February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Chicago Public School Librarian K.C. Boyd: The Heartbeat of Her School


Wendell Phillips Academy school librarian KC Boyd

When librarian K.C. Boyd first came to Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago in 2010, it was ranked second to last among schools in Illinois. Since then, according to a June 2012 WGN news broadcast about the high school, its overall test scores have jumped, especially in reading: 18.2 percent of students are meeting or exceeding state standards, compared with 6.5 percent in 2012, and the school has moved from a level three rating to a level one, (or an “Excellent Standing”). Boyd has transformed the school’s reading culture and pioneered the school’s use of social media. And while she isn’t entirely responsible for the school’s turnaround—the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit organization that helps chronically low-performing schools, became involved in 2010 as well—she’s definitely had an impact.

Many of Boyd’s students are what she refers to as reemergent readers, or students who have come back to reading after losing interest. These students, she says, haven’t had library services since elementary school. Because there was no one in their lives to encourage leisure reading, many gave up around third or fourth grade and in high school found it jarring to be assigned novels to read by teachers. Boyd’s work was cut out for her, but she took a nuanced approach to her students.

“I didn’t start off with what I thought they should be reading. I listened to them.”

Her students most enjoyed reading manga, poetry, vampire stories, and street lit—and Boyd based her purchasing decisions on their preferences.

Though many educators might shy away from incorporating street lit into their collections, Boyd has been a big proponent of the genre and believes that it “[serves] as a teaching tool.” She’s sensitive to her students’ backgrounds, as many come from neighborhoods where violence or crime is common. She can warn students against risky or dangerous behavior, but “if they read a story with characters in similar situations, that story sits with them much more than what I would ever say. Street lit feeds into the social and emotional issues my students are dealing with.”


K.C. Boyd has pioneered the use of Pinterest in her school.

Boyd’s willingness to purchase these street lit titles shows a deep understanding and perception of her community. The books are usually softcovers, and, Boyd says, by the time they come back to the library, they’re bent and clearly used, because parents, siblings, and cousins end up reading them as well.

“I have parents who like reading books within the genre, and they like checking out books from me.”

Her flexible approach has worked: “I used to drag kids into the library. Now they come in willingly.” Not only that, many of these teens have moved on to more complex materials. The students whom Boyd met a few years ago as freshmen have recently graduated, and she couldn’t be happier. As the entire class of 2014, they earned $2.3 million of scholarship funds. “I’m proud of them. They’ve come a long way.”

While Boyd’s gains in the school’s reading culture have been phenomenal, she hasn’t stopped there. Social media is her latest frontier, and she has truly pioneered the school’s use of Pinterest. While preparing for Black History Month this year, she chose to use the site to share Internet resources instead of a more traditional list, teaching students how to scan and pin their own images.

The use of Pinterest took off around the school, with both students and staff becoming intersted, and Boyd continued the effort, creating a Pinterest board for National Poetry Month this past April. A recent legacy project with one of the English classes uses Pinterest to archive former administrators and noteworthy alums, such as singers Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole.

“Things have changed,” Boyd says. “[Librarian] positions are becoming very tech oriented.” But she thinks it’s crucial that school librarians stay current with the needs of their staff and patrons. “In today’s libraries, you have to be the heartbeat of your school.”

Boyd’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed by her peers. Currently enrolled as a doctoral student at Dominican University’s School of Library and Information Science, she’s garnering attention in the greater library community.

“She’s a really rising powerful star,” Joyce Valenza, SLJ blogger and assistant professor at Rutgers University, School of Communication and Information, said. “She speaks for an underserved community and [represents] the positive force of the voice of a teacher librarian.”

Boyd is aware how difficult the situation is for librarians, particularly now, with cutbacks in library services throughout the country, including within the Chicago Public School District. This past June, at a meeting for the Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Public School librarian and mom Megan Cusick, informed the board that “staffing projections show more than half of all CPS schools will lack a certified librarian next year,” according to a June 25 Chicago Sun-Times article. “31 of the 50 schools that received children from closed schools do not have a ‘professionally staffed school library,'” testified Cusick.

Chicago Public School District has had its share of budgetary woes in the past years, not the least being a wave of public schools closures in the past year. It takes gumption to be a leader in this landscape of librarian cuts.

