In recognition of AASL’s School Library Month, I am highlighting librarians who inspire and challenge me. They are leaders in the school library profession, are movers and shakers in their school communities, and they are MVP’s in my professional learning network.
“When a kid walks in the room, he knows what book that kid needs,“ Sixth grade teacher Janet Easterday talking with me about librarian Scot Smith.
I met Scot Smith when I served on the Volunteer State Book Award committee. Scot immerses himself in the world of books! He devours all types of books, visits books festivals near and far to hear authors, and he hosts numerous author visits at his school, Robertsville Middle in Oak Ridge, TN, which serves students in grades 5-8.
Scot inspires me to be an expert in the literature my students are reading. The more I read, and the more I learn about the books and authors writing for this age group, the better resource I am for my students and faculty. I love talking about all things books with Scot!
How long have you been a librarian? I have been a librarian for 21 years. Before that, I taught English and History on the secondary level and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine where I taught English.
What do you enjoy the most about being a librarian? I enjoy the diversity that librarianship affords me. I have the opportunity to do something different each and every day. I might teach literary elements to 5th graders in the morning and information literacy to 8th graders in the afternoon. Each day brings new and different challenges. Seldom does the present school day resemble the next.
What is an activity, event, or lesson you enjoy doing with students? I love to tell stories. I use storytelling as a way to teach literary elements but also as a way to bring humor in the library. Reading aloud to my students is priceless, both for them as well as for me. I also enjoy planning author visits. There are few things more professionally satisfying or rewarding than a successful author visit. The impact of a meaningful author visit can last for years.
How do you partner with or collaborate with faculty? We work together on project-based learning (PBLs) and in profession learning communities (PLCs). Those are mandated by the school system. The librarians in our school system meet monthly in collaborative teams. I also play a large role in what books my middle schoolers study in the classroom. I helped to select most of the books my students read in their classroom as part of their ELA curriculum.
What challenges do you regularly face and how do you overcome them or handle them? Too many responsibilities and not enough time to accomplish them. I have to plan my schedule and budget my time. Most importantly, I have to have the discipline to stick to my schedule.
How has your job changed over the years? Our school went to one-to-one three years ago. Every student has a laptop. By choice, I elected to play a major role in that project. On any given day, I am likely to touch fifty student laptops as I help troubleshoot devices and assist the technician with distribution of the computers. The first and last weeks of school are now devoted to rolling out and rolling up the laptops. The one-to-one initiative has changed my library collection. My e-book collection presently exceeds 600 titles, and my students are as likely to read a book on their device as they are from library shelves. It is not uncommon for me to check the library stats at the end of the day and see that e-book circulation has surpassed book circulation for that particular day. That means I have to devote more time and resources to developing and managing my library’s digital collection.
What advice do you have to share with librarians? Read, Read, and read. And when are think you are finished reading, read some more. Librarians need to be the reading role models in their communities.
What book are you reading? Asking for It by Louise O’Neill, a Printz Honor from 2017. I am saddened when I hear students and adults say that they don’t have time for reading anymore. Or that they hate to read. I try to read a wide variety of titles and authors….graphic novels, non-fiction, YA, middle grade, multiple genres, bestsellers–and aim for at least one book a week.
School libraries are sadly endangered, but not from the people who work in the schools. Those people realize the importance of a strong, well-funded library. The existential threat comes from outside the school system. How many times have we heard “Today’s kids don’t read, so why do they need libraries” or “in the future, we won’t need libraries. Everything will be on the computer?” Just because the football team needs new uniforms does not mean the library should not have new books. We as librarians have to advocate for our students, our schools, and our profession.
What inspires you and helps challenge you to grow professionally? Whenever a student asks “Mr. Smith, can you help me a good book?” That question never gets old.
Thanks for answering my questions, Scot!