Introducing Kay Gooch: Austin ISD Librarian
One of the reasons I was so excited about being accepted as an AASL blogger is the opportunity to highlight some of my personal librarian heroines. Immediately, I thought of Kay Gooch, our own Austin ISD Bookspring Readathon Queen. The Bookspring Readathon (https://www.bookspring.org/) encourages students to read over a two-week period and solicit sponsors to raise money to buy “forever” books for low-income students in Austin. Since the very first Bookspring Readathon in 2005, Kay Gooch’s elementary school, Gullett, has won the trophy for raising the most money every year but one. How does she motivate her small (570 students), middle-class school to participate to such a successful level?
Kay’s Secret for Success
“I tell the kids, ‘You have books at home. Some kids don’t. We’re going to do something about that.'” Kay became the Readathon Queen inadvertently. Her mother retired from teaching fifth grade but continued to volunteer in the Ortega library with the Reading Is Fundamental program. When Kay’s mother, Cathryn Burditt, died, the librarian at Ortega called Kay and asked her if she would consider continuing her mother’s legacy by getting involved in the program. The first Readathon happened right after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It was a little tricky to advocate for philanthropic funds when our city’s convention center was filled with New Orleans evacuees. Still, Kay was undeterred, leading her school to raise the most funds in that first pilot program.
From Corporate World to School Librarian
Most school librarians make the lateral career move from teaching to school librarian, but some come to the vocation through a different trajectory. Kay’s career arc actually formed a loop. She graduated from the University of Texas with an education degree and reading specialty. However, she ended up getting a job with IBM as a marketing rep. This was in the early 1980s. Kay remembers people asking, “Why in the world would anyone want a computer at home?” The salary she was offered at her interview, $18,000, was so much higher than the starting teacher salary, $12,000, that Kay said, “Oh, ___!” The interviewer laughed, and Kay thinks that’s why she got the job.
As Kay rose in the corporate world, she found herself dissatisfied. “I hated sales quotas. I hated pressuring people to buy things. I was turning forty. I began to ask myself: How do I want to work? What do I want to do?” As luck would have it, her position was eliminated at IBM, and she got her golden parachute. She was finally able to start her teaching career. One day Kay went to a presentation about the Graduate School of Library Science at the University of Texas. She suddenly realized: “I’ve always wanted to be a librarian. That’s it!” The reason this choice lay buried in her unconscious for so many years is because Kay is an uber-extrovert. The cliche of the mousy librarian shushing her patrons did not fit with Kay’s charismatic, living-out-loud personality.
Reading Rock Star
Since then Kay has led her school every year in the Bookspring Readathon. For incentives, she has several times performed a song for the school from its roof! Most recently she performed as “Kay-lor Swift” to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off“ with altered lyrics to encourage reading. Kay has been a librarian at Gullett for seventeen years. When asked to sum up her feelings about serving as a school librarian, Kay paused and said: “My favorite thing in the world is to see the kids spark, whether it’s an interest or a certain book or just the ability to read for the first time. My goal is for children to love to read. Reading is their superpower.”