country. As school librarians, we serve others and provide a safe, warm and inviting haven for all students every day.
I want all of my students to have the same feelings and experiences that I had as a child each time they walk through the doors of my school library.
I see small pieces of myself in each of the students who attend Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, D.C.—from a smile, a laugh and a love of hip-hop music to even a side-eye of frustration when they learn that the copies of The Hate U Give, Amulet or Thirteen Reasons Why are still checked out.
I love being a school librarian because I believe it is the best job on the planet. Getting into good trouble is worth it because my students deserve the best. I am a school library media specialist, and I’m proud to serve.
K.C. Boyd is the library media specialist at Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington D.C. She will be a featured speaker at DA’s FETC in January.
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