Texas School Librarians Rock!
Welcome to Library Lions Roar! Celebrating libraries and the outstanding librarians serving youth in schools and public libraries across the U.S. since 2010. Please Roar today’s guest, Robin Cox.
Thank you for the invite to participate in Library Lions Roar! I’m stationed at Rayburn Intermediate School, Bryan ISD, in Bryan, Texas. This is my first year at Rayburn. Our district has been going through the groans and pains of realignment, so my school closed last year to make room for this restructuring. I guess you could say I’m a lioness about advocacy and literacy in our libraries.
I’ve been a classroom teacher for 11 years and a librarian for 18 years, and I’ve always loved the fact that our libraries are the largest classroom in our schools. That’s a great privilege and responsibility! I’ve been selected as “teacher of the month” many times as a librarian, and that always gives me a special thrill as it’s a benchmark for me as a librarian to be viewed as a teacher! I’ve also been nominated several times and chosen as our district’s Professional Specialist of the Year, and it has made me very happy to represent our librarians as specialists/experts in our field. Perhaps the thing that makes me most proud is knowing my five children and six grandchildren are avid readers—at the end of the day, it’s all about literacy!
The Skinny: What do you love most about your work?
Connecting a reader and a book is the secret sauce, the magic, the spell and even the wisdom of a vibrant library, in my opinion. I know this is not a high-tech answer. Would it help if I add that I might connect a reader to an eBook, an audiobook, an interactive digital book, or a book that’s not yet published?
My father was in the Army, and as a family, we traveled the globe. I now realize one of the key reasons I have always loved libraries is because despite going to 12 schools in twelve years, I always found a friend in the library when I located my favorite authors or characters, or perhaps the librarian was simply kind to me when I was the new kid. I am fiercely protective and proactive when it comes to new students who walk through the school doors, and I want very much to fulfill the functions and roles of today’s library and librarians, but if I fail at the most basic task of connecting a reader and a book, then I’m not doing my job or fulfilling my calling.
A Mighty Roar!
Literacy is a huge equalizer. Children who don’t read well suffer a tremendous deficit in terms of what their future will hold. If they come from a family that also doesn’t read well, the gap is even wider. There are haves and have-nots. All colors. All races. All creeds. Libraries that support readers from cradle to grave are essential in every community, from the hamlet to the burb.
I have developed a reputation as both beggar and champion when it comes to literacy and advocacy, and I’m unapologetic about that! Our district is currently serving a diverse population; more than 75% of our learners are living beneath the poverty threshold. What we do matters even more in this kind of community. We must ensure that poverty does not prevent us from offering our students every advantage of a 21st-century library as they’re going to thrive if they’re completely equipped to meet the challenges of post-secondary success.
When I was a librarian at Fort Hood, one of my boys brought a check for the book fair, filled out perfectly in his second-grade handwriting, payable to Scholastic for $20,000. He said he wanted to buy lots of books. I called his home, and his soldier dad answered the phone. He’d just returned from a year-long deployment to Iraq and quickly came up to school to corral his son. It was a teachable moment for dad; no harm/no foul but hopefully a lesson our shopper might always remember as I have!
A Lion’s Pride of Programs
I’m a writer by avocation, so student publishing is a big deal to me. Children are so innocent about where books come from. Over the years, I’ve fielded many questions: Did you write all these books? Did you buy all these books? Where do books come from? And I’ve tried to show children at a grassroots level how stories and books are born.
Once a student creates his work of nonfiction or fiction in draft or manuscript form, we publish it, bind it, put a barcode on it, enter it in our catalog, write an AR quiz for it if needed, and put the book/books in circulation. This has been a huge self-esteem initiative and helps our readers and writers understand not only where books come from, but how much effort and how many moving parts are in play when it comes to putting a book on the shelf.
I also heavily promote book clubs. For the past couple of years, I’ve leveraged relationships at Texas A&M University to ensure our intermediate boys are engaged in book clubs with Aggies who serve as both mentor readers and mentor leaders.
Author! Author! Describe the perfect author visit from a librarian’s point of view.
Build excitement with door-decorating contests, read alouds, and author studies before the visit. Advertise with local newspapers/publications. Welcome the author with banners, marquees, signs. Provide the author with plenty of information about your demographics. What does the author want/need to say to your readers/writers? Provide a family reading event to highlight the role of the author/author visits in building community literacy. Provide opportunities for children with a love for reading/writing to have some one-on-one time with the author. Follow-up with tokens of gratitude or appreciation for supporters who funded and promoted the author visit. Don’t forget to stock the shelves with plenty of the author’s titles.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of hosting both seasoned and fledgling authors, and I think the quality of those visits has been outstanding despite some authors’ novice status. If you are able to connect authors who care with children who care, it’s a win: win.
One Last Roar
The unsung heroes of our libraries are the clerks and assistants who keep books circulating in and out our library doors. Without them, I’d be unable to be a part of so many additional duties, events, initiatives, etc. as I’d be running the circulation desk from sunup to sundown. Our clerks are underpaid and underappreciated for the most part. I sing their praises whenever I can, but I wish our schools and our stakeholders understood how essential they are and then agreed to pay them commensurately for their service. They are invaluable and indispensable.
In our district, seven years ago our school board voted to curtail full-time librarians on each campus. The decision was made at the tail end of my first year in Bryan ISD. I was devastated, as was my principal. Thankfully, I was retained to supervise five libraries, but I spent the next five years trying to juggle five schools, five days a week. I didn’t think I was making a nickel’s worth of a difference on each campus. Because we had several low-performing schools, I was finally reassigned to one campus that had been on TEA’s list for closure. The question admin asked was, “Can a full-time librarian make a difference?” I worked hard for two years to answer that question with a resounding roar. In two-years’ time, thanks to many, many initiatives used across the campus in a variety of cross-curricular ways, the school met the standard.
But the naysayers are still out there; we hear of horror stories all the time of another school librarian on the chopping block. Money is tight, but nothing costs a school district more than derailing a school library. Librarians must learn to roar louder; to advocate strongly for their stakeholders. Our school libraries need to be staffed by a full-time librarian as well as a full-time library assistant. It’s not an option. If our children are going to be served by 21st-century libraries, then we’ve got to ensure we’re going above and beyond each and every day to serve those students.
Thanks again for the interview, Robin!
Library Website: BISD-ISLIBRARY
Note to Librarians: If you’re a Youth Librarian working in a school or public library we’d love to hear about you and your library. Email Janet via the Contact page on this website for an interview slot.
Note to Authors: If you’re interested in Roaring for Libraries on this blog, contact Janet.