June 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“Liz the Librarian:” Liz Phipps Soeiro, 2017 Hero of Family Outreach

On any given day, Liz Phipps Soeiro might be inviting families to hear a speaker, such as Pulitzer Prize–winning author Junot Díaz, at her elementary school library—or riding a bike to local parks to give away books. Both reveal her commitment to families at Cambridgeport School in Cambridge, MA, and its community. At the school, in a historic brick building a mile from Harvard University, nearly 40 percent of the pre-K through fifth grade students are from low-income backgrounds, and others have parents who work at Harvard or MIT. “We have a lot of wealth in the city, but we also have people who experience poverty,” says Phipps Soeiro.

Five years ago, “Liz the Librarian,” as she is affectionately known, noticed that parents and caregivers often lingered to socialize after dropping kids off. She also saw that within this racially and socioeconomically diverse population, not all parents felt included in the school or local government. With that in mind, she created a morning program called Coffee and Conversations. Once a week, she invites a speaker for casual meetings with parents at the library. Guests have included the mayor, school committee members, and local artists. Following President Trump’s executive order banning travel from six Muslim nations, she invited a representative from the Council on American Islamic Relations and an attorney from the Muslim Justice League to speak to an audience including some 25 Muslim families about their rights. The lawyer met with individual families afterward.

“She’s a true linchpin of the school community, with a warm and respectful welcome for every child, family member, caretaker, and educator who comes through the library,” says Elissa Gershowitz, executive editor of SLJ sister publication The Horn Book, whose son attends Cambridgeport.

“Friend” is a word that comes up often when Phipps Soeiro starts talking about parents. She gets to know them and encourages them to share special skills with students. One mother, whose four children attended, is a rapper and songwriter who, over a month and a half, “helped [students] write and perform a song about our school and library,” says Phipps Soeiro.

The library’s collection reflects Phipps Soeiro’s commitment to social justice. Titles such as Margarita Engle’s Drum Dream Girl and Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley’s I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark spark discussions about government and fairness. During a field trip to city hall, students sat in council chambers and asked questions of city leaders.

Phipps Soeiro accomplishes all this on an annual budget of less than $3,000. Meanwhile, in the summer, she pedals the Cambridge Book Bike, not affiliated with the school, to city parks, where she hands out books during free lunch programs that are part of the Let’s Move, Let’s Eat federal program. She started the bike program in 2014 with $2,000 raised on Kickstarter. A local early literacy organization, Agenda for Children, donated books, and the City of Cambridge offered funding. By this summer, the program had two bikes that visited five parks weekly during a 10-week period. Over the past four summers, some 9,000 books have been distributed.

Phipps Soeiro is also a board member of the international organization Libraries Without Borders, which supports global early childhood literacy. As the legislative cochair of the Massachusetts Library Association, she writes letters to state and federal lawmakers urging support for libraries. She is especially interested in how the Every Student Succeeds Act will affect libraries as it is implemented this fall. As Amy Short, assistant director of library media services for Cambridge Public Schools, says, Phipps Soeiro “epitomizes the best of our profession.”

About the Award

SLJ presents the fourth annual School Librarian of the Year Award in partnership with sponsor Scholastic Library Publishing. The award honors a K–12 library professional for outstanding achievement and the exemplary use of 21st-century tools and services to engage children and teens toward fostering multiple literacies.

This year’s award recognizes one winner and four finalists honored as Heroes from a strong pool of 42 applicants. The winner receives a $2,500 cash award, plus $2,500 worth of print and digital materials from Scholastic Library Publishing. The Heroes each receive $500 in materials of their choice from Scholastic Library Publishing.

Maker Hero: A standout creative individual leading the way in promoting hands-on learning with entrepreneurial and innovative programming in the maker tradition.

Hero of Equitable Access: A champion who promotes equal access to information, library services, and technology in his/her library and school, with particular attention to reaching the underserved.

