Do you ever feel like as the librarian, you are on your own island? Maybe you’re part of a small school district, or your professional network lacks inspiration, innovation, or is… non-existent? Fortunately, I have a local network that is thriving, but in recent years, I’ve connected with with tons of amazing educators, authors, and librarians around the world, who continually challenge and inspire me. One of those amazing librarians is Jeff Schreiber, aka the Jockbrarian. How’s that for a Twitter handle? We connected through our mutual love of the book Strong Inside by Andrew Maraniss. His excitement for the library and his students is contagious! Meet the Jockbrarian!
How long have you been a librarian?
I have been a librarian for 10 years. Before that, I was an English teacher for 16 years at various levels between 7-12th grades. It makes me feel old.
What do you enjoy the most about being a librarian?
It probably sounds geeky, but I really enjoy collection development! I’ve found it has one of the most profound impacts on kids—which on course it the most exciting thing! I feel like my library is my own little book store, and what I put on the shelves deeply influences the lives of my patrons. I love seeing kids browse around and find a special book that “fits” them or piques their interest. I also love it what a student comes up to me asking for a suggestion or a specific type of book, and I can walk them over to a section and give them some ideas knowing a have a strong collection at my back!
What is an activity, event, or lesson you enjoy doing with students?
I really loved the author visit I did with Andrew Maraniss this past December! Author visits are very uncommon in Wisconsin schools for some reason. We are not well on the beaten path of author tours, and it’s just not a norm for librarians up here to plan them. I was inspired by you (Lindsey) to invite Andrew for a visit! (Yes, I did refer to your past blog post on how to do an author visit!) While it was a crazy amount of work and planning, I found the visit to be one of the most enjoyable activities I’ve done–and it was the activity that gathered by far the most, “That was sooooo cool!” responses from the students!
How do you partner with or collaborate with faculty?
High school faculty can be very hard to collaborate with. Let’s just say that sometimes their egos can get in the way of wanting/asking for help from the librarian! I found middle school teachers to actually be far more willing to collaborate and share ideas. There is hope, though! Our school has just introduced an AP Capstone Research course this year, and I have been working closely with the teacher and the class on the research process, including the QUEST model of research and inquiry based research. We’ve had such great success, that we are going to institute the model school wide—which means lots more future collaboration for me!
What challenges do you regularly face and how do you overcome them or handle them?
Teachers that have been doing it “their way” forever and refuse to take the help I offer them. Like the answer above, you have to keep clawing your way into the room, and also convincing administration to make systemic changes that will allow you more influence. Another problem I faced when I arrived is a negative or nonchalant attitude towards independent reading. In general, it’s just a bad attitude that says, “You’ll never get kids to read on their own.” When I started, library circulation was at about 4,500 circs per year for a 1,200 person school. Within two years, I was circulating 13,000 books per year! To achieve this I sold the idea of mandatory outside reading to the English teachers, and most importantly, I provided the kids with a collection that would back this movement up with relevant and exciting titles.
How has your job changed over the years?
When I started, there were 2 secretaries, all the books were hand cataloged, and there was lots of teeth gnashing and hand wringing about being sure all rules were correctly followed, every record meticulously kept; in other words, the library was “rule” centered, not “kid” centered. This model cannot work anymore, and we have changed to a student centered library where the customer is most important, not the rules. The library has become a hub of activity where ideas are shared, kids can unwind and explore, and everyone is valued. I’d say it’s quite the change for the better!
How important is it to connect with fellow librarians?
It is very easy as a librarian to find yourself on an island. In most places, you are the only librarian in the building—if not the district. This is not healthy for professional development or sanity! I have connected quite a bit with local librarians, and we meet a couple times a year to share ideas—and of course just sit and gripe for a bit! I also present every year at the State School Library Conference. This is a great way to connect with librarians throughout the State to see what is working in various regional environments. My blog has been an absolute blessing. It has allowed me to connect nationally with brilliant librarians and allowed me to be inspired by amazing people like Lindsey! (Aw, thanks, Jeff!)
What advice do you have to share with librarians?
It’s amazing how many librarians view the most important aspect of their job to be introducing and promoting technology. Many turn their back on books and developing a strong collection. My advice to you is that being a librarian is a people business—don’t ever forget it. The most important thing you can do is develop relationships with the students. Also, don’t underestimate the power of a book. I have never seen a life changed by a Google app, but I have seen many lives changed by a book.
School libraries are…more important than people think they are. I have to admit, I am pretty used to being the punchline of most jokes.
Examples of sweet things my friends and family say:
You’re a what?…You’re a librarian?
My dad is a…um…a…librarian.
How lucky you are to have a job where you do nothing!
They still have those?
Wow, there aren’t many men in that line of work.
Yes, our son is a librarian. (Doesn’t impress many people at a cocktail party.)
Anyways, for the first couple of years, I just called myself a teacher, because I couldn’t stand the furrowed eyebrows I would get upon trying to explain my job as a librarian. Now, I wear the badge with pride. Other people may not understand or “get” what we are doing, but school libraries must carry on as the strong force behind the literacy and information movements.
What inspires you and challenges you to grow professionally?My own kids inspire me every day. What I do with my life professionally is a big part of who I am and the example I set for my kids. I want them to appreciate life, be good members of society, help others, develop confidence to go out into the world and succeed. These are also the ideals that I promote in those students I am lucky enough to work with every day. When people see me engaged in my work, I know they are proud of who I am- despite what their lame jokes may say about my profession!
Thank you, Jeff, for answering my questions!
Jeff Schreiber is the librarian at Germantown High School in Germantown, Wisconsin. Connect with him on Twitter @Jockbrarian.