“For some students, and in certain schools, this may be many students, the only library skill that they should have to acquire is an awareness, imprinted indelibly and happily upon them, that the library is a friendly place where the librarians are eager to help.” ~Frances Henne
When we envision a modern-day school library, we often imagine that special place in a school–the heart of the school, really. For me, it’s an active learning space that greets you–full of tidy bookshelves and vibrant book displays, a variety of spaces and seating options for students and staff to collaborate and create, and ample technology tools for inspiration and innovation. It’s a welcoming place for people to come together to connect, share, and learn from one another. Therefore, I certainly never imagined it would be sitting at my dining room table in my home once the COVID-19 pandemic was upon us and my school district, like many others, had to quickly flip the switch to remote teaching and learning. However, there I was in my makeshift office on March 23 when I received the e-mail from AASL stating that I had won the Frances Henne Award. It was surreal in so many ways.
As any dedicated librarian would do after winning an award named after an individual, I invested some time in learning more about the life and legacy of Frances Henne. I soon discovered that she committed her life to school libraries and librarianship and embodied what it means to be a librarian even today–taking a patron-centered approach, advocating for our field, and continuously evolving and growing as a professional. What drew me to her most, however, was her trailblazing approach–the way she challenged the status quo to keep school libraries current, relevant, and responsive to patrons’ needs despite the pressures of long-standing traditions.
Henne’s story and life’s work made me realize that perhaps a school library doesn’t have to be confined solely to a physical place one can visit; it’s not just those four walls and those comfy chairs and those book displays. After all, I had often remarked in the pre-pandemic days that my school’s library could be felt in the hallways, in the classrooms, and even in our community. This meant our school library absolutely could exist at my dining room table in the middle of a historic pandemic. It could be felt by others when I curated e-materials to support instruction, when I collaborated with my colleagues as they faced a whole new way of teaching, when I supported my students’ learning and individual needs from afar, and even when I connected with our public library to continue our partnership remotely. Consequently, my school library was nearly as busy and sometimes even busier than usual while I was stationed at my dining room table this past spring. Just as Henne exhibited in her lifetime, this pandemic was and continues to be our opportunity, as school librarians, to challenge the status quo and demonstrate that our school libraries and our roles remain relevant and responsive even in the midst of a crisis. We are indispensable.
Winning the Frances Henne Award is certainly the most incredible honor I have received in my career thus far; however, winning this award in the midst of a pandemic while I was stationed at home and trying to redefine my role and my programming turned out to be such a powerful reminder of the critical work that we, as school librarians, do each and every day for our school communities even in the face of challenges. We must continue to do what we do best whether we are in school, teaching remotely, or working in a hybrid schedule: quite simply, we put our patrons first, and we harness our resources. Henne’s achievements paved a path for us all, inspiring us, and allowing us to continue her legacy through the work we do for the betterment of our field.
I certainly look forward to the time when this pandemic is behind us, travel restrictions have lifted, and I have the opportunity to attend my first AASL National Conference to connect with other librarians who are also approaching their work in the spirit of Henne–the kind of librarians who are voracious learners, who strive to do better and be better, and who challenge the view of libraries and librarianship today. Until then, I am grateful for this time, even at my dining room table, to reflect upon this concept of a school library and what it means for my school community.