Sunday, August 30, 2015

Two days that changed my whole career

I blogged yesterday on my personal blog about a decision that changed my life - or, if I had gone the other way, I wouldn't be where I am today.  But with the beginning of school and introducing fifteen classes to the school library once again, I've been telling the following story a lot, so I thought I'd tell it here, too.  I'd like to think without these two back-to-back days, I'd still be the non-shushing, stalwart advocate of intellectual freedom, librarian that I am today, but who knows.  It reminds me of Mulan:  "A single grain of rice can tip the scale."

At any rate, here's the story:

I had finished my teaching degree, was in library school (Go, Tigers!), and worked as a substitute teacher.  Every time I was in an elementary class that happened to have Library class that day, I would spend the period in the library with them.  (Now I realize that this was sort of weird.  But if one of my classes has a sub that's in library school, I hope she comes down, too!)  So the third grade class - and I - headed down to the school library, which was staffed by a paraprofessional that day.

The class came in,  and the door was shut behind us.  It was a small library, so no other classes were allowed in the library when we were here.  Makes sense.  But SSSSHHHH. 

 You had to be silent.  This is the library!  (And yet, it's not an academic library, where others are studying while we were there.  No one else was there.  We weren't silent in our classroom all the time.)

Later, when the children were (silently) choosing books for checkout, I happened to be near the desk, talking to the library associate.  I was probably telling her I was in library school, when my little third grade student came up to check out a book.  A big book.  A Harry Potter big book.

The para looked down at the boy from the high chair behind her desk and said loudly in a scolding tone, "John!  Are you getting that because Mr. Miller isn't here?  You know he won't let you check out that book!"  The boy looked down at his feet, and there was giggling behind him from the other third graders, who had apparently already finished that book, or at least were never told what books they could and couldn't check out.

In perhaps my most heroic moment ever (I seriously mean that), without missing a beat, I said, "Hey!  Have you read the first Harry Potter book?"  The boy looked up at me and nodded his head no.  "Well, you don't want this book anyway then!  It would ruin everything!  Let's go get the first one."  And I looked at the para something like this:


The next day, I was in a different school, and that class had library, too.  The thing was, there was a little girl who new that day too, and the only person she knew was ME, because I subbed in a different school, in her previous class.  The library there was also run by a para, but the environment was completely different.  There was a jigsaw puzzle at a table, she had the Decorah eagles on her smartboard, and the door was left open.   

"Oh, we have a new student today!  Welcome!  Now would be a great time to remind us all of the rules in the library."  There weren't many.  She would first read a book out loud, then the students would look for a book to check out.  They could have any book they wanted.  After they checked out their book, they could read, play with the puzzle, or talk quietly.  Or watch the eagles, which were my favorite.

Which library would you rather be in?

So I make a point of being like the second librarian*:  I'm not a shushing librarian, the doors remain open (if kids come in and want to check out - typically only older students - they can write their name and book number on a notebook at the desk), and no one gets to say my students can't have any book there - there are no boy books or girl books, and it's not "good fit book" time.  I will fight for their right to read any book they want.

Thanks, unknown library para.  I'm going to send this to her boss and maybe she'll know who I mean.  I salute you.

Have you had a similar experience that inspired or changed you?

*Yes, technically, she's not a librarian.  But for those kids she is, and my goodness, she's ABMLIS as far as I'm concerned.  (All-but-MLIS.)  I tell my paras this story and encourage them to emulate her, too.