[A note. I asked Andy to share his insights with you after reading an article he authored recently for Knowledge Quest. The article, "Opening the Space: Making the School Library a Site of Participatory Culture" (September/October 2012), highlights Andy's child- and learning-centered approach to school librarianship. I hope you'll seek out the article to read, as Andy's doing terrific work and more people need to know about it. You can also learn more from the related webinar notes.]
ABOUT YOUR JOB
I am currently the School Library Media Specialist at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA. I serve students PreK-5th grade on a flexible schedule as well as lead the use of technology in my school.
What’s the best (or worst) part about working with young people?
I love the fearless nature of students. When teachers are afraid of trying new technology, students show them that when they are given the space to play and explore, they can discover ways that technology and information can be used in education.
I love the excitement generated by students when they are able to create information and then push those new creations out to a global audience.
How do you stay current?
New technology, literature, etc. are created every day so it’s impossible to keep up with everything. Instead, I try to constantly model what it’s like to be a lifelong learner by talking aloud with students and teachers about what I’m doing to answer questions I have. I, of course, attend professional conferences, but I also read multiple blogs & journals as well as connect with other educators on Twitter. Developing a professional learning network is the best way to individualize my professional learning rather than rely only on what is offered at conferences.
Who is your greatest ally and why?
I can’t just name one. First, my principal. I’ve been blessed to have two wonderful principals while I’ve been at my current school. They understand the importance of flexible schedules, collaboration with teachers, the role of the school library/librarian, and constantly look to me for leadership in technology and information.
Families are also a big ally. I’ve learned that by presenting at PTA and inviting families to volunteer in the library that families begin to understand the many roles that I play in the school, which in turn develops families into big advocates of our program.
Finally, I think students are becoming a big ally. I’ve worked to be more transparent with students about my hopes for our library and I think they are beginning to realize that a library is more than books. When they fully understand this, I think students can be the most powerful of allies.
What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given?
To really decide what matters most and devote my time to those areas. This advice has been very important this year because I no longer have a library paraprofessional. We also don’t have a dedicated instructional technology specialist at our school, so the demands for my time are constant and hard to manage. I constantly have to step back and make decisions about what gets my time so that it doesn’t affect the most important thing, which is my students and their learning experiences.
What’s worth fighting for? Why?
Anything that involves student learning and their equal access to resources. I like to talk about barriers and bridges. When I see a barrier to students accessing what they really need in order to do their best learning, I think about what bridge I can help build to get over that barrier. I think being very public about the kinds of learning that takes place in our library is a great way to build a foundation for courageous conversations about internet filtering and access to updated technology.
How can you get the most out of attending conferences?
Being an active participant is crucial. So often, you attend a conference and the sessions don’t necessarily match what you need as a learner. However, when I attended my first AASL conference, I saw how using Twitter to connect with attendees helped me experience the entire conference without physically being in every space. The unconference feel of a learning commons at a conference allows multiple people to present their expertise without the formality of proposals and approvals.
JUST FOR FUN
How do you defy the librarian stereotypes?
I try to do the opposite of every one of those stereotypes. Just by being a librarian, I’m already defying the stereotypes because I’m certainly not a shushing little old lady with glasses and my hair in a bun. Seriously, though, I hope that by modeling what a librarian SHOULD be and making our library program public through my blog that I’m slowly challenging people’s past experience with librarians. I hope my students will be the generation that grows up to understand librarians and libraries as something completely different than what their parents experienced.
On a side note, this April I plan to crowdsource a poem with my students tentatively called “Our Library is not a Quiet Place” because I have heard the phrase “remember.....the library is a quiet place” way too many times this year from teachers and substitutes!
Email Andy at firstname.lastname@example.org