December 11, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

School, Teen Librarians Recognized at 2017 I Love My Librarian Awards

Left to right: I Love My Librarian Award recipients Sheikla Blount, Rita Platt, Timothy Ryan, Marcia Kochel, and Laurie Doan, with ALA president Jim Neal. Photo: Sarah Kelly Johns

Three school librarians and two who provide teen services in public libraries were among those honored by the American Library Association, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the New York Public Library (NYPL), and the New York Times during the annual I Love My Librarian Awards. The 10 winners each received a $5,000 cash award, a plaque, and a travel stipend to attend the reception.

At the November 30 ceremony in New York, Anthony Marx, NYPL president and CEO, spoke of the importance of libraries and librarians, particularly in the current political climate.

“We are living in a moment when the core values of enlightenment are under threat,” he said, while Carnegie Corporation President Vartan Gregorian held up his cell phone and added, “All Greek literature is in here, but you still have to read it.”

Sheikla Blount, a librarian at Columbiana (AL) Middle School, was nominated for the award by a fellow teacher who described her library as serving “a unique and critical need that you might not understand unless you were from a rural environment.” Blount stretches a $600 budget to serve 440 students, gets books into the hands of students, and encourages diversity in her collection. For years on a “Battle of the Books” committee, she was the lone minority voice and often had to speak up for inclusion.

The nominators for young adult librarian Laurie Doan at the Tredyffrin (PA) Public Library traveled from Strafford, PA, to cheer for their hometown colleague. “Laurie is a builder, a presence in our community,” said nominator Anne Sprissler. “Laurie has created an environment at the library where all teens can find a place at the table.”

Described as the “guide on the side,” Doan has created a space in the library where teens can discover their passion. A reluctant award winner, Doan is donating her $5,000 prize to the library to build a stage for the teens.

Following her own advice to “move from what’s best for your children to what’s best for all children,” Marcia Kochel left private education to become the teacher librarian at Druid Hills Middle School in Decatur, GA.

She has transformed the library from a traditional book repository to a learning commons that engages kids in creative and inviting ways. Her nominators described the library as “buzzing with activity as a center of community, collaboration, and creativity.”

Kochel is also a catalyst for the implementation of technology in the school. “She is always willing to demonstrate and help implement the newest apps to help engage students in instruction. She helps teachers find efficient and effective ways to use technology in their teaching and helps make learning exciting,” the nominators wrote.

Rita Platt, teacher librarian at St. Croix (WI) Elementary School, began her acceptance speech with a good second grader joke: “What’s the tallest building in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, population 2,100?” she asked. “The library, because it has so many stories!”

One nominator said Platt “puts the ‘zing’ into amazing,” and St. Croix Elementary principal Jeff Benoy wrote, “I have learned more from Rita in the last four years than any other individual. She is my go-to teacher.”

Platt, who has previously been nominated for the award, works to develop a culture of achievement and a love of reading. One way she accomplishes this is with her Book Boutique, an entire room, formerly her office, filled with donated books and those she has purchased that students can earn for their hard work. Students read to earn “money” to shop.

Postman-turned-young adult services librarian Timothy Ryan said he appreciated the validation the award carries—and said he also receives validation every day from the smiles on the teens’ faces at the Sully Branch of the Rochester (NY) Public Library. The branch is located in the most poverty-stricken quadrant of the city, and Ryan and the library staff work to provide a safe environment for the teens and the rest of the community.

By offering state-of-the-art technology programs that incorporate 3-D printers, video games, coding, game design software, and virtual reality, Ryan is keeping teens engaged and off the streets, off drugs, and out of gangs. He aims to give them the knowledge and the confidence that will prepare them for a future in which technology has become the focal point.

The other librarians recognized at the event were: Julie Bill, director of library services for the Musicians Institute College of Contemporary Music in Los Angeles; Annie Cipolla, a senior librarian for the Los Angeles Public Library; Rosemary Cooper, director of the Albert Wisner Public Library in Warwick, NY; Mary Jo Fayoyin, dean of library and media services at Savannah State University; and Natalia Fernandez, curator and archivist at the Oregon Multicultural Archives and OSU Queer Archives at Oregon State University. The honorees were selected from more than 1,000 nominations.

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Rocco Staino About Rocco Staino

Rocco Staino @RoccoA is the retired director of the Keefe Library of the North Salem School District in New York. He is now a contributing editor for School Library Journal and also writes for the Huffington Post.

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