School Librarian Origin Stories

Whether they’re creating a safe space for us to nerd out away from bullies, providing resources to finish term papers and guide us through the most challenging issues of our adolescence, or ensuring that our children have access to books critical to their own social and emotional development, school librarians have proven heroes to many of us. And, like all heroes, they have tales of how they acquired their superpowers and rose to greatness. Here are just a few origin stories by the school librarians among ALA Editions | Neal-Schuman’s authors.


Where Unicorns Get Their Horns


by Maura Madigan, author of Learning Centers for School Libraries and Project-Based Learning for Elementary Grades


"It all started at the Brooklyn Public Library. My mom was a voracious reader, so as a child she was always bringing me to our local library branch. One day, for a change, we went to the main Grand Army Plaza branch. The entrance is something almost celestial to behold, its massive doors adorned with bronze sculptures and flanked by two marble columns. Inside was even more impressive: high ceilings, two floors, and a separate room full of children's books. Even as a young child I can remember feeling calmer in the library. I thought the librarians who got to spend all day surrounded by books were incredibly lucky. In a space so otherworldly, it seemed that even the most ordinary among us could feel extraordinary for the day."


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Leap Frog Crosses the Biggest Pond Yet


by Lucas Maxwell, author of Let’s Roll: Running a Successful Fantasy Role-Play Programme in your School or Public Library


"Before I became a school librarian I wanted to be a standup comedian. I was serious about it and did a lot of gigs in Canada before moving to the UK where I had to start over. One night I had a gig at seaside town. I followed a street magician who did sleight of hand magic to a crowd of seven people with an average age of 82; they were all sitting twenty feet away from him and couldn’t make out what he was doing. There was complete and utter dead silence in the room as he left the stage and I entered. As I told my jokes, the silence was so overwhelming I think I could hear my soul die. The next day I applied for a school librarian job and I’ve been at the same school for the past ten years.


"On my first day as a school librarian, I was feeling overwhelmed and full of anxiety. I had never worked in a school before, let alone a UK school where things are very different compared to Canada. I didn’t feel like I had any idea what I was doing, I felt like a fraud. The headteacher wanted to introduce me to the entire school, around 1,600 students, five times larger than the school I went to as a teen. When he introduced me to that sea of unimpressed-looking faces he said 'This is Mr. Maxwell and he is going to get everyone here to fall in love with reading.' And it was like a light switch went on. I thought, 'I think I can actually do this.' It was a huge moment for me because for whatever reason him saying that gave me a lot of confidence and ten years later I’ve never forgotten it."


Building a Safety Nest

by Hilda K. Weisburg, author of Being Indispensable: A School Librarian’s Guide to Becoming an Invaluable Leader, Classroom Management for School Librarians, Leading for School Librarians, New on the Job: A School Librarian’s Guide to Success, and School Librarian’s Career Planner


"It was 1962 and my first year as a librarian. I got the job based on my experience as a public library page during my Junior and Senior years at college, where I was studying to be an English teacher, and because the interim superintendent of schools was eager to fill positions. I was eager for any reliable job at all because I was getting married in August after graduation, and I wanted to find a place for my husband and me to live where I could walk to work as we had no car. To qualify for this librarian position, I took two summer courses at the then Columbia University Library School, completing them one day before my wedding.


"Through my first job as a librarian, I had a Library Council consisting of all girls and an A-V club made up of all boys. The Cuban Missile crisis erupted and had everyone in a tailspin. The members of the A-V club showed up at my apartment one day. (Don’t ask me how they found it.) They thought they had worked out how long we had before the Russian missiles reached us. I think they were more excited than worried, but I did try calming them down.


"I really wasn’t very good with the typical tasks at that library and I wasn’t rehired, but I learned one important thing about myself from tending to the children in the A-V club in my apartment: I loved the interaction with students I had as a librarian much more than I loved my vision for a career as an English teacher. Having earned more education credits during my time at the job, I found another school library position. There were some other early setbacks, but they never dulled my love for being a school librarian. I have always thought it was the best job in the world."


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Take One, Leave One


by Deborah Rinio, author of STEAM Activities in 30 Minutes for Elementary Learners


"My first year in an elementary school library, I still wasn't sure it was the right career for me. Then I met a young lady who changed my mind. Bridgette wasn't a terribly strong reader but she loved books, yet the school where I worked had a policy that students with overdue or lost books were not allowed to check out something new. Each week, week after week, Bridgette would bounce up to the library desk during checkout with a new book in her hand. She was always so excited to read the book, but each week I had to tell her she couldn't check it out. Watching her face fall and her frequent tears convinced me that the job of putting books into a reader's hand was what I wanted and needed to do. But more than that, I needed to advocate for equity of access and develop and revise policies that ensured that ALL learners had the ability to take books home and to be readers.


"I wasn't able to change that policy overnight, but pretty soon I put together a 'take one, leave one' shelf of donated books for learners like Bridgette so that no matter what the policy our burgeoning readers always had something to read. Seeing Bridgette finally get to take home a book, and the bright and happy smile on her face, cemented my desire to be an advocate for our learners and my path as a school librarian."