A School Librarian’s Journey
On March 20, 2010 in Ann Arbor, the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME) held its annual Spring Leadership Institute. I was invited to speak to the group about how I became a school librarian. My journey spans eight decades chronologically and extends from New York to Michigan geographically! My story is in three parts and touches first on growing up in the 1950s and 60s; next becoming a school library professional; and finally embracing the world of the 21st century. I am glad to have the opportunity to participate in the Library Routes Project and to share my story through the words below, through a video clip and though an accompanying slideshow of images.
1. Growing Up in the 1950s and 60s
A member of the early Baby Boomers, I was born in New York City. My father was a lawyer and civil engineer for the New York City Board of Education and my mother ran her own public relations firm. Her example of being a successful professional woman in an age of stay-at-home mothers has always motivated me to strive for excellence in my own work. In connection with one of my mother’s accounts (CORO Jewelry), there is a photo of me at age three modeling pins and bracelets for the kindergarten crowd! The apartment building where I lived throughout most of my childhood was the Alwyn Court at 58th Street and 7th Avenue, an historic ornate structure dating back to 1910. Carnegie Hall was one block away. Central Park was the only greenery which I knew … my backyard so to speak.
I walked daily to the Ethical Culture School at 33 Central Park West, attending ECS from nursery school age through 6th grade. There was a roof-top playground, a strong academic program and support for the arts. I remember ceiling high book shelves and dark mahogany in the school library. Beginning in 7th grade, I no longer walked to school but rode the Broadway line IRT Subway up to 242nd Street in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. I attended Fieldston School for six marvelous years. I graduated from high school in 1967, playing the role of Lady Thiang in the senior class production of the King & I.
In the fall of 1967, I was in the first class to enter the Residential College at the University of Michigan. As a French major, I participated in the Junior Year Abroad program in Aix-en-Provence. The view from my dorm room in Aix overlooked Mont Sainte Victoire and almost had the same vibrancy and colors as the work painted by Cezanne. On a side trip for students that year, I traveled to Poland and to Russia. My graduate work in library science was completed at the University of Michigan where I met my husband Gary, also a teacher.
2. Becoming a School Library Professional
In August 1973, Gary and I were hired by adjoining school districts in Battle Creek. The weekend just before we began those first teaching jobs, an article appeared in the Detroit Free Press Sunday Magazine section about our experience of having taught in Australia. When I came to Lakeview in 1973, there were two full-time librarians at the high school, assisted by a library secretary. We were a Class A school of over 1750 students. One of my earliest projects was to catalog all the recordings, filmstrips, and transparencies - the early audio visual collection. We worked in a print-oriented environment. The purchase of a microfilm reader printer represented cutting edge 20th century technology! A 1976 profile of Mrs. Lincoln in the student newspaper The Crystal quotes me as saying "my present job is satisfying. It allows me to have contact with a variety of people in diverse ways, while making use of my background and experiences.”
By 1980, however, Lakeview was facing economic challenges like other school districts of the period. I was given a split position covering four elementary libraries and the high school library. In 1982, I was reassigned to the district’s two junior high libraries and undertook the task of closing one of those facilities. In 1983, I was placed as librarian in the newly consolidated junior high building. The following year, I returned to Lakeview High School Library upon the retirement of my former co-worker Sandy Colburn.
I began to network with other school library media specialists by means of the REMC 12 Media Council. Through the Media Council, I’ve been privileged to work with Marsha Lambert and Jara Sutton all these years. REMC 12 colleagues offered support when Lakeview and other area school libraries were plagued by a rash of book challenges in the 1990s. On a positive note, I resumed my position as National Honor Society Advisor upon returning to Lakeview High School, developing the area’s first academic quiz bowl program. Lakeview was proud of several noted guest speakers at the annual NHS Induction Ceremony, including Senator Carl Levin. In 1990, as part of National Library Week’s theme of Reach for a Star, Ask a Librarian, Lakeview students wrote letters to celebrities requesting that an article of memorabilia be sent to LHS. We displayed over 70 items that were received (including a Michael Jordan wrist band, a Karl Malone jersey and an original signed sketch by Gene Wilder) in the Library.
By the end of the decade, the old LHS Library was a busy and thriving center of school life. With the passage of a bond proposal, we prepared to move to a new Lakeview High School building.