Hero of Family Outreach: This model of engagement connects with families, helping meet the unique needs of the community and helping promote a home/school connection through the library.

Hero of Collaboration: An exemplar who demonstrates great collaboration skills, teaming with a teacher, staff, administrators, or community members at the local or district level—all toward benefiting students.

The 2017 Judges

Todd Burleson, 2016 School Librarian of the Year; Glenn Robbins, superintendent, Tabernacle (NJ) Schools; and the editors of School Library Journal.

Read more about the award.

This article was published in School Library Journal's September 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Grace Hwang Lynch About Grace Hwang Lynch

Grace Hwang Lynch is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has written for PBS, PRI, Salon, and BlogHer. Follow her on Twitter at @HapaMamaGrace.

Maker Workshop
In this two-week online course, you’ll create a maker program that aligns with your budget and community needs, with personal coaching from maker experts—from libraries and beyond—May 23 & June 6, 2018.


  1. Do you also teach the hate you are filled with?

  2. MaryAnne Lanza-Mongelluzzo says:

    I work at a library and I am appalled that you rejected donated children’s books because they were from the first lady. You are no librarian. You are a fascist. You deny children the access to books based on your politics. You should never be in a school. You should be in Nazi Germany

    • Careful MaryAnne, she might feel offended. However, she has her safe-space library to retreat into at any given moment.

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  6. Really appalled at how unbelievably rude you are! What happened to just saying “thank you”?

  7. What happened to a world where no matter what the gesture, the enlightened sense of caring, the basic offer of kindness is met with such hatred and vitriol. Let’s assume Liz, that you are a good librarian; I’m willing to grant that. Congratulations and good job. However your lack of judgement, your hopeless attempt to insert politics into an innocent and loving profession to bolster your (not your student’s) personal biases is truly disgusting and signals to most people that there is little hope for people in the country to come together. I just hope that over time some remnant of dignity remains in this country’s DNA that will either weed out the entrenched hatred that you and other liberals demonstrate or that you will one day realize on your own that living this way will never benefit you personally . . . and that your attempt to corrupt the minds of the nation’s children has failed.

    • Hey Karl,

      I wish I would’ve typed that. Beautiful piece of literature you laid out.!

    • E. Marlene Graham, MLIS says:

      I completely agree with Karl! I am so tired of hearing about how we (librarians) need to be balanced unless it is against the outrageously and fashionably correct side of the discussion. I get so tired of hearing that unless you choose ‘currently acceptable’ points of view that you are stupid, ignorant and uneducated. Let this librarian go back to school and discover what real literature consists of! Stop the nonsense!!

  8. After reading the comments on here, I have to say this, “Gee Liz, making friends fast around here!” I mean, “friend” is what you want to be, but only to like minded, group-think liberals. So glad I don’t have a child anywhere near you and your safe space.

  9. I have to agree with the posts on here. You have all made great points. I am so glad that this librarian is far from my children. She is filled with so much hatred. I don’t think she deserves to be a librarian.

  10. Joseph Goebbels would be proud — not of your politics, but your practices.

  11. Liz,

    Is it true that you rejected books from our FLOTUS based on your political beliefs? What a shame. You strike me as very mean and entitled.

  12. I find it ironic that this bitter woman attempted to reject a gift because she doesn’t like Trump’s policies, yet it’s precisely this sort of elitist, ignorant behavior that made people vote for Trump in the first place. The saddest part is that she’s probably proud of herself. She climbs on her pedestal and lectures about diversity, but this woman doesn’t know a thing about middle America. She’ll sit in her bubble and remain oblivious to the viewpoints of those who are offended by her actions. I think what’s even worse than taking it upon herself to reject books that were donated, not to her but to the school, is that she’s so bent on hating those who don’t share her political views that she’s willing to look down her nose at some of the most beloved children’s books of all time. This woman is not fit to work with children. Kids go to school to learn, not to be indoctrinated by loony ideologues.

