Marcia spends a good deal of time in classrooms. When a teacher assigns a paper or research project to students, Marcia will make a presentation to the students on resources available to them. The resources are frequently outside the library. “Since all the kids have laptops, I show them how to search for materials relevant to their projects, how to acquire them and sift through them. This approach allows us to greatly expand the resources we can offer.” Marcia explains this new role of a Librarian (a title she prefers to Media Specialist): “It used to be that I had all the resources, and my job was to make them available to students and teachers. Now everyone has access to what I have; I need to show them what they can do.”
Marcia organizes trips to the Indiana Historical Society and Indiana University’s large research library. She wants the students to get used to the idea of going to “scary” places like this and getting what they need. “Not all librarians are friendly; students need to gain confidence in requesting what they have a right to.”
Marcia also shows students how to use books and other materials in their research. She tells them that no one expects them to read an entire book that might appear in their bibliography. “Look at the Table of Contents and the Index to find just what pertains to your interest and go there.” Marcia also explains what it means to plagiarize and why they shouldn’t do it. She finds this very difficult: “These kids are part of the Internet culture. When they find something, they want to share it. They don’t see any problem with that. I need to explain to them that citing sources is important for readers who want to know where their information came from.”
Marcia tries to instill the idea that research and writing are hard. “Research is mostly perseverance. Kids can be lazy today because of computers. They want everything right away. But often you have to track down what you want to know. You have to find different ways of asking your question and learn to be creative in seeking resources.”
Marcia has developed the school’s on-site library from scratch with the help of Baker and Taylor (http://www.btol.com/) who worked with her to put together a wish list for the library. She began with a survey of what teachers wanted for their classes. In particular, she acquired resources for the study of Latin and Spanish grammar, literature, history and culture. Lately she has been developing the history and biography section in line with the International Baccalaureate program the school follows and freshman writing projects.
This year, the school instituted a Silent Reading program which Marcia thinks is the best thing they have ever done. Students begin every 70 minute English period with 15 minutes of silent reading of books of their own choice. Across the board, students love this, begging teachers to extend the time and even getting into trouble sometimes by reading when they are not supposed to. Whereas Marcia used to help just the few read-a-holics who visited the library daily, she is now swamped with students on a regular basis asking her advice on what to read. This has led her to develop the Fiction collection beyond the English-related classics to include good books at every level.
Marcia spends time getting to know each student’s reading tastes, finds something appropriate to get them started, then encourages them to step up to a somewhat more challenging level when they come back the next week. “One student began this fall never having read a book for pleasure. So I started him with Harris and Me, a sixth grade reading level book by Gary Paulsen. (I love Paulsen. He won a Newbury Award and in his acceptance speech praised the librarian who gave him great books to read during his regular escapes from a difficult home situation, crediting her with inspiring him to write.) The young man came back and told me this story of two boys discovering farm life was the best-book he had ever read! So I moved him up to A Soldier’s Story about a young man who lied to get into the military and later regretted it. More serious, but he liked it. After that it was Michael Crichton’s Timelines and finally Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury isn’t in the curriculum, but I think every educated person should know about his work.”
Marcia argues with other librarians that the profession is more about people than about the materials in the library. She hopes that her labors and her modeling will develop the students’ curiosity and love for seeking information, and perhaps their confidence in being able to answer their own questions. “Wanting to know more will lead to God. I encourage students to ask questions about God, like they would any other topic. God is not just an object of religion; He is a being about whom you should ask questions and seek answers.”
Marcia Murphy is a media specialist at Theodore Guerin High School in Noblesville, Indiana.