School libraries are not your grandmother’s school libraries. They are vibrant, accessible, and ever-changing. They may not all look the same, but they all serve a common goal.– Erika Long
Erika Long is rocking the library world in Nashville and beyond! From her avid participation in the Project LIT Community to her extensive involvement in numerous professional organizations, Erika is a dynamic leader in our profession! She is active in ALA, AASL, Tennessee Library Association (TLA), and Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL). She has served on TLA’s Advisory Council as school libraries roundtable chair; worked on the AASL Standards Crosswalk Task Force; and served as an AASL interim regional director. She was named a 2017 AASL “Social Media Superstar” finalist in the social justice defender category, and she was part of the ALA Presidential Initiative: Fight for School Libraries. She has previously blogged for The Horn Book and TASL Talks. Most recently, she was named a 2019 AASL “Social Media Superstar” finalist in the Reader Leader category! You can meet Erika in person this summer at the 2019 Scholastic Reading Summit in Austin, TX, on July 16. Her session is, “Empowering Students in a Stay-Woke Movement.”
Erika is not only a friend of mine, but I value her leadership, voice, and vision in the library profession. In short, she rocks. Meet Erika!
How long have you been a librarian?
This is my fourth year as a librarian and my fifth in libraries. I started as a library secretary (or clerk) when I began my Master’s program. Whew! That was rough (financially), but it certainly allowed me to gain experience and learn under a wonderful mentor who’s now a great friend. Plus, as someone who now works with a clerk, I often think back and reflect on my experience and have a great deal of respect for clerks I have worked with.
What do you enjoy most about being a librarian?
What I love most is the relationships I’ve developed, with students and educators alike. There’s so much irony in this because I am such an introvert and in most instances, I abhor small talk. However, since entering the profession, I’ve created some amazing friendships with past colleagues, found a lot of people who inspire me regularly, and taken so many students under my wings. Those are not only things I love about being a librarian, but things I cherish.
What is an activity, event, or lesson you enjoy doing with students?
I enjoy doing the most non-traditional things. For example, it’s not unique to find students who say they don’t like reading, so there’s this power struggle when it comes to DIR. When students are asked to keep a daily reading log, no one wins that feud. One of my favorite lessons with students was teaching a DIR lesson. I introduced students to new ways to showcase their reading, making it fun. They learned how blog, post bookstagrams, create soundtracks for books, and even podcast. Getting to model a podcast for them was epic! Those lessons are examples of true collaboration. That teacher was one of my favorites! This year, my favorite lesson wasn’t even a lesson. I did a read-aloud with a group because my busy life didn’t allow for me to create a breakout game I wanted to do with them. That read-aloud turned out to be the most engaging time I’ve had with a class of students this year. The things that were shared during the read-aloud messed me up. I don’t take that time with them for granted because it was obviously something those students needed at that moment.
How do you partner with or collaborate with faculty?
When it comes to collaborating with faculty, I don’t think I’m any different from most librarians. It’s all about stepping outside of my comfort zone and just reaching out to teachers. I’ve found that my ideas are sort of like Ranganathan’s Laws; every idea it’s teacher. Not every idea or way to approach a lesson will work for every teacher. I tend to observe at the beginning of the school year; check out teacher’s personalities to determine their openness to work with me. When I find that handful of folks that fit my niche, we make magic. Of course the word spreads, and it leads to new opportunities.
What challenges do you regularly face and how do you overcome them or handle them?
Haha! Of course collaboration is a challenge. As beautiful as true collaboration can be, it’s also hard to do it as often as I’d like. It can happen at such a slow pace because the idea of giving up the amount of instructional time it requires can be daunting to a teacher. Plus, I’m of the microwave generation, so sitting in patience and persistence can be challenging.
How has your job changed over the years?
I still feel relatively new, so I can’t say the profession has changed drastically. I have seen some trends and language that was extremely popular when I first entered the profession start to become less prevalent. What once were buzzwords now seem more commonplace or less visual. But, that could also be because the way I stay abreast of what’s happening in the profession has changed some. I will say, because of the changes I made in where I work, my environments and cultures have been distinctly different. I’ve always worked in urban schools, but they each had demographics and cultures uniquely their own. While I make it a point to stay true to myself, these varied experiences have taught me that sometimes, it can be a challenge to fit in.
Why do you enjoy being a teacher/ librarian?
I enjoy being a librarian because although we have our National School Library Standards, there is so much autonomy in how I teach and manage the library. I can be as creative and out of the box as I want. It’s a blessing and a curse, honestly. On one hand, there’s no limits to how I teach or what tools I use, but having over the top ideas can also be overwhelming. The key is to find the middle ground.
What advice do you have to share with librarians?
I should probably step off this particular soapbox, but I probably won’t. I always give librarians the same advice: tell your story; if you don’t, someone else will, and you may not like the way they tell it.
What inspires you and helps challenge you to grow professionally?
Amazing librarians! ( And I say this with so much passion.) A lot of what educators do daily is all about creating and sustaining relationships. There is nothing like seeing librarians and educators provide phenomenal academic experiences for students. As a librarian, you often wonder if you’re doing enough or how you could do things different. It’s always refreshing to see the tremendous work of my peers and the impact it has on students. If you really care about your students and school community, you can’t help but be fueled by the outstanding work you see others doing. The greatness in others should always challenge you to do more.
Thank you, Erika, for answering my questions!
Follow Erika: Twitter @ErikaSLong, Instagram: @notyomamaslibrarian
Catch her at the 2019 Scholastic Reading Summit in Austin on July 16!