Sarah Messham, school library media specialist, Johnson Elementary School
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The most challenging aspect of my job is balance. As a library media specialist, I play multiple roles around the building: technology specialist and “tech guy,” instructional technology resource teacher, leader in professional development, curriculum creator and supporter, and coordinator of school-wide events. I serve as a member of each grade level team, a building leadership team, the resource team, and multiple committees. When I’m in my library, I teach six different levels of information literacy-based curriculum to 18 different groups of students each week, maintain a collection of approximately 12,000 materials, and grow that collection by 200-300 new quality, heavily reviewed titles each year. I also make it a critical part of my job to make a connection with each of my students － all 350 of them. It’s difficult to find time to balance each piece of the puzzle. But of course, the most challenging aspect of my job is also the most rewarding. I didn’t become a librarian to be bored!
What is the most common misconception about your job?
If you are expecting the stereotypical librarian to greet you at the door, then the modern school library has some news for you: the hair bun is gone, I am not grumpy, there is little-to-no shushing, and my library is anything but quiet. My school library is a living, breathing program that serves as the heart of its school. It exists in a constantly changing space that extends from the bookshelves and story time carpet into the digital education realm and beyond. From e-books and iPods to computer coding and blog editing, my students are working towards becoming digitally literate 21st century learners every time they set foot through the door. The field of library science has changed so much that there isn’t much about the public’s opinion on libraries that isn’t a misconception anymore. It’s up to me to show the students, the faculty and staff, and the entire community what it means to learn in a school library in 2015.
Where do you see the teaching field in five years?
Always the optimist, I choose to believe that in five years, education will be placed back into the hands of the teachers and specialists. Standardized testing will take a backseat to individual student achievement and creative, project based learning. Students will be encouraged to make their own paths, ask the questions that inspire them, and become passionate about their subject matter. The role of technology within education is sure to grow, and school library media specialists will be at the crux of this synergy between curriculum and technology — providing resources, flexible space, and a wealth of information for both educators, students, and community members. The school library can only grow as the heart of the school community. Within five years, cries of “We have to save school libraries!” will be a distant memory — instead, the conversation will become more about how school libraries are transforming schools.
What outside experience best prepared you to become an educator?
I am lucky enough to participate in a groundbreaking new initiative in Charlottesville called Books on Bikes, and it is constantly making me a stronger educator. This team of Charlottesville City Schools teachers and librarians meets twice a week over the summer to load our bicycles with books, and then pedal out to visit six of Charlottesville’s lowest income neighborhoods, delivering quality literature to our neediest students on their home turf. The program was originally created to battle the “summer slide,” a common term in education concerning the drop in reading levels that many students see between June and September: but more than that, visiting students in their neighborhoods helped me to understand the challenges that they face, and the things that they bring with them when they come to school. Getting to spend hours of quality time with my students over the summer, sitting outside in the sunshine eating popsicles and reading books, allowed me to get to know them on a whole new level. I will never forget the excitement on my students’ faces as they barreled out their front doors to greet us. With every ride, Books on Bikes reminds me that I have a superpower — I get to expose students to the magic of literacy every single day.