“I may go, but I will leave behind all my thousand & one lives–a bookmad girl never dies.”
I have been called many things–among them “well-spoken”(what does that even mean?), “mysterious” (only to those who don’t take the time to uncover my secrets), “savage” (my students call me this–and I love it), “unfettered” (definitely), “fiercely independent” (my mother calls me this), and “wild” (my hair certainly is)….
I suppose I accept these labels, and yet, my nearest and dearest know why I am Toni Morrison’s Beloved. I am Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie. I am Maya Angelou’s “caged bird”. I am Nella Larsen’s Clare. I am Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni….and a thousand more.
Every child, every person, deserves the chance to find themselves reflected in the pages of their favorite book, to get so lost in a story that time disappears, and the only pursuit that matters is reaching the bottom of the page so that it can be turned, so that a story can unfold, so that the invisible thread between reader and author, past and present, imagination, and reality–strengthens and tightens to becomes an unbreakable cord.
But, for too many people, for far too many children these days, books are objects to be left behind on desks, thrown onto roofs on the way out of school on the last day–thrown off shelves in the ghost-town that the once library has become.
Books have become objects from which children feel alienated because they do not see themselves reflected on the pages, they do not identify with the authors who wrote them, or see a connection between the time periods in which the books were born and the times we are living in now–sometimes even the language in which the books were written.
Even so, for several years now, in many urban school districts, libraries, and librarians, have begun to disappear. “Disappearance” is a euphemism for what is really happening. The deliberate underfunding of school libraries has caught on like wildfire–especially in communities with high populations of immigrants and/or families and students labeled “low-income”. Stealing books and access to them from children has been a deliberate choice. How do I know? This is exactly what happened in Montbello.
When I first started working in Montbello, we had a working library and a librarian. Granted, she was a Pera-librarian, which means she was neither paid, nor expected to provide services or programming teacher-librarians provide. She did not have a budget to buy the latest high-interest novels for our students, so she worked with the old inventory and did the best she could by the students, until they cut back her hours.
It wasn’t long after they cut back her hours (which obviously equated to less pay) that she quit to go into another line of work, for which I cannot blame her. It is unreasonable to expect adults with degrees to do jobs that do not keep up with the cost of living.
Her story was the same as other librarians in the area. It didn’t take long for the district to move to a model where one part-time librarian was serving several schools–a model that is neither realistic, nor sustainable.
In a surprisingly short amount of time, we had no librarian and nobody to check books out to the kids, so the books sat on the shelves and the children began stealing them–because they wanted to read.
The following year, the school needed space for Teach to One which was an absolute abysmal train wreck on our campus–nevertheless, because there was no other space allotted for the program, the classes had to be held in the library. This would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that 60% of the library stacks and inventory were removed from the building to make room for the math lab.
The following year, a student was left unaccompanied in the library space. This student took it upon themselves to throw every single book off of every single shelf in the ghost-town library onto the floor. The custodian had the task of putting them all back on the shelves-by himself-which he did, because nobody else would. He put them back in a random order because his priority (and the job he is paid for) was to have the space look clean and tidy.
Fast forward to Spring 2018
A viral video with over 10k views spotlights the Wild West conditions in the library that has become a space where anything goes…except developing a love for literacy.
Amid public outcry, the board voted. Tax money was “re-allocated”. A new library remodel, inventory, and librarian position were funded.
Because I am known as the book-mad lady on campus, I was asked to design library programming for all five schools on campus in late April of 2018. By May, I was asked to apply for the position as campus librarian. Within five days at the end of May/beginning of June, I resigned from my position as Language Arts teacher, got hired as the campus librarian, moved everything out of my classroom, delivered the commencement address at our school’s graduation, and saw 90% of the library’s outdated inventory removed from the building to make way for what is to come.
And so…I’m here to testify that sometimes, just sometimes (despite all the odds and to spite all the naysayers who would choose the easy path of cynicism and disbelief in miracles) dreams do manifest into reality. It takes hard work, and hope, and support from those who share a vision, but it is possible. Teaching in a school with no library has been a challenge, to be sure. At times–when students asked me why people didn’t care enough about them to give them the library back (a question for which I had no answer)–it was the stuff of nightmares. For a woman like me, who has been reading passionately and fluently from the age of three, it was absolutely infuriating, and heartbreaking.
But now, we have come full circle. I have the chance to live my dream–to help kids fall in love with books, and with reading again. It is my intention to keep teaching, reading, growing, and learning beside the children in my community and perhaps (if I am really fortunate) to set a model in place that catches fire in more cities around the country and world that are experiencing this same disturbing trend.
“…a bookmad girl
Her love for ideas
let the journey