  13. Doug Mortensen says:

    I am not a Trump lover at all and am frequently making Trump & other political jokes with my co-workers. But your act to refuse that kind gesture was a disrespectful slap in the face. If you really wanted to make a difference, you could have donated those books to another school in need. Furthermore, do your good deeds in private. That’s the true mark of a great person. They don’t need to broadcast their generosity to the press. You could have called the Education dept and quietly given them your appreciation of the gesture, but declination, then help them understand why. You could have made a positive influence, instead of looking for a way to create more controversy in a country torn in half by the political chasm the media loves feeding. Congratulations on your fame.

  14. She is teaching kids to hate America like her!

  15. Christa Anderson says:

    CERTAIN these identical book choices would have been gleefully accepted by Liz the “Librarian” if from America hating Mooshelle.

  16. John Peasant says:

    Seems like The Grinch who stole Christmas came early this year, with Liz Phipps Soeiro banning books that she doesn’t like. Dr Seuss – the HORROR! I bet she has long since removed and purged any books written by that famous American racist Mark Twain, especially Huckleberry Finn. Come to think of it, weren’t some German guys in the 1930s also in the habit of burning books?

  17. Anthony Garcia says:

    Pathetic and petty. So is this website for the article tittle and giving this unhinged loon a platform for her irrelevant rhetoric.

  18. John Peasant says:

    Liberals like Liz Phipps Soeiro are extremely tolerant people…as long as you agree with them!

  19. Anthony Garcia says:

    School library journal? This is sad and a real problem in this country. People like this shouldn’t even be around kids with their twisted point of views and self precived discrimination. Further pushing the lies to our youth, and we wonder why everyone is so screwed up this days.

  20. John Peasant says:

    In case some of you have no idea of what this thread is riled up about, this is part of of it:

    She (Liz Phipps Soeiro) also criticized Melania’s (First Lady of the United States) choice of books, calling the Dr. Seuss titles “tired cliches” for children’s literature.

    “You may not be aware of this, but Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliché, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature.”

    Phipps Soeiro added that the Dr. Seuss books contained illustrations “steeped in racist propaganda”

  21. Liz, the appropriate response when you receive a book donation is “thank you” (for future reference).

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  23. joyce hartman says:

    Liz Phipps Soeiro Perhaps you need to find a new profession. To not accept donations of books, especially from FLOTUS is truly a wrong political move on your part. You should lose your job.

  24. Sam Mazarella says:

    You are Liz
    Liz you am
    Would you like mustard with your spam?

  25. Tena Markham says:

    Liz needs to be resigned…Shame on her..

  26. Patrick Grady says:

    Racist propaganda? I am not a big fan of Trump but he was NOT a racist until he ran and won the highest office in the land. NPR, CBS,ABC, NBC and CNN has damaged her mind. I would not want her anywhere near my children. She is the racist and I hope she is fired for her actions.

  27. You are an embarrassment, a pathetic bigot that shouldn’t even be around young minds. Pathetic piece of liberal, hate filled, crap.

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  29. If I were a parent at this school I would yank my child out immediately!!! What a shame you Emily and reward such a judgemental, ignorant person!! Shame on all of you for tolerating such behavior!!

  30. If president Trump and Mrs. DeVos have ruined these schools in Detroit and Chicago in the last nine months why don’t you take you and your degree leave Cambridge and utilize your brilliance in these under privileged areas?

  31. You also call parents who don’t take a knee white supremacist? This librarian is a T H R A S H.

  32. Most of the comments here fail to recognize that the donation of the books was a political act. It was intended by the White House to create the appearance that they support public education. Meanwhile, education secretary DeVos does everything possible to divert funding away from public schools, toward schools that are not accountable to public standards.

    It sounds like Ms Phipps Soeiro is an excellent librarian. Being a librarian is not simply an “innocent and loving profession.” Steering readers toward books that are “not political” is itself a political act.

