My pathway into the library world was certainly by happenstance. I was about two semesters away from a teaching certification (in history) when I decided to become a librarian. I had a friend who was a librarian and at that time, I had never really considered becoming a librarian. Most of my prior work experience had been in student services and residential life. I was searching for graduate schools at the time but also simultaneously became friends with a woman who was a librarian at Duquesne. During one encounter, she was explaining to me how she taught courses related to research skills for college students, and I was intrigued because I was interested in working at the college level without having to get my PhD. I quickly applied, and I was in the program two weeks later. Interestingly, I never took the academic pathway upon achieving my degree.
At first, I was working extensively as a young adult librarian at Shaler North Hills Library. I worked right next door to a middle school and while partnering with Katrine Watkins, I was able to see firsthand the work she did every day in partnership with the schools.
Along the way, I found myself needing a better paying job. I had been working as a public librarian for a while, and I knew I was genuinely interested in going into schools. With that, I went back to school and did my course work and student teaching and became a school librarian. My goal was initially to move to Hawaii. When I finished my student teaching, I applied in Hawaii and my first job was at an inner-city school (Central Middle School) in downtown Honolulu. After six years, we decided to move back to Pittsburgh, and I began to work at Woodland Hills Intermediate School. Shortly thereafter, I received a job offer at Pittsburgh Public schools (2017.) Currently, I am a half-time elementary librarian and half-time middle school librarian within the district.
My personal experience was that librarians were considered professionals in Hawaii. There were different values associated with my position. In my current position, I do feel like more of a cog in a wheel than anything else and as a result, my job is incredibly versatile. I am whatever my administrators need me to be on any given day and thus flexibility is a must. Unfortunately, this also creates a level of exhaustion.
Interestingly, I have eleven years working in Title I schools. On paper, this sounds like the student populations would be very similar and, in some ways, this is the case. However, one revelation or truth that I have learned is that there is a difference between poverty and ingrained systemic issues. The problems and issues that plague many family’s homes in Pittsburgh are a result of systemic racism. In Hawaii, there were more people in positions of power that were people of color and they come from different cultures. The dynamic was very different, and the history was also very different with the cultures there. The issues that plagued my families there were simpler (in a way) and more easily remedied whereas the systemic issues here are so much more complicated and difficult to grapple with.
I feel very strongly that representation matters. Children become what they see. Inequity has really been highlighted in the past two years. If I could wave my magical wand to stop some of the systemic and cyclical issues we see daily, it would be that students begin to see themselves represented not just in the media but also as professionals in every field. I hope one day their doctors look like them and their educators look like them. In addition, I want them to think that they can be anything they want to if they put their minds to it. Some of my students have a difficult time simply imagining themselves achieving their dreams or even dreaming up something big (and rightly so.) These dreams are not going to happen without some major intervention from someone special and serious attention regarding the systemic issues that do plague this city.
Coming back after being remote for so long was a huge challenge. This fall, when we were as normal as we were going to be, I took a step back to observe what I was seeing. The school environment was a combination of seeing how poorly some students were performing and the social/emotional difficulties they were having while simultaneously seeing the joy on their faces coming to school every day and seeing their friends. These observations have been such a highlight of just how important it is for them to come to school and for us to be showing up. When you have been teaching for a while, you sometimes get a bit bogged down with other messages. However, I gained a lot of clarity when we were remote during the beginning of the pandemic.
During the pandemic, organizations from CLP to Black Lives Matter wanted to do something to help our schools. Many outside organizations donated beautiful pieces of literature for our students. During the fall of 2021, I put on a free book fair, and we gave away a couple thousand books to students of all ages. It was wonderful to see students picking out books for family members, brothers and sisters.
One Day I hope for equitable funding in education. It wasn’t perfect in Hawaii by any means. However, their state funding formula was not based upon property taxes. As a result, there was less of a difference between the haves and have nots. One day I do hope for change, and I hope for better educational systems for our current and future students.