Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Former Life as a School Library Assistant

Last week I wrote about my first career as a hematologist. This week I'll tell you about my second career, working in the fun and exciting world of elementary and middle school libraries.

Several people asked about the possibility of returning to hematology. Once my husband stopped traveling so much, my kids were older, and it was time for me to head back to work, I thought about going back to hematology, but that meant being on call, and working nights, weekends, and holidays. I worked every Christmas for years (every year except my last one!) and just wasn't willing to give up that much family time for a job. I had volunteered in the library at my sons' elementary school for seven years, so I was lucky enough to stumble into a job there within days of when I started looking. The pay wasn't great, but I had the incredible benefit of having my schedule match my kids' - even snow days! I got to be surrounded by books and the students were wonderful. There was always the challenge of helping kindergartners find a dinosaur book they hadn't yet read and explaining to fifth graders why we didn't have any biographies about Robert Pattinson, but it was a job I really enjoyed.

Our school district reconfigured, built a brand new middle school for grades 7 and 8, and I was offered the chance to work there. We had the fun (and it really was!) of moving all the books we had packed from the old middle school, configuring the library shelving, and starting completely from scratch. There were only two of us (the librarian and myself) but we served our 1000 students and almost 200 staff members well. We ordered thousands of new books, developed a curriculum to teach research to seventh and eighth graders, and built a library we were really proud of.

Then our newly-elected governor decided that school budgets had to be slashed. Like many states, New Jersey was in deep financial trouble, but Chris Christie (you may be hearing more about him over the next year!) seemed to blame most of the state's woes on teachers. Our school district chose to outsource all of our teacher assistants and custodians, get rid of eight teacher positions, and cull the "low-hanging fruit", as I was called during multiple school board meetings that year. At the end of it all, my "low-value added" position was eliminated.

The librarian was left to try and run the library by herself, and it became evident how true this quote from Harold Howe really is, "What a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it feels about education." While it has really saddened me to see the library program we spent years building left by the wayside, my greater concern is for all the students that are now lacking an environment where they can learn to become literate seekers of information, educated users of all types of information technology, and enthusiastic readers. I know students rolled their eyes when we tried to teach them what plagiarism is and why it's wrong, and absolutely hated learning how to cite sources correctly, but it's still valuable and necessary information that, sadly, they are not being taught.

If you've made it to to the end, please accept my sincere thanks for reading my rant about the value of libraries!

@ your library. American Library Association, 2012. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.


  1. Well said. Over recent years, I have adjusted the messages I give to incoming college students about what the library - and librarians - have to offer them. I realized at some point that many of them were coming from a place with no library or a single librarian who had almost no time to teach or mentor them. Fortunately that's not the case here, but it involves some expectation realignment for our students.

  2. You are so right! They have slashed library budgets here in MA for both schools and public libraries. And then they wonder why our children have low reading scores on aptitude tests.

  3. I am old enough to remember truly great school libraries, Book Mobiles, and committed librarians. It saddens me to think many schools have a bare minimum library, if any at all. Salt Lake County has a fantastic library system, but when I walk the stacks I'm shocked at the low number of books. We have more children in this state than any other and spend less money per capita, but then, don't get me started.

  4. It's a shame that libraries are getting so devalued.

    I loved my school library when I was a little kid, and thought it would be so wonderful to work in one.

    It is interesting how many people I know who are or have been librarians, and mostly all of them I have known through knitting.

  5. I have such great memories of my elementary school library. I *loved* the biography section and devoured them -- presidents, first ladies, historical figures. (A few years later, I knew that the magazine aisle at the grocery store was the place to read all about my celeb crushes -- 16 Magazine!)

  6. I have vivid memories of my elementary, junior high and high school libraries. Elementary school for my all the Nancy Drew and Laura Ingalls Wilder books. Junior High for historical fiction and ME volunteering there for extra credit. High School because my mom volunteered there. I love the Stash and Burn podcast and co-host Nicole works in a High School library (I think)... that connection makes me happy.

    Kudos to you for career choices that made sense for you and your family...and your love of books and learning!

  7. Oh, don't get me started . . . so many things are falling through the cracks! (My own children, products of an excellent school district, by the way, never learned spelling rules. Not a one.) We, as a country, are making some very odd choices that will come back to bite us in the butt (if they aren't already). I wish we could make decisions for the long term . . .

    (Sounds like a fun and rewarding job . . . right up until the "low value-added" part.)

  8. Are you familiar with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)? It purports to be a "...non-partisan, individual public-private membership association of state legislators." It is in fact largely funded by the Koch brothers and their ilk, and it is a legislative bill mill that creates model legislation that suits their libertarian interests. It was the source of all voter ID/slash government/blame the teachers/defund the schools/voucher schools/etc. legislation that magically cropped up about five years ago in multiple states.

    ALEX exposed:



Thank you for visiting and taking the time to comment! :-)