    Librarians reliably stand up for education, public access to information, individual privacy rights, freedom of expression, and the First Amendment. These are core American values. If you’re ever looking for a responsible, engaged citizen, you’ll surely find some in your local library.

    • We’re talking civil behavior. Don’t want the books? The gracious thing to do is accept them anyway and then donate to another library needing the books. Karen, how do you know it was a political act. You’re very response is a political act. Public servants (which librarians are) should stay out of politics on the job. They serve all. This librarian looks small-minded, bigoted, ungracious, and rude as you do in your defense of such behavior.

    • I really take issue with her comments on Betsy Devos . Our Secretary of Education has tried and tried to put her platform out and discuss but the educational fortress has just stonewalled her ideas . She is too rich , not one of them or too conservative . YADA , YADA , YADA . Education in our country is spending more $$$ per student than any country in the world and we are not even in the top 20 for outcomes on anyone’s list . It is people like Soeiro that think that mediocrity is acceptable. I would debate her anywhere , any place any time on why education is failing . There is a total lack of innovation , leadership and responsibility for outcomes .

    • John Peasant says:

      So, if I go to her library (and it is her library, not that of the community since apparently she thinks that this is her own personal fiefdom)…I’m just wondering how many ‘non-political’ books authored by Hillary Clinton are on the shelves

  33. How dare you make this political and insult a sweet gesture. Is this the example you set for our youth. It is ugly and cruel. You only made yourself look small because everyone saw right through your evil intentions and deeds. This is not what we want this country to look like and it is not the American way and never will be. We will fight for our country’s values when we see them being violated and mutilated by ignorance and bigotry we will call it out. I hope you are removed from your position. You would not be allowed near my children and I would inform everyone that you are not stable enough make any good decisions.

  34. Well…We are not allowing your hate to infest are children…Steps being taken for your removal…Public libraries are govt institutions…You just broke a whole lot of rules…Reality will be your wake up call…

  35. You have absolutely no class. The gracious gesture would have been to accept the books and thank the First Lady for her thoughtfulness. Instead, you were rude, hateful, and small-minded. Shame on you. People like you shouldn’t be around children perpetuating hate and bigotry.

  36. Joewillywilly says:

    I guess all the book learnin’ in the world doesn’t imbue anyone with an iota of common sense. Maybe Liz should’ve spent more time reading Seuss and less time reading Howard Zinn

  37. Mark Christmas says:

    A gift from the First Lady of the United States of America is a remarkable heirloom to your school. We both know that if Michelle Obama had sent the same books in the same way that you would have been so excited to receive them. Dr. Seuss’ books are not the reason you did not accept this gift. We both know that, don’t we? As a former resident for 25 years of the state of Massachusetts, I am ashamed of you and how you have made the Commonwealth feel today. Politically, you disagree with Mrs. Trump. OK, but to disrespect the office of the President of the United States is beneath any Democrat or Republican. If you don’t agree with their position on issues, don’t vote for him. It was an honor for your school to be selected to receive this gift. You had no right to refuse it. I am embarrassed for you and your school. You have a lot of nerve to be so disrespectful.

  38. You are a joke. You spread hate and nonsense. If I had a child in Cambridge I would not allow him or her to go to that library as long as you worked there. You need to be removed from that position. And to write a letter like to the First Lady. Your a disgrace….

  39. She actually won an award? She could of easily donated those books to children. Everything you’ve done good has now been overshadowed. Enjoy that.

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  41. Liz Phipps Soeiro is ignorant and an embarrassment to educators worldwide. Cambridgeport should have already fired her.

  42. This woman is a disgrace. I can’t believe she received an award. For what, brainwashing kids into her divisive tactics? In my pinion, she should be fired or demoted. If my child were in that school, I would be causing a major uproar.

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  44. Liz,
    I am disgusted with your response to receiving Dr Seuss books from our FLOTUS.
    I think you deserve to be fired. Or at least demoted.