In the file cabinet at my school that holds all the records of the library including budgets, articles, handouts, and lesson plan ideas, there is a folder titled: Do. Not. Forget. There nestled inside are many small straggly pieces of paper of different sizes and colors. They’re the notes that I’ve received from students over the years who have taken a moment to write; sometimes thanking me for helping them, sometimes remembering a fun event we participated in together.
After a long day when things seem out of sorts…all I have to do is open the drawer and see that file. I call it my “back pocket” file. I keep these in my “back pocket” for those days when it just seems like it all is going wrong. I am reminded that as librarians, we often help many students create meaning or make connections – and while we mostly never know the extent of our impact, these letters remind us that in our everyday interactions with students, we do leave a mark.
On the listserv LM_NET, librarians from all over shared their special moments. Dr. Ruth Small wrote: “I found that out more than 20 years after this young man (we’ll call him Travis Smith) graduated from the high-risk elementary school where I was the librarian. He ended up working in our university library. I had no idea he was there until one day when I brought one of my classes to a lecture at the library and he spotted me from the other side of the library. As I was getting on the elevator, he ran up to me and said, ‘Hi, Dr. Small. You probably don’t remember me but my name is Travis Smith and I have been waiting for you to walk into this library so I could tell you that you changed my life.’ I immediately welled up with tears as, of course, I did remember Travis but, like so many, never knew how his life had turned out. He went on to explain how the activities we did in the library put him on a path that has led him in very positive directions. I immediately shared this story with my class and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.” [email Dec 5, 2015]
B.J. McCracken wrote: “My stunner was having a student tell me I kept him out of jail and he went on to automotive college—but even more stunning was he named his first child after me. My second favorite memory was hearing my name shouted in a hardware store and having a Native American former student come running up and telling me about his child—and that because I taught him the value of reading he was reading to his child, the way he wished he had been read to as a child.”
“We rarely find out how many lives we have touched. Each one we discover signifies hundreds of others,” points out Hilda Weisburg in her email on this thread. Dr. Small reflected further: “Librarians touch the lives of so many young people and can have such a positive influence on them. We need to remember that every day as we interact with kids in our schools. It was just serendipity that I walked into that library at that moment; otherwise, I probably never would have known how I had made a difference in Travis’ life. We sometimes are lucky and hear how our work has made such an impact but there are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of kids whose lives we touch and we never know.”
Retired teacher librarian Susan Thompson remembers: “Probably the most special was running into a young man who had left school as soon as he turned 18. Hated high school and couldn’t wait to get out. He came to the library a few times, one time in particular kind of stood out. He needed a ‘free reading book’ and I kind of sensed that he might like On the Road. That was apparently the spark for him, although I didn’t know it at the time. It was years later that I ran into him and he apologized for never returning a library book (not Kerouac) and that he still had it, in fact, at his house. As I recall it was a book written by Stephen Hawking. Then he thanked me for turning him onto reading and that Kerouac led to more and more great literature until he finally considered himself to be a real ‘reader’. I was touched by his comments and, of course, told him not to worry about the book he didn’t return because I considered it a small price to pay for launching his love of books.”
I once met a librarian from a different part of the state when we both attended our state conference. We traded names and schools and chatted a bit. Later that day, she asked me once again what school I was from. After telling her, she leaned back and eyed me saying: “I thought your name was familiar. We have a young new English teacher at my school who always brings her classes into the library and has even initiated collaborations. She told me that she knew all about the library from her school librarian and loved being in the library so much that she knew she’d be bringing her students in often. That librarian was you.”
Isn’t it lovely when we find out that we did, indeed not only made an impression on someone, but that that someone is now paying it forward to others in their lives? B.J.’s student’s son is growing up to know and love reading and all that that entails. She made a difference not only to her student, but to the next generation beyond. Susan’s student has enriched his life because of his discovered interest in reading from her guidance.
February is an excellent month to pull out that drawer and re-read those love letters, and then perhaps take a moment to write a few of our own to our mentors and teachers who have provided us with that “just-at-the-right-moment” insight that we needed to regain our sea legs or to develop our “ah ha” or the confidence to try out something new. These moments are important on both sides of the teaching and learning equation.
Happy Valentines day to all!
Author: Connie Williams
NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!