The image of the school librarian checking out books and shushing patrons is a thing of the past. That’s because the role of the modern librarian has evolved. Teacher of the Year recipients Erin Long and Shelley Ward are prime examples of librarians who exercise their education in many more ways than logging book checkouts.
Long graduated from the iSchool in 2019 with a master’s degree in library and information science. “I like working with kids,” she says. “I really wanted to make sure that kids knew how to read information, not just read literature.” Her MLIS degree fills in the gaps of what she didn’t learn from her undergraduate experience. “Research was a big deal — quality research, looking at multiple sources,” she says. “I think that was my biggest takeaway from school.” She even learned how to code websites.
A library media specialist at Wade Hampton High School, Long received the Hampton District One Teacher of the Year award in 2020. Working with high school students has given her the opportunity to advise them on college decisions — filling out applications, creating a budget, determining whether a school is a good fit for their career goals and even applying for financial aid — in addition to her daily schedule. “Nobody did that for me,” she says. “I had no clue, and I just feel like kids need to know.”
And COVID-19 has added even more duties to her plate. “We’ve created videos to go online, and we’re constantly on the phone with kids walking them through how to do things,” she says. “I believed in way more technology-based learning this year than ever before.”
Ward earned her MLIS in the iSchool’s Charleston County cohort. She is now a librarian at Belle Hall Elementary in Charleston. “One of the biggest things that I’ve been doing recently is helping them access digital databases so they can conduct research,” she says. “And they have audiobooks and eBooks, so I’ve been helping them learn how to access that, too.”
Ward’s calling has always been teaching. “Reading should be a pleasurable activity,” she says. “I just want to hook them and get them started.”
Whether it’s getting elementary school kids to love reading or helping high school students plan for college, there are many layers to being a librarian. “People need to realize it’s not just about books any longer,” Long says. “My library is noisy. It’s not this boring career — my job is exciting and fun, and I think it can be anything you want it to be.”