That’s What It’s All About by Elaine Fultz
One of the few good things about changing jobs six times in eight years is gaining an expansive view of the school & library world. Each job offered perspective that carried on to the next one, and each job solidified what it’s all supposed to be about. After serving elementary and middle school students and teachers for 14 years in my former Ohio school district, I lost my school library media specialist position thanks to budget cuts. I was next a high school English teacher, a public library children’s librarian, a public library teen librarian, and now am back where I belong in a school library as a District Library Media Specialist with a Junior/Senior High library + an elementary media center staffed by an aide.
As an English teacher, I utilized the district school libraries demanding as much as possible from the aides who replaced my colleagues and me, not to be vindictive, but because I knew what resources were possible for meeting my students’ needs. That’s what it’s all about. I knew I could get multiple copies of MT Anderson’s Feed through inter-district loans, and I knew if some of those copies were worn out or lost, a book budget existed to replace them. My freshman English classes learned plot structure with elementary library picture books (Mo Willems’ Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed was perfect), and they were introduced to a bit of my philosophy about teen technology diets with Lane Smith’s It’s a Book on our first day together. Imagine the joy of getting to say “jackass” on the first day as a high school English teacher! That bliss was short-lived as the scourge of grading and testing crippled what could have been my new career.
I kept job-hunting and landed at a public library as a Children’s Librarian. Not just any public library, but THE public library branch in my hometown where I became a passionate reader thanks to my childhood librarians — talk about Paying it Forward! With all that school library and teen background, my storytimes may have been somewhat unconventional, but those 3 and 4 year olds capably called me Ms. Fultz rather than Miss Elaine. They boogied to Owl City’s “The Technicolor Phase,” and James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” for essential music and movement after reading books about colors and feelings. I brought in colorful socks, and we put them on and ran around the library matching sock colors to carpets, chairs, plants, staff outfits, etc. after reading New Socks by Bill Shea. Some adult patrons looked askance at this explosion of storytime out of its confinement, but this is the kind of experience that worked magic at school during library class time. Love of, joy with, and learning from reading — that’s what it’s all about. I wasn’t reading TO preschoolers. I was reading WITH them, with educational purpose, like school librarians do.
Back to teendom I went in the same public library system. They have fine forgiveness for all children’s materials, but not for teens. They currently have more space dedicated to restrooms than teen areas (They’re working on that. Everybody deserves a comfy place to chill — what better place than the library?!) The most successful teen programs were movie and video game related and had nothing to do with good research and great books. Resources for teachers were there, SO many resources, but they weren’t sufficiently promoted or utilized. My school librarian heart broke. Daily. I advocated my butt off for teen and educator services. Why not add the local urban school system to the inter-library delivery route? How about teen fine forgiveness and student cards which don’t require parent signatures so students can check out books and access all the online resources without worrying about past DVD fines? (They’re working on that.) Some local schools and groups used our teen services and resources, and those were certainly highlights (see former post about visiting the detention center). Those teen patrons and the adults who serve them learned that libraries have great value and that libraries WELCOME them and want to provide for them. That’s what it’s all about.
Are you humming The Hokey Pokey yet?
An incredible chain of events brought me to my current small rural school district where I will share what it’s all about with a population of students and teachers in preschool through high school (good thing I had that storytime gig). A sixth grader needs a teen book that isn’t too teen. Got it. The sophomore English teacher needs reviews and teaching guides to justify teaching Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Done. A senior gets kicked out of his house and is worried about the school library books he can’t obtain. No worries. No fines. We can replace them. Numerous students’ families can’t or won’t go to the public library (usually because of barriers like fines or transportation difficulties), so I go fetch the books the school doesn’t own for them with an agreement that they pay any fines should they occur. So far, every public library book has been returned to the school library on time. A junior high music project involved combining poetry and sound effects using Apple’s GarageBand. Poetry was obtained from the Jr./Sr. High school media center collection, the elementary media center collection, and the public library collection. A seventh grader discovered Carl Sandburg. That’s what it’s all about.
The job-change experiences have been grueling and enriching. I’m thankful I’ve seen the strengths and failings of all these schools and libraries and can now attempt to provide an all-access library/research center/hangout mashup for our school’s media centers. There are wide open doors at libraries that offer children, teenagers, families and educators what it’s all about — resourcefulness, delight, curiosity, learning and connections. Without boundaries.
Elaine Fultz is currently working in a school library again as a District Library Media Specialist.