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[00:00:11] Hello and welcome to this edition of GSLIS Cast. Susan Crowther is the Library Director and teacher at Chicopee Comprehensive High School Library. On Sunday, March 9, 2008, Crowther spoke as part of a career panel at the GSLIS West Campus. The event entitled, A Career in Library and Information Science: Strategies, Choices, Insights was sponsored by the GSLIS Alumni Board. And now, Susan Crowther.
[00:00:38] Good afternoon. Thank you for having me. I'm a school librarian also known as teacher librarian, also known as director of libraries services, also known as library media specialist. School librarians have an identity crisis when it comes to being called a certain title.
I'm at Chicopee Comprehensive High School, which is about 15 minutes from here. We have a school of 1300 students, about 130 teachers. I am the sole librarian with a media technician that helps me with my cataloging and various networking and computer skills with the students.
I started out graduating from the University of Massachusetts in Animal Science. I went on a crazy road through librarianship after being out of school for about 15 years. I came back to school at GSLIS West. I was very excited the program was here. At the time, they did not offer school librarian programs or classes, so I took what I thought would align with that. I took collection development. I took telecommunications and networking. I took management of public libraries.
[00:02:12] These classes, even though they weren't school library tract classes - and I remember Terry being, as my advisor, checking off every single class on the list that I wanted to take because I was just so excited and looking at it. He said, "Well, what do you want to do?" I said, "Well, I want to be a school librarian." And he said, "Well, do you know we don't offer this here?" I said, "Well, yeah, I know. Well, I might want to be this librarian or I might want to be this librarian," so I was really kind of all over the place to start.
My only experience in school libraries had been with my children, volunteering at their school, just reading to the kids. I had worked 14 years as a bookstore manager and I knew I loved books and I knew also that after taking telecommunications that books were not going to be the sole focus in school libraries, but that was OK.
[00:03:11] In, let's see; starting in 2001 and in 2002, I actually landed a job at Hampshire College Library, where I worked as an assistant there. I enjoyed just daily conversations with the reference librarians, learning the ropes of what a library did. However, as I graduated, I saw that there wasn't going to be a position there for me at an academic level. There was a job opening in the Holyoke School System. They had just recently been marked by the state as under performing and so they were required to have all certified librarians from elementary school on up through high school, which is unusual in the school library field.
Usually it's just the secondary school libraries that are certified. So I thought that this was an opportunity to just jump in there and kind of learn the ropes, get my feet wet and continue on through school, even though classes weren't offered, and just see what I could apply.
[00:04:23] So I started out with an initial license, took the MTEL test - the Massachusetts Teacher test. I passed that test, amazingly, after being out of school. I studied very hard for that. Then I ended up speaking with the director of the libraries in the Holyoke district and she just pretty much gave all the librarians a free reign. "OK, what do you need? We need to bring our schools up to performing." This again I saw as a great opportunity to just see what I could do.
One thing that kind of held me back was the library I was in in Holyoke was not catalogued, it was not in any kind of order, so I ended up doing retrospective conversion in this library and just really got completely burned out with that. Then an opportunity came where there was an opening at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. I interviewed there, still not having a professional license. I just got my professional license in summer of 2007. But they were willing to take a chance with me.
[00:05:38] I brought all of my materials that I had worked on in the Holyoke district. I had promoted the library, I had made brochures, I had done monthly newsletters, I had gone out to classes, I did book talks, really just blew it wide open. The teachers were just amazed at what the library was supposed to do. They just thought it was story time.
Getting back to Holyoke, we were on a fixed schedule where the kids would just come in an borrow books and I instituted a fixed flex schedule where one week the kids would come in and borrow books and the next week it would be time for information literacy skills. That took hold there as well.
Anyway, getting back to when I was in Chicopee, I did get the job there. I started out in a huge - I don't know if you've seen my library - it's a huge orange octagon with windows up at the top and just old, old books. The book collection was, 1974 was the average age of the book. So I got in there and weeded out the library, again trying to introduce teachers to more information literacy skills than just checking books in and out.
There's kind of this mentality that a school librarian checks books in and out. This is from the teachers and some of the students' point of view. Students are always amazed when I talk about library school and a master's degree. They're like, "You need a master's degree to be a school librarian?" There's really quite a bit of education that still has to go on with the teachers and the students about what we do.
[00:7:31] So right now I'm in a new school. It's a $93.4 million school. We have all the bells and whistles. We have three laptop carts in the library. We have smart boards. We have just an amazing amount of technology. I'm slowly trying to change the culture so that teachers and students will realize just exactly what the library has to offer as far as information literacy in research.
