By Grace Hwang Lynch on August 25, 2015

Finalist: Lakisha Brinson, Robert E. Lillard Elementary School, Nashville, TN Photo by Ardee Chua

Finalist: Lakisha Brinson, Robert E. Lillard Elementary School, Nashville, TN
Photo by Ardee Chua


It may seem counterintuitive for a librarian to ban books, but that’s what Lakisha Brinson did at Robert E. Lillard Elementary School in Nashville, TN. To demonstrate the impact of censorship during Banned Books Week in her first year at the school in 2013, Brinson used caution tape to cordon off certain shelves filled with popular series and forbade students from checking them out.

Then, Brinson taught students about the importance of having access to information and suggested alternative titles. “It was inspiring to hear such young students talking so intelligently and emotionally about censorship issues, and it was clear to me that Lakisha’s careful planning had made an impact,” says Sarah Allen, collection development librarian for Nashville Public Library’s (NPL) Limitless Libraries, which forges collaborations between the public library and local schools. Brinson’s Banned Books Week project caught the attention of the Tennessee Library Association, which featured her on their website.

In 2014–15, Brinson operated the 2,000-square-foot library with a budget of $8,260 and the help of a part-time clerk. She shines when using a wide array of books, electronic media, and apps to bring social studies to life. At a campus where 96 percent of the 401 students are African American, and 84 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, Brinson used diverse approaches to her Black History Month lessons. During a unit about notable African Americans called “Courageous Contributors,” she had kindergartners use Nearpod, an interactive presentation and survey program, to choose which African American leaders to study. Third and fourth grade students created PowerPoint presentations uploaded to Flipbook.

Teaming up with NPL, Brinson invited the public library’s puppet truck and its performers to the school’s family nights as part of NPL’s Bringing Books to Life Program. Under her leadership, Lillard Elementary was one of the most successful sites in the district-wide Drop Everything and Read program. Most campuses have just a few parents or grandparents dropping in to read to a class. Brinson took the program to a new level, involving a diverse group, including student athletes from Tennessee State University, and each class was treated to multiple readers.

During her popular Book Tasting event, Brinson, dressed up as a chef, together with a teacher who played the role of a food critic, welcomed students. The educators presented bite-size presentations about different titles. Kids were required to “taste” two new books by scanning the pages to find out what made them appealing or unappealing.

A former second grade teacher, Brinson is most proud of her work building relationships with other teachers. Most of the school’s 28 teachers had received no training in project-based learning until Brinson led a 10-day training program. Brinson is “always busy immersing herself in her work,” says student teacher Shetika Coleman, who credits Brinson’s example for showing her the importance of engaging both students and teachers. “I felt quite privileged to shadow her.”

Out of 600 nominees in the Nashville public schools, Brinson won Limitless Libraries’ 2015 My Amazing Librarian award and a trip to the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco in June. She also serves as a district librarian coach, mentoring and planning professional development, such as “digital bingo” in which teachers learned about a variety of digital tools to win their classrooms a 25-minute lesson she led.

Her multiple academic degrees include an Ed.D and Ed.S in Instructional Leadership, both from Argosy University, an MLS from Trevecca Nazarene University, and a B.S. in Elementary Education from Tennessee State University. “In my 39 years in education, Dr. Brinson has been the most outstanding library, technology specialist, and instructional partner that I have had the pleasure of working [with] collaboratively,” says Lillard Elementary principal Debra B. Thompson.

This fall, Brinson begins a new position as librarian at Amqui Elementary School in Madison, TN, where she will be the sole librarian for a diverse student body of 650, including many native Spanish speakers who are English language learners. “It’s an amazing time and season to be a librarian,” she says. “Not only to be able to transform teaching, but learning.”

Grace Hwang LynchGrace Hwang Lynch, a Bay Area freelance writer on race, culture, and parenting, blogs at

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