The Library Is the Heart of the School

Librarian of the Year Essay

In 2013, I was honored as Librarian of the Year by my district, Austin ISD. I was nominated again this year, and although I withdrew from the competition, I wanted to write an essay from the prompt.

How School Libraries Fulfill the District’s Three Core Beliefs

O. Henry Readathon students as book buddies

Austin ISD’s three core beliefs are:

ONE: All students will graduate college-, career-, and life ready.

TWO: We will create an effective, agile, and responsive organization.

THREE: We will create vibrant relationships critical for successful students and schools.

Readathon Readers go see A Wrinkle in Time on opening day

Here’s my take on how our school library program fulfills these beliefs:

Librarians focus on literacy by fostering a lifelong love of reading and learning. We give both individual and whole class attention to students through book talks, “book tastings,” “book speed dating,” readers’ advisory, author visits, book-to-movie field trips, and other fun reading incentive programs, such as the Bookspring Readathon, a service project that converts students’ reading power into books for low-income students here in Austin. For the last several years, O. Henry has had the highest level of Readathon participation and fundraising of Austin area middle schools. The top sixty readers (pages or minutes) won a movie field trip to see A Wrinkle in Time, based on Margaret L’Engle’s classic novel. Field trips to Austin ISD elementary schools are already scheduled so O. Henry students can serve as book buddies on the day the children receive their very own “forever” books. We also sponsored a reading incentive field trip to see the movie, Wonder, in the fall.

Igniting a love of reading is the central mission of the O. Henry library. “If children develop a love of reading, they will have better lives” (Rafe Esquith, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire). Not only do readers score higher on standardized tests, earn higher grades, and demonstrate more success in reading comprehension, spelling, grammar, and writing, but they also become better citizens. Self-identified adult readers volunteer more in their communities and vote at higher rates. If kids love reading, they will read more.

O. Henry readers meet graphic memoirist Tillie Walden

At O. Henry, we nurture the love of reading by following Stephen Krashen’s The Power of Reading, which states these three principles for getting kids to read: 1) allow choice or self-selection, 2) give time to read during the school day, 3) provide access to the books they want to read. These elements have been crucial to the success of the O. Henry Library program for the last fifteen years. An adequate library budget determines access. O. Henry receives over $10 per student for library funding. Even though the national average is $12 per student (and Austin ISD sets the minimum at only $2.50), O. Henry receives the highest amount of any secondary school in the district, enabling us to provide our students with both print as well as digital ebooks and audiobooks. If a student is dying to read a particular title, the librarian can order it for him and have it delivered to her classroom within three days. If many students want to read Rebound, the prequel to Kwame Alexander’s Crossover, the librarian buys multiple copies, and student library aides deliver the books to students on hold in their classrooms. Our library currently has 14 copies of Ready Player One and a waiting list. Students don’t have to wait for months to read the books they want to read now. This level of personal service is key to our library program’s success. Without our generous budget, without principals who value school libraries, O. Henry wouldn’t have among the highest student circulation rates of any secondary library in Austin ISD.

O. Henry Students Meet Jason Reynolds

Hosting authors in the school is also a great reading motivator. Working in partnership with BookPeople and Project WISE, O. Henry brings in local and national award-winning writers each year, including Jason Reynolds, Kwame Alexander, and Varian Johnson. Black male authors serve as great role models for all of our students, but especially for our dormant readers and minority boys. I’ve been partnering with BookPeople for the last fifteen years, and the enthusiasm authors bring can often continue for several years in increased circulation of their books.

Running a library requires much physical labor in maintaining and updating the collection, but we prioritize service. No matter what important task we are engaged in, we drop it to tend to the clients’ needs. Librarians build relationships constantly. Beyond individual requests and reading advice, the O. Henry library sponsors several student book clubs throughout the year, building reading communities. Each year the librarian also sponsors two writing workshops in which students learn to critique and revise both their own and peer writing. Classes come to the library often for lessons on how to evaluate websites, avoid fake news and plagiarism, access district databases, and cite sources. Students love the library. They gather in crowds here in the morning, during lunch, after school, and whenever they can. The O. Henry library is truly the heart of our school.


Author: Sara Stevenson

I’m a reader, writer, swimmer, and a public middle school librarian. I love all things Italian. I was honored to be Austin ISD’s first librarian of the year in 2013.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

2 replies

  1. Reading this post, I found myself not only extremely impressed by the depth and sophistication of the O. Henry library’s (i.e., Sara’s) approach to engaging all students in reading, I also found myself moved by the love for the students (and concern about the future) that so obviously motivates it. I now find myself believing that libraries may save the world!

  2. Thanks, Jacquie. : )

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.