As part of the December newsletter for our Maryland Association of School Librarians (MASL), I sat down to write my thoughts for the column I pen as the 2020 president of MASL. I had just gotten my first holiday card from one of the school librarians that I worked with, and it had one of those yearly letters enclosed. As I opened it, my mind immediately wondered what she could write about 2020….2020 (for me) was the year of just trying to hold on, not panic, and tread water. What could she possibly write about in this holiday letter? I started reading the letter and learned her son got married in a quiet ceremony and her daughter started at a new college and moved from home. I learned that in 2020, this school librarian earned the right to be a Fulbright teacher and was learning and professionally developing herself in the midst of a pandemic. She found joy. Personal and professional joy–even in the midst of a year that none of us will forget for a very long time.
In my column for MASL I wrote about all of this and about finding joy at the end of a long, really hard year. I realized that I wanted to share the joy that I wrote about for our state association with a wider audience, so we could all find joy in the small things as the days get darker and colder. And so, this column is dedicated to all of the small things that we as school librarians found joy in during a year that can be described like no other.
- We learned that we could still bring the joy of a great story to our students even if it happened virtually, over Google Meet, Teams, or Zoom. I witnessed our school librarians recording (with publisher permission) read-alouds for their students to enjoy as the pandemic had us locked up in our homes. I heard from parents about how their students loved seeing their school librarians on Facebook Live reading a story and the joy it brought to connect.
- We learned that e-books are important. At least we learned that lesson in my district. Prior to this year, we had not explored a robust e-book collection. In April 2020, we signed up for Sora and our students soon discovered the joy of checking out Diary of a Wimpy Kid and other silly graphic novels. These books were checked out more times that I could count–and our collection grew.
- We learned about the joy of having a great relationship with our public library. Because of this great relationship, all of our students have had a student library card for about four years. The joy our teachers had when they realized they could incorporate public library resources into our virtual classrooms–it was beyond amazing.
- We found joy in having virtual library orientations, virtual book clubs, virtual lunchtime clubs, and virtual book chats with our students. We found joy in creating scavenger hunts in the community as our school librarian at Beach Elementary did and sealing books in plastic baggies for our students to follow clues and find (socially distanced, of course).
- We learned about the joy of seeing each other on the screen. Each week our elementary, middle, and high school librarians met for an hour to plan together, talk, catch up, and just have some human contact (virtually). I know that for me, I looked forward to Wednesdays and seeing everyone in their tiny squares. At some point, we all became so comfortable with each other that the school clothes transitioned to ball caps and sweatshirts. There’s joy in that too.
- We found joy in our students’ faces on the screen. We found joy in a kind word about a lesson from a parent who was watching over their child’s shoulder. We found joy in knowing we were doing the best we could with what we had.
And while there was joy, we found hardship and sorrow too. This year was by no means easy. There were losses both big and small. There were personal and professional hardships. There were personal and professional losses. These will be with us for a long time to come.
When we focus on the joy that the small things bring, we can look forward to 2021 and coming out of our pandemic isolation, our new “normal,” and continue to grow, gain strength from each other, and give our best selves to our students. I encourage you to find joy. You may have to struggle a bit to do that, you may have to reach…but it’s there for your taking. Join a new committee, try out some new professional development, reach out to a librarian you have only known from Twitter and say hello. Attend a virtual ALA and AASL town hall or virtual Midwinter.
There is so much joy to be had in our physical and remote libraries. It’s there for the taking. We just have to reach out and grab it. Where did you find joy? Share in the comments.
Wishing you and yours a very safe, very joyful holiday season that is filled with light, laughter, and love.
Author: Jennifer Sturge
Jennifer Sturge is a Specialist for School Libraries and Digital Learning for Calvert County Public Schools. She has been an educator and librarian for 26 years and is always looking forward. She is a member of ALA and AASL and is President for the Maryland Association of School Librarians for 2020-2021. She is a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow. Most recently she is the chair elect for the Supervisor’s Section of AASL. She is diligently working on her doctoral studies in leadership at Point Park University in Pittsburgh.