November 21, 2017

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Eight Librarians Flip Their Skills To Serve a New Calling

Shannon McClintock Miller

Shannon McClintock Miller

“Being a librarian isn’t a job that ends with a shift,” says Megan M. Cusick, grassroots specialist in the Office for Library Advocacy (OLA) at the America Library Association (ALA). “We’re always building connections in the community and expanding our resource base.”

Megan M. Cusick

Megan M. Cusick

Those qualities inform school and children’s librarians’ decisions when they change career tracks, as Cusick did, either midstream or after decades on the job. Their skills—tech expertise and engagement with books and learning, often enhanced by a passion for advocacy—position them well for a career shift.

When former school librarians turn their focus to volunteer or advocacy work in the field, their shared expertise is also a boon to others. “Most librarians are natural mentors and teachers and have a genuine desire to continue those roles, formally or informally,” notes Cusick. Ed tech or IT positions are natural for some; others move into high-level advocacy work and university-level teaching.

A former teacher librarian in the Chicago Public Schools, Cusick had helped establish Chi School Librarians, an advocacy group pushing for a certified teacher-librarian in every public school in the city, in 2013. While attending an American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference, Cusick met with executive director Sylvia Knight Norton and Marci Merola, director of OLA, to discuss her grassroots efforts. When Cusick left her job at Chicago Public Schools, OLA was creating the new position of grassroots specialist; Cusick applied for and got the job.

Sara Kelly Johns

Sara Kelly Johns

“The most passionate activists want to continue working for the good of the profession because they gained so much personally and professionally,” says Sara Kelly Johns, a former middle and high school librarian and former president of the New York Library Association. Currently adjunct instructor at the Syracuse University iSchool, Johns, who has held several positions within ALA, including AASL president, is now part of a team of school librarians coordinating with ALA and AASL to help implement the provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in December 2015. As AASL past president, Johns facilitated a New York state workshop on ESSA sponsored by AASL, which is making efforts to establish these events for school librarians in every state.

Katie Williams

Katie Williams

Katie Williams, for decades a middle school librarian in California, now helps librarians in her own state understand and potentially benefit from ESSA. She recently spoke about the new law to a group of California librarians.

Also serving on the AASL Board of Directors as a volunteer regional director, Williams says, “I communicate with the state affiliates in my region to keep them up to date on AASL activities and to learn if there are any issues that [the organization] can help them with.” She adds, “I’ve got the benefit of my past and have been able to quickly bring administrators in my new work life up to speed.” In addition, Williams mentors new school librarians in her former district.

Her independent status is a plus when it comes to advocacy. “Now that I’m out of school, the speaking I do doesn’t seem as self-serving as it may have when I was on the job,” she says. “I’m free to tell the school board, politicians, and superintendents about the value of school libraries, because I come from a strong position of years of involvement in the district’s program.”

Lisa Von Drasek

Lisa Von Drasek

A shift to academia was the right move for Lisa Von Drasek, a former school librarian at the Bank Street School in New York City who is now curator of the Children’s Literature Research Collection at the University of Minnesota.

While Von Drasek misses seeing kids’ reading and research skills blossom, and participating in the learning community of Bank Street, her current tenure-track post offers opportunities to create learning objects and digital resources using rare art, manuscripts, and correspondence from award-winning writers and illustrators. She notes that both positions required her to manage an extensive collection of children’s literature and create collections for a diverse curriculum. Her current appointment comes with flexibility, along with expectations of publishing and service, as well as teaching.

Sherry Gick

Sherry Gick

Expertise in tech opens up a range of mid-career opportunities. Sherry Gick, a teacher librarian for the Rossville (IN) Consolidated Schools for five years, is now associate director of innovative learning at Five Star Technology Solutions. While Gick loved her old teacher-librarian position, she encourages colleagues who also cherish their current jobs to remember the importance of challenging themselves to grow.

“I’m still in education, but I feel like my ripple effect has [increased],” she says. “Instead of impacting and working with one school system, I’m now able to work with several across the state.”

Gick, who currently advises library teams on strategic planning and tech implementation, received good advice during her job transition: to remember that her identity didn’t need to be directly tied to being a teacher librarian—she could do valuable work in other fields. “That reassurance meant a lot to me and helped me take a leap,” she says.

When Shannon McClintock Miller was the district teacher librarian at Van Meter (IA) Community School, “I was also the technology integration specialist, so I taught elementary students [lessons] incorporating information literacy, tech literacy, and digital citizenship,” she says. While actively sharing her ideas and lessons with other librarians on social media, Miller began speaking at local, state, and national events. She stepped back to a part-time position at the library and then moved to full-time consulting and speaking. She now holds advisory or other positions with Buncee, Cantata Learning, and Follett’s Project Connect initiative.

Barbara Genco

Barbara Genco

Barbara Genco lived and breathed collections during her 25 years at the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL). “I spent 10 years as the director of the collection department, which involved selection, cataloging, acquisitions, vendor relations, and more,” she says. Contemplating her next move, she thought long and hard about what she was good at and how she wanted to spend her time.

Today, she teaches a class at the Pratt Institute School of Information on collection development and consults with SLJ and sister publication Library Journal, developing content for the publications’ Digital Shift virtual conferences on technology. Starting small and saying “yes” was key to Genco’s post-BPL success. “It’s wise to take on short freelance or consulting opportunities, as well as develop budgeting and project-management skills,” she advises.

Linda Perkins

Linda Perkins

Linda Perkins worked for 32 years at the Berkeley (CA) Public Library system, most recently as the manager of children’s and teen services, and received the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Distinguished Service Award in 2012. She retired six years ago, and her activities are still rooted in education and learning. Perkins volunteers at an elementary school library, stays in touch with other retired librarians, participates in book groups, and follows the Northern California regional ALSC group, as well as writes reviews for Bayviews, published by the Northern California Association of Children’s Librarians. Her advice for fellow retirees and book lovers: connecting on the Internet is fine, but learning face-to-face is better. “It’s more stimulating, mentally, to be with people,” she says.

When librarians like these keep connected, advocate, and share their expertise, it’s invaluable to the profession, Cusick says. “Professionally trained librarians are essential to our democratic society—and they can play a vital role in moving our school districts forward.”

Geddes-Jennifer-Kelly_ContribJennifer Kelly Geddes writes regularly for Parents.com and Highlights.

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Comments

  1. Love stories about librarian’s rebranding themselves. after almost 20 years in Public Libraries I retooled and have become the Hip Historian. Following my passion for uncovering the weird, the wonderful, and the obscure treasures from our past: those semi-forgotten people, places, and events that have made us who we are today. I have developed an almost cult like following for sharing history through trivia, tours, and lectures.

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