In light of April being School Library Month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Melissa Jacobs, Coordinator of Library Services for the NYC Department of Education. This is the first in our School Library Month blog series, continuing throughout the month of April! Hopefully this interview can give you a bit of insight into almost 20 years of Melissa’s experience. Learn more about Melissa Jacobs in her bio, at the end of this post.
Why is creativity integral to the quality of a student’s education?
Creativity is based on critical thinking and inquiry. School libraries give kids an opportunity to explore- not just what’s academically assigned to them, but everything and anything they want to learn about. They can learn about whatever sparks their interest. This opportunity sparks an inquiry where they can dive into topics that they’ve never explored before. If they want to read about bugs or bats, and they’re not learning about them in school, they can! Kids can become an expert on anything, because they have access to the resources: print, electronic resources, whatever they need to explore. They can really dive into the topics that interest them. Creativity just lends itself to critical thinking and inquiry.
What makes a library stand out?
The library is an exciting place of learning. It’s engaging, it’s innovative, it draws you in. It’s a third space for kids. It’s safe for learning, exploring, and hanging out; it’s not a negative place! It drives me crazy when I see the ‘Do Not, Do Not, Do Not’ signs everywhere- it should be ‘YES, yes, yes’! One librarian turned a huge table into a coloring table There should be places for innovation and there should be nooks for every type of learner to feel comfortable- the ones that need the noise, and the ones that need the quiet.
How has the integration of technology impacted or enhanced a library that you’ve worked with?
The industry is changing so quickly. Five years ago, when I started formulating this idea of Best Apps for Teaching & Learning for AASL, I looked at the profession and what was happening in the world of technology. I remember saying, “We really need to be on top of this to help teachers, help students, and help parents navigate this world.” The role of technology changes so quickly in education, so the role of the librarian is to help their patrons to navigate all of that. In New York City, we have BYOD now, in the last year… so this opens up another whole other dimension of the role of the librarian, because they should be a technology whiz, and be able to navigate and troubleshoot. They should be able to download ebooks and use a multitude of devices and platforms. I don’t see other people in a school taking that on. So that makes the school librarian even more essential. It’s a constantly changing role; it’s a fluid position.
Which resources do you suggest to librarians looking for inspiration?
Well, absolutely the Best Apps from AASL– that’s an extension of best websites for teaching and learning. And with that, professional organizations. There’s a lot of support out there. As a librarian, you need to continually update your professional skills. So, you have to be involved!
How do you envision the role of the school library in education?
The school library is an integral part of instruction, and it is dependent upon a strong school librarian. You cannot have a school library without having someone effective in the position as a school librarian.
What is the proudest moment of your career?
I’ve had several. One was renovating and automating a school library, right out of graduate school, and developing a really strong library program. I would say that was my earliest proud moment. My most recent proud moment was last year. I received the Queens College Alumna of the Year Award, and I was able to bring my daughters to the awards event. They were 9 and 6 at the time. It was really great to have them experience the passion of the work that I do, and to be acknowledged for that work.
A piece of advice for librarians:
Get involved! Don’t live in a bubble within your library. It’s very easy to do that, because many people are a singleton in the building, and they become so insulated in serving just one school. But, the profession is enormous; we’re in a very critical point in our profession. This is an amazing profession. You have to get involved, you have to give back, if you want to be an insulated person in your library, you’re not going to be an effective professional.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career?
It’s the only profession that I know of that requires constant advocating. Since I’ve started (and I’ve been working in the field for nearly 20 years), we’ve always been advocating to convince somebody of the value of our profession, and the value of the school library. Anything that you have to invest funding to maintaining, is on the chopping block. But if you fund a library and a librarian, you’re going to get so much back- if you want a return on your investment, that is an ROI, right there!
What do you feel is the best method to motivate students & get them engaged in reading?
You have to find what interests them and give them every option available. It’s black and white- every kid has their own interest. There might just be that one little thing that doesn’t appeal to you; but if it appeals to them, let them read it. If it’s disgusting, let them read it! The more disgusting the better, for some kids. And then there are others who are just quirky and like to get lost in some obscure topic area.
How has a student inspired you?
When I started as a school librarian, I had this one student who was very introverted. We managed to stay in touch after I left the school, just through his parents and social media. He has since graduated from college. Recently, one of my publishers contacted me asking if I knew so-and-so, and I said, “Yes! I was his librarian in elementary school.” and she said, “Well, he just got a job at this publishing company.”
So, that’s one of my moments.
Melissa Jacobs is a Coordinator in the Office of Library Services for the New York City Department of Education. Melissa is the founder and immediate past chair of the AASL Best Apps for Teaching and Learning Committee, Immediate Past President of the School Library Systems Association of New York State, AASL Member-at-Large, and a Community Representative and Education Advisory Committee Member for the Digital Public Library of America. Melissa was named a 2015 Mover and Shaker by Library Journal and is the recipient of the 2015 Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies Alumna of the Year. Melissa has been published in School Library Connection, Teacher Librarian, School Library Journal, School Librarian’s Workshop and Knowledge Quest. She enjoys spending time with her two high-spirited daughters, exploring emerging technologies, lifelong learning, cooking, and obsessively collecting cookbooks.