Participate, People, and Tapestry: Lessons Learned from My Years in the School Library Field

I’m honored to receive the 2020 AASL Distinguished Service Award.

I have so many to thank.

  • Miriam Gilbert, vice president of Rosen Publishers for sponsoring the award.
  • Mary Keeling, 2019-2020 AASL President, and Liz Deskins, awards committee chair.
  • Audrey Church, Sherry Crow, and April Dawkins for nominating me.
  • Sue Rose and Shirley Scott of Arlington, Texas, Independent School District who started the elementary school library program and chose me to participate.
  • All my wonderful students from 15 years of being the librarian at Little Elementary School in Texas, who are all now grown. Julie Kemp, the current school library director of Arlington ISD schools. John Lamberth, an academic librarian. Johnny Hunter, former baseball player and now a coach and teacher. Sharon McKinney, school superintendent in Port Aransas, Texas.
  • All my graduate students I’ve taught at McDaniel College in Maryland who now serve as school librarians. Folks like Kim Johnson and Irene Allaire who have both received the Maryland School Librarian of the Year Award; Kathleen Brunnett and Dee Van Gelder, district library supervisors. Karen Spangler, who despite hip surgery and cancer, kept plugging away and just this fall became a school librarian. And this fall’s current grad students, like Tanisha Yi and Nikki Williams who for the first time are exploring ALA’s Freedom to Read Statement and what it means to their young learners.
  • And most especially to Mrs. Parrent, my high school English teacher who shared her love of reading. Every summer, she’d load me up with a box of books. She gave me power.

I’ve been asked to say what this award means to me. And what I’ve learned over my career that could help other school librarians. Three words. Participate. People. Tapestry.

I’ll explain.

Because of AASL, I’ve had opportunities to participate to learn and grow. Going to conferences and serving on committees meant that I got to know and love some of the smartest and kindest school librarians in the country. I got to participate in weaving our professional tapestry—our incredible work that supports our nation’s learners and their freedom to read.

People. Participating requires people.

Two quick stories.

Back when the Internet was just beginning, I was appointed to the AASL Technology Committee. I walked into that winter meeting in Philly, and I grew increasingly uncomfortable. I didn’t know what www meant, or URL, or html.

Finally, I just blurted out, “I don’t know what on earth ya’ll are talking about.”

Joyce Valenza gave me that quizzical look of hers and then turned on her glorious smile. “Want to go dancing with us later?”

No, I didn’t want to go dancing. I wanted to know what Joyce knew. I went home and learned how to make web pages. I made the very first website for the Margaret Alexander Edwards Award. I made a children’s online book review site for the Carroll County Public Library—before Goodreads had ever been imagined.

Story number two. As a graduate professor, I embed AASL national university preparation standards into all coursework. Every seven years, I must write a recognition report that should result in national accreditation. Years ago, at my first training at ALA in D.C., I was once again overwhelmed. That confusing vocabulary—a SPA was not a place to relax. I met Becky Pascoe. Over the years, a group of us kept showing up at those trainings. We wanted our say. The last time AASL revised the school library graduate preparation program standards, we were on that committee.

By participating in these and many other endeavors, I found my voice—speaking bluntly and with humor. I shared what I know about collection development in my last book published by ALA: https://www.alastore.ala.org/content/introduction-collection-development-school-librarians-second-edition.

But our power is our collective tapestry, individuals working together, sharing our love of learning and reading with young students.

Thank you for this moment of individual recognition. But now, let me step back and join you at our professional tapestry as we work together on our important mission.

Author: Mona Kerby



Categories: Awards Spotlight, Community

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