3. Embracing the World of the 21st Century
In this new educational realm, how would teachers and librarians prepare to integrate technology into meaningful learning? Battle Creek schools benefited from Project TIME, a U.S. Department of Education Technology Innovation Challenge Grant which brought professional development opportunities to educators in the area. A grant which I wrote brought Big6 co-founder Robert Berkowitz to Battle Creek as part of the Kellogg Foundation Expert-in-Residence program. Teams of teachers and librarians participated in a workshop led by Berkowitz and were introduced to this proven information literacy model. Lakeview High School teacher Scott Durham and I were selected as American Memory Fellows in 2000 for the Library of Congress. Our lesson on World War I was published on the Library's Teachers page.
In the summer of 2002, I was chosen as a Teacher Fellow with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I continued to collaborate with Scott and as part of an outreach project for the Museum, we brought the traveling exhibition on Oscar Schindler from Washington to Battle Creek. This exhibition was on display at Battle Creek’s local Temple Beth El of which I am a member. Nesse Godin, a Holocaust survivor affiliated with the Museum in Washington, addressed students and adults in the community. In 2005, we received funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to bring a second Holocaust Museum exhibition to the Art Center of Battle Creek. Life and Shadows: Hidden Children and the Holocaust was otherwise only on view at two US locations: the Spertus Museum in Chicago and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. The exhibition saw more than 8,160 visitors, with 3,800 junior and senior high school students in attendance from all over the state of Michigan.
As I became further involved in Holocaust education projects, I worked with my New York colleague Honey Kern. We set up a blog to promote discussion of Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night among students at our respective high schools, Lakeview and Cold Spring Harbor in Long Island. In April 2007, once again thanks to the generous support of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Gerda Weissmann Klein spoke in Battle Creek. Gerda addressed over 1900 students. Her presentation was streamed online by MERIT in Ann Arbor. In preparation for Gerda Klein’s visit, our students read her memoir All But My Life and blogged along cross-generational lines with area senior citizens. A special luncheon was held for Gerda. Among invited guests was Roger Ashley, then MAME Executive Director
In 2004, I received a full fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in information science through the University of North Texas. The program was funded through an IMLS grant and involved by distance education and onsite course work. Our first cohort of 10 school and public librarians presented poster sessions at the 2006 ALISE Conference. I received my degree in December 2006, realizing a lifelong dream.
During this first decade of the new century in which we many of us have ventured beyond our immediate school library positions, I have had occasion to write several articles for professional and peer-reviewed publications. The new Lakeview High School Library Media Center was featured as a cover story in the spring 2006 issue of Media Spectrum. An article for School Library Journal reflected on the experience of hosting the Life in Shadows Holocaust Museum exhibition. In 2006, at the Museums and the Web 2006 Conference, I presented a paper in connection with my research about the online vs. onsite versions of the Life in Shadows exhibition. I gave an Exploratorium session at AASL in 2007. Together with my United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Teacher Fellow colleagues Darryle Clott and Bill Younglove, I presented at the 6th International Conference on Holocaust Education held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in 2008.
I have worked as a database trainer for the Library of Michigan since 2001. Together with Michigan eLibrary (MeL) Coordinator Deb Biggs Thomas, I gave a session about MeL resources at the MACUL Conference this March 2010. At Lakeview, I have coordinated documentation of school improvement work through the creation of a wiki. With Principal Chris Doyle, we gave a presentation at the North Central/AdvancEd Conference held in Novi in November 2009. Lakeview High School’s Library Media program was one of only two departments to receive a score of highly functional during our 2009 Quality Assurance Review. In 2007, I began teaching online for the School of Library and Information Science at San José State University. This has been a very gratifying experience, allowing me to gain familiarity with course management systems such as Angel and Blackboard. Working with LHS students, however, remains the most rewarding part of my job.
Receiving the 2008 New York Times I Love My Librarian Award was an honor. Returning to New York City allowed me to share this occasion with family, friends and my former teachers and classmates from Ethical Culture Fieldston. In Battle Creek, Lakeview students and teachers have been a part of the celebration. I look forward to continuing the journey of a school librarian and offer deepest appreciation to my family: my children and grandchildren (Benjamin, Ruth, Geoffrey, Angela, Arianna) and most importantly, to my husband Gary.