“I was a kid in a suburban school, and I had library services in elementary, middle, and high school. I had a foundation for reading,” she said. “I want the same thing I had for my students. Every kid deserves to have a library program and a certified librarian to provide them with services.”

Mahnaz Dar About Mahnaz Dar

Mahnaz Dar (mdar@mediasourceinc.com) is Assistant Managing Editor for Library Journal and School Library Journal and can be found on Twitter @DibblyFresh.



  1. Rita Platt says:

    “Reemergent readers” Love this! And, love this amazing librarian! She is a model to us all! I am certain she knows about the Bluford High series by Townsend Press. For those that don’t…you MUST check out these amazing books.

  2. Readers of all ages may appreciate the multi level meanings of a new holiday narrative. It is a song of life in the positive spirit shared by folks like Ms. K. C. Boyd. It offers a lasting gift with simplicity for the very young and increasing depth of meaning as one grows in experience. See for yourself and read the “First 8 Stanzas” on the book’s website: http://www.SantasSongbird.com

  3. Chicago Teacher says:

    Yes this Librarian knows about the Bluford Series. She brought this series into the school where we worked together and changed reading for those children. Working with KC Boyd at Ninos Heroes was a special experience because I had never recieved the kind of support that she gave and I had never seen a librarian change the face of literacy in a school. Being that I was the science teacher and engaged heavily in science fair, I always needed collaboration because each child has to produce a 13-32 page paper and a project board. KC Boyd took the lead on the research portion and took such a load off of me in helping those students create fantastic projects. I was heart broken when she got promoted but although she worked at the administration level she still helped and sent books to my building for my students. She without question or hesitation joined my CPS Student Science Fair committee and helped me take 70 CPS students to the Illinois State Science Fair, which included chaperoning kids, passing out key cards, staying up all night to monitor the kids, serving snacks and much, much more. She is a great mentor, and educator and Wendell Phillips is lucky to have her.

  4. K. Jackson says:

    What an amazing article. But, it still has not scratched the surface of what a librarian like Ms. Boyd means to a school building. Whether it was homecoming, school dances, history fair or science fair…Ms. Boyd was somehow involved and going that extra mile for the students. She implemented a fabulous literacy program in conjunction with the Build a Bear Workshop that quickly became a hit with our students. She introduced our building to “Urban Lit” and ignited a passion for reading among our students. It was never the same after she vacated and took on a role at the district. But, she left behind a legacy and huge shoes that were extremely hard to fill.

  5. Dr. Linda Zolt says:

    K.C. Boyd gives librarians a good name. She represents what a librarian does, teaches skills and give students a love of reading. Ms. Boyd works endlessly to promote reading and tech skills, while teaching research and reference skills, checking out books, maintaining a clean, neat library. Giving students these life skills makes Ms. Boyd the heart of the school. Then after working the entire school year, Ms. Boyd takes classes to advance her own knowledge. She greets her students with a friendly smile, and ensures that they love learning. A school with a librarian is a school that sails smoothly. A school with Ms Boyd is a school with a captain.

  6. Korvetta Spencer says:

    I have know K.C. for several years now, as a colleague, mentor and friend. She is an undying advocate for libraries, their power, and what they add to the school environment. In addition, she stays current on the latest trends in literacy, and keeps her finger on the pulse of technology, integrating both facets within the library media center and school-wide curriculum. She is a trendsetter, library advocate, and lover of reading and learning, which makes her an asset no matter where she goes.

  7. Gloria Thomas says:

    I have known Ms. Boyd for about twenty years. While as an Assistant Principal at Copernicus school. I have seen her grow from a misplaced teacher, although she was a librarian, however at that time the principal felt she was needed in a classroom. BIG MISTAKE! She could not see the value of a school librarian. The library stayed empty of a librarian for three years, until she was finally placed in her right position.

    Ms. Boyd, although unhappy and working in the program Teacher for Chicago, was always there for both students and staff. She was able to secure many grants and grants for the school.

    When I became principal, I saw her get an administrator position downtown. I was very happy for her, but I think she knew her happiness came from children in the library.

    Finally, getting a position at Wendell Phillips High School (my alumnus) she blossomed and excelled. From media, street literature,to fostering a true love for the written word, her creativity with children is never ending.

    She is an asset to any school that has her as a librarian. Her creativity and energy is non stop when it comes to literature and children.