So I do require that when classes come in--before they can just come in and book the library to use the computers which is what the first thing is that they say. I say, "No, I need to talk to your class about half an hour before they come in to show them all of our resources. They need to have resource awareness."
That has worked fairly well, actually, because we do have so many new things and a lot of the Smart Board features are not familiar to a lot of the teachers. So I find I'm teaching teachers how to use a lot of these things. There's been a trickle down effect and word-of-mouth effect that people are coming in and using the library a lot more like a school library should be used.
[00:08:51] Talking about going on interviews and getting your career in gear before the new school was built and we were in that, I did go on to other interviews. I wasn't sure that I wanted to stay in Chicopee. The first interview that I went to, I was a finalist and I was quite shocked that the first thing they asked me to do was to write a newsletter to all of the teachers telling them how I would promote the library, what the library had to offer and it was like really cold turkey. I went in there, they sat me down in the office, and put me in front of a computer and said, "You have a half hour to write a newsletter." They didn't say this part but it has to sound good obviously.
[00:09:42] So I guess I passed because I got a second interview at that position. I didn't get that job but it was good experience going out there. I was impressed that where I was interviewed, they had teachers and students on the panel to interview me, which I thought was, "This is the kind of school--they get libraries, they know what we can do for them, what resources we have." But it was good experience even though I didn't get that job.
The second interview that I went on, I have to say that I had wanted this job even before library school. So when it came up, I said to myself, "If I could get a job in this particular library, I would take it." Sure enough, four years later, the job came up so I felt I just had to interview although I was kind of back and forth with, "Well, do I stay in Chicopee or do I really want this?" But anyway, I went on the interview and, again, I was interviewed by teachers, which I was very impressed with them volunteering to talk to me.
[00:10:53] But I did something a little bit different on that interview in that on my second interview, I asked if I could go into the library. At this point, the librarian had retired and it was during the summer. So I asked if I could go into the library and just look at the library, look at the shelves. The principal said, "Sure. Look in the files, do whatever you want, look around." So I spent a good hour in that library, going up and down each shelf looking in awe.
I mean, I was almost felt like I was snooping beyond control. I looked in all of the files to see what kind of lesson plans were in there. What kind of information literacy was offered. If there was any kind of log of who would come in to the library and what had been done. I didn't see any of that which I was really surprised at because these teachers had interviewed me and they obviously wanted to use the library, they knew how to use the library and what I had to offer. But it wasn't not recorded, so that was a big question mark in my mind.
So I didn't take when I was offered that job and I didn't take that job. I stayed where I am and at this point, I'm really glad that I did stay here at Chicopee. I think that I still have my work cut out for me where I have to kind of change the culture of the school and get teachers and students to realize what we have.
[00:12:22] Part of my implementing that was also becoming co-Director of the Massachusetts School Library Association. It's a great network, I suggest joining that as well as the Massachusetts Library Association. I'm on the list serve of both of those organizations and there's just a wealth of information out there where you can post what questions you have. You can read up on who's doing what and get to know a little bit more about how to implement your program.
Also, I'm on the Board of Trustees at the South Hadley Public Library. I live in South Hadley. I work in Chicopee so I have a good connection with the Chicopee Public Library. In fact we, just last year, put together a database consortium where we have pooled our funds and put together a website that has all of the databases that the Massachusetts Library Board of Commissioners Office offers as well as subscription databases that we have purchased. So we are making a really huge connection between public libraries and school libraries. I think our Principal is very excited about that as well as the Administration in Chicopee.
I just have to say that everyday, I go to work with the challenge but with the passion to really get students to learn. I kind of did something that was unusual. A week ago or so, I have a Facebook account and I noticed that one of my former students who's graduated. I don't think I would friend any of the students that I actually have in my school right now but she had graduated. She's a sophomore at Westfield State, and I noticed that she had posted something about, "Oh, this research. It's harder than I thought." She said something about, "I didn't learn this in high school."
[00:14:41] So I wrote on her wall and I said, "Rebecca, what are you having a problem with?" So what it ended up with is that she asked me a question about how to use a database. I told her, we have this back and forth kind of thing. So what I'm finding in my lesson everyday when I talk to students is that if you are going to go on to a higher education, you really do need to pay attention to what is going on in the library. As Cathy said, you don't wanted to toot your own horn, but you are a real significant piece of what is going to come down the line. But the students don't realize it that probably just have the lawyers don't realize it that everyday you have to say, "Look what I can help you with. Look what I can for you." So it's been very rewarding.
[00:15:45] You've been listening to the GSLIScast, the podcasting service of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. To learn more about the podcast, visit our podcast site at GSLIS.Simmons.edu/podcasts. For more information about Simmons College, visit www.Simmons.edu. Thanks for listening.