Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stephanie Rosalia: The New Poster Girl for School Libraries

SLJ: 2009 March 11

Stephanie Rosalia became a poster girl for school librarians when she made the front page of the New York Times on February 16. The article, "The Future of Reading: In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update" by Motoko Rich, which featured the Brooklyn-based Rosalia and the key role she plays at her school, became the most emailed story of the day, receiving more than 75 comments from readers and becoming the topic of more than 100 blogs around the world. The newspaper even featured a video about her program and the story appeared in the paper’s February 20 Book Review podcast.

School Library Journal
caught up with Rosalia to find out how all this came about and the reaction to her newfound fame.

How did a media specialist from Public School 225 in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, end up on the front page of the New York Times?
I received a call one day from the New York Times reporter Motoko Rich, who was referred to me by the then president of the American Association of School Librarians, Sara Kelly Johns. She asked if I would be interested in being interviewed and followed in my library for an article on the new role of 21st-century school librarians. I was familiar with Ms. Rich's work from her other articles, most notably the one on R U Really Reading? and with an entrée from Sara, I felt it would be a worthwhile endeavor. I brought the idea to my administrators who ran it by the New York City Department of Education for their approval. All agreed it would be a good thing.

How long did the reporter spend with you?
Motoko visited a few times a month at all times of day from October to February and observed all facets of instruction and circulation at most grade levels. She took copious notes and spoke at length with many students and teachers. She met with my principal and his assistants and even accompanied me to our annual professional development day hosted by Barbara Stripling's Office of School Library Services [in the New York Department of Education] to get a better feel for what we do.

Did she manage to get it right?
I am really impressed with the accuracy of her portrayal with the single exception of the comment in the video that suggests I am not a typical librarian. I may not be typical in many elementary schools in New York State, but what I do in my library is what every trained librarian does given the chance. I don't even think she meant it that way. I think what she meant was that I am atypical in the sense that I am a certified librarian in an elementary school who enjoys the freedom of a completely flexible schedule and open access at a time and place where, if there is a library, it is most often staffed by a teacher assigned to the library who works as a "cluster" teacher covering prep periods for other teachers, and who, by necessity, must spend most of their over-scheduled time circulating and shelving.

Have you been following the comments and hundreds of blog posts to the article?
I have been following the comments posted to the Times site. I have not had time to review the blog posts. I am awestruck at how this article has struck a nerve all over the country with people who are not librarians. I was delighted at the level of discourse in the comments: they were largely insightful and thoughtful and supportive of school libraries.

Were you surprised by any?
The one exception was the letter from the school board director in Washington State who was absolutely clueless about what we do and how important it is to the future of our children's success—not only in school, but in life. I was not surprised that other posters still don't understand, and I wish I could answer each of them personally to explain things. I loved the comment that more education takes place in a library without a school than in a school without a library.

What do you hope comes from this article?
I hope with all my heart that certified school librarians are mandated in elementary schools. The lessons we need to teach them and the love of books and reading we have to impart, cannot wait for middle school and beyond. It is critical that students begin to be taught information fluency from the time they learn to read.

I hope parents get angry if their child's school has no library or librarian. I hope decision makers understand libraries and librarians should be the LAST areas to be cut simply because of the value we provide: We teach each student every year that they are in the school if the program is run right. I hope the article shines a spotlight on the work of my colleagues who struggle with poor budgets and ignorant administrators. I hope it enters the mainstream of educational thought and discourse because the squeaky wheels get the grease. I hope those who run schools of education start to teach their pre-service teachers to collaborate with their school library media specialist as a necessary best practice. And I hope that Motoko Rich and the New York Times win a Pulitzer Prize if any of the above comes to pass. What a public service they have done!

If you had one wish for your library and another for school libraries in general, what would they be?
My library needs space! I wish for all of us to have the staffs and budgets to do our jobs to educate students, teachers, and parents alike. Only one wish? I wish for administrators and politicians to be locked into a room with a library media specialist and not be allowed to leave until they "get" it.

There have been some negative comments. Any in particular that you feel were unfair or unjustified?I take issue with the few comments that seem to suggest that one media is better or worse than another. I am an unabashed bibliophile and I always promote books and tell my students that if the grid goes down, they can stand in the sunshine and read a book. However, it is my job to bring all media and sources of information and reading to my students. They have to learn to gather all information from all sources and assess it all. Print is NOT dead; Internet is NOT evil. All must be considered by an educated person seeking knowledge in all forms. It is my aim to direct my students to become self-directed, discriminating, lifelong learners. Limiting them to one kind of information or another does not accomplish that.

What’s next?
Why, I go back to work! I go after more teachers to do more with me in the library. We scaffold our learning and grow. And I give a hearty pat on the back to my principal who had the vision and understanding to let me do my job. I would also like to encourage Motoko Rich to continue to write about school libraries and librarians to keep that spotlight focused and the discussion ongoing.