Looking Behind and Looking Ahead: A School Librarian’s Hurdles, Highlights, and Hopes

“Where did you go to, if I may ask?” said Thorin to Gandalf as they rode along.
“To look ahead,’ said he.
“And what brought you back in the nick of time?”
“Looking behind,” said he.
–from The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

2021 is drawing to a close. Once more, I find myself (as I did last year and many do every year) reflecting on what’s past and wondering about what may be coming in the future. It’s been a long, strange trip of a year, full of both bad and good, both hurdles and highlights. As for hopes, well…more on those later!


“If you’re not ready to fall, you’re not ready to hurdle.”
–Tonie Campbell

There have been hurdles aplenty this year. They have been professional and personal. They have been varied in height; some have been difficult but at least possible to jump over, while others have seemed nigh insurmountable, making it easier to fall.

Of course, we are all still dealing with the side effects of COVID, even if we haven’t contracted it. Its ever-changing yet ongoing presence has impacted and continues to impact a range of areas, including everything from budgets and funding to instruction to collaboration to the emotional, mental, and physical health of teachers and students and their families, and more. It seems that, as much as we surely wish it wasn’t the case, COVID is here to stay, and we’re going to have to adapt again and again, as it has.

I’m certain that many of us were and continue to be greatly alarmed by the  tremendous increase in book challenges and implied (or, in some cases, genuine) threats to librarians’ livelihoods and well-being. While I have not had to directly deal with such a situation (well, not yet, anyway, though such have occurred in our state), I have more than once found myself asking: “Am I prepared enough?”

To ensure that I am, I have engaged in some proactive steps. First, I reviewed my own library policies to ensure that they were very clear and that they addressed what would (and what would NOT) occur if a particular book was challenged; second, I had a gander at our district policy to be certain that the library and district policies were aligned; third, I read and reread the resources offered by the ALA, and also some excellent pieces by fellow librarians, like this one and this one by Steve Tetreault; and, just so nobody would doubt what our position was, I hung up a number of informative signs on the wall just outside our library.

Speaking of being prepared (or not), all would likely agree one is never quite ready to hear cancer spoken in relation to ourselves or our loved ones. This became the personal hurdle, and it remains the highest. In March, my husband was unexpectedly diagnosed with Stage IV Colon Cancer, which had metastasized to his liver. He’d had COVID in February and felt a pain in his side. We honestly thought his appendix may have been aggravated by his recent illness; but that was not the case. During the ensuing months there were chemo treatments, a halt to treatments, and a hospital stay due to an acquired infection, resumed chemo treatments, and, as I write, a week’s worth of radiation treatments. Colon surgery is on the horizon, and, most daunting, he needs a liver transplant. We’re taking one day at a time, and every day, we try (again) to vault over one obstacle–one hurdle–at a time. We haven’t made it through the course or won the race yet; but thanks to many kind people, we may. Among those helpful folks: my colleagues and my fellow school librarians, who have provided meals, given hugs, spread the word about living liver donations, and even stepped up, no questions asked, to be donors. Their support has restored my faith in humanity during these trying times.


“I want to have an epic life. I want to tell my life with big adjectives. I want to forget all the grays in between, and remember the highlights and the dark moments.”
–Isabel Allende

Thankfully, there has been a lot to balance the seesaw! Despite some of the stressors associated with home and work, my professional life has been quite rewarding and filled with good fortune and bright highlights over the past several months. There have been no grays in between.

Our library applied for and was awarded a Libraries Transforming Communities grant from ALA. This grant helped to fund our yearlong resilience program, so that our students can learn about how to bounce back from their own challenges. We were able to purchase a number of wonderful books that centered on our “big idea” and related monthly themes (so far, we’ve explored support in September, optimism in October, and nurture in November, with determination being this month’s theme and many more to come in the new year). In addition, I’ve been engaging in resilience-related training through Australia’s Resilience Centre, and will be passing along everything I learn to our students. They need it. In fact, I think we all do!

I was also honored to receive the Lancer Graduate Award from Longwood University and the Dickinson Scholarship Award from VAASL. As a new librarian–and one who’s still at school for librarianship, mind you–it is extraordinarily affirming to have my efforts validated and to get the sense that maybe, just maybe, I’m doing something well and following the right path.

Speaking of VAASL, I had the opportunity to offer a session on my “librarianing” experiences, and I officially made it through my very first time presenting. Even though I myself still have so much to learn, I wanted to give other new librarians the sense that they should overcome their own insecurities or anxieties and just jump right into the breach. If I can do it, they can!

With Gina Seymour as muse and catalyst, I was inspired to infuse our library space with a bit of hygge.  I am happy and proud to say that I followed through with that inspiration, and thus was born our very own Hygge Hub. It’s an oasis of comfort and coziness and has proved popular with students and faculty alike. I’m so glad that I was able to bring the project to fruition, as I know it will prove truly beneficial to our school community.


“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
–Anne Lamott

I am curious as to what the dawn of a new year will bring, and hopeful that it will bring good. I am aware of a thing or two.  

For instance, in May (as long as I complete my last bits of coursework) I will be graduating from Longwood University with my Master’s degree in school librarianship. It has been demanding, yet delightful, and I am so grateful to have had the chance to be a part of such a vibrant program.  

Other changes are afoot. Our school district and another local district will be consolidating, and we are none of us certain exactly what this will mean. That acknowledged, our district is under new leadership, and I am optimistic that the time is right for unique, outside-the-box thinking. I can do that, and how.

There are many other things I’d like to see occur. I’d like to continue to update our collection. I would like to reconfigure our space and acquire new furniture. I’d like to collaborate with my colleagues more frequently. Hopefully, I can make these things happen, and much more besides.

What can you learn from when you look behind? Perchance you’ll have an epiphany in the nick of time. What do you see when you look ahead? What’s on your path?  

Who knows? Maybe we will share the journey at some point. I hope to see you out on that road.


Author: Lia Fisher Janosz

I am Regina Libris.

I’m…a Bibliothecaria Rebellatrix (“librarian…because Book Wizard isn’t an official job title,” at Sharon Elementary School in Alleghany County, VA) wending a way through the seven ages whilst geeking out over Shakespeare & sundry other stuff. I am rather like Hermione Granger and have “conjured” floating candles in our school library. I’m an admirer of Eowyn and would place myself somewhere in the middle of the shieldmaiden-healer spectrum. I am inimitable, I am an original, and yet I am totally #TeamHamilton (see what I did there?). I’m a graduate of the Longwood University School Librarianship program and an avid reader and lifelong learner (and, apparently, Mistress of the Obvious as well). Any rumors regarding me having a crush on either Stephen Colbert or Chris Martin (or Benedict Cumberbatch or Andrew Scott) are completely…irrefutable. That being acknowledged, I am the loyal consort of an unsung prince of Poland and very proud mother of a tornadic, talented, and talkative wunderkind girl and a happyhopper jollyjumper bouncyboy who has a memory like an elephant.

Categories: Blog Topics, Intellectual Freedom, Professional Development

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