When I entered graduate school in 2012 to pursue an MSLIS, I was not sure of what type of librarian I wanted to be. I did know one thing, however, and that was that I had absolutely no desire to be a school librarian. I attended Drexel University in Philadelphia which is known for its iSchool and focuses on the information technology side of librarianship. I made sure to enroll in classes that would be most useful for a career outside of a school library. When I graduated with my degree in September 2014, I had already secured a librarian position. Low and behold, it was in a school library! I was allowed to fill the vacancy on the condition that I would attend a Media Coordinator license program at a university, and I chose East Carolina.
When I entered the library program at ECU, I was told that I would need to take five courses to make up for the classes I did not take at Drexel. By the time I enrolled at ECU I had already completed one semester in my Media Coordinator position at Brunswick County Academy. I knew that these courses were going to be very beneficial to me because while I was quite knowledgeable in the area of general librarianship, and particularly archival administration, I had no clue how to function as a teacher librarian. I am extremely grateful for my classes at ECU, and I have learned quite a bit from them. I have learned about popular children and young adult authors, book awards, and selection policies. I have learned about the development of the human brain and how it affects memory and learning. I have gained practical experience in lesson design as well as developing inquiry based learning activities. I am able to teach library and literacy skills to my fellow teachers as well as students. I have learned that the Media Coordinator and the school library are truly the heart of the school.
I am now at the end of my license program and coming up on the end of my second year as Media Coordinator at Brunswick County Academy. During my first semester in the position I felt very lost and was not comfortable in what I was doing at all. I had very little interaction with either teachers or students. I know that was in part to the fact that I was new in the position as well as that the position had been vacant for the first three weeks of school and so everyone had to get used to having the library open again. During that first semester I asked and received permission from my principal to spend a day at another local high school in their media center to see what goes on there so I would have an idea of what to do. That was an invaluable experience for me, but it still could not compare to what I would learn once I started my courses.
Once my courses at ECU began in January 2015, I was starting to feel a little more comfortable in my position. Students were starting to utilize the media center, but I was still not able to make much progress with teachers. My courses required that I interact with teachers and students, and that made it possible for me to get a foot in the classroom. Once I was able to start working directly with one teacher, others were able to see the benefit. Since then I have been able to work closely with several teachers, and have plans to work with more in the future. One teacher in particular, who teaches ninth grade math, has now seen the benefit of working with me. While she just wants to get through the rest of this year, she has said that she would like my help with her curriculum next year.
I was not aware of how valuable the school librarian is to the school as a whole outside of the library. Before I began the position I thought the media coordinator served simply as a librarian. I was not aware of the necessity of working in the classroom and as a co-teacher. I was also not aware of the myriad of other ways that the media coordinator serves the school. BCA is a very small alternative school and we all have to fill roles that are outside the normal description for teaching. I am not sure if that is why I do so much more in other areas of if it happens everywhere. I am often called on to be a substitute teacher as well as receptionist when we have staff members who are absent. It can sometimes be difficult for us to get substitutes at the last minute because of the type of school we are and the student population that we serve. I also serve in various leadership roles within the school. I am part of the School Improvement Team and also the Chair of the Positive Behavior Intervention Supports team.
One other duty I have that is different from the other schools is teaching a daily class. Our school serves middle and high school, but our middle school is very small. There are three middle school teachers who have to cover the entire day. The students do have PE which gives their academic teachers a 45 minute planning. In order for them to have the same planning time that the high school teachers have, I have to have the students every day for 45 minutes. It started out that I was tutoring them during that time, but in March, the principal changed it to where I actually teach them. Now I have our middle school students every day. I teach media skills to 6th and 7th graders for 45 minutes while 8th graders have PE, and then we switch. This has been the biggest challenge for me, but having a curriculum in the NC Standard Course of Study helps, as does the inquiry instruction I learned in my ECU classes. I am able to implement technology activities and inquiry based research to give my students practice in 21st century literacy skills.
Looking back over the past two years I see that my first year was a time to get grounded in the position and feel comfortable. I struggled that year and gained a foothold in the school. This year has been a time of making the program my own. I have implemented changes in the library that I think will be beneficial for our students. Because we are a small school we have a tiny library budget and I struggle to keep the non-fiction up to date while at the same time ensuring that we have new and exciting titles in the fiction section. One way I have found is to showcase what we already have because sometimes students just do not know. One major project I have been working on this year is to pull out all the series fiction books and place them separate from general fiction. I am reclassifying them with different call numbers and placing them in a separate area of the library. I have found that many of our students are fond of reading series, but they do not always know what books are in a series and which ones are not. This project has really been helping them.
Another project I am working on this year is to Lexile our library. Many of our students are slow readers or read below grade level. I am marking each book with a sticker color coded to the Lexile level. I believe this is helping our students to self select books that are on their reading level which will make them more confident in choosing books that they are able to comfortably read.
I also look into the future and think of the projects I plan to tackle next year. The major project I have planned is to genrefy our fiction section. Many librarians are starting to tackle this type of project and I think it would help our students. Often they ask me for action or fantasy books. I think that having each genre to itself would help students locate a wider variety of books then they would through browsing the shelf as it is or even relying on searching the OPAC.
I began my position in the media center not knowing where to start. I started gaining a bit of ease and then enrolled in my first license course at ECU. I am now at the end of my program and I finally feel confident and competent in my position. I have learned much and have been able to put what I have learned into practice. I never thought I wanted to be in this position, but I am happy to be in it. I can not tell the future and if I will stay in education, but for now, I am where I am supposed to be. I am happy to be here. I enjoy it.