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ProQuest is the proud sponsor of the annual Intellectual Freedom Award, given for upholding the principles of intellectual freedom as set forth by the American Association of School Librarians and the American Library Association. This year’s award recipient is Cathy Collins, librarian at Sharon High School. Following is our interview with her.
Congratulations on receiving the Intellectual Freedom Award! How do you feel about receiving this honor?
It is by far the most meaningful award I have received thus far in my career. It means a great deal to me as a professional librarian, educator and former reporter who has always passionately believed in the importance of intellectual freedom principles.
What inspired you to pursue a career in library and information science?
I had worked for some years as a reporter. During that time, I had the opportunity to cover a story about a retiring headmaster at a private school. As I interviewed her staff and students, and realized the impact she’d had on her school community, a light bulb went off for me and I knew at that moment that I wanted to return to school for a Masters in Education.
As I began to research the different possibilities, I realized that one could specialize as a school librarian and that there was a demand for professionals in that niche area. The thought of combining my love of children, words and ideas into the teaching of research, multi-media and technology skills really appealed to me. I certainly have no regrets. I love the creative freedom I enjoy in my role. It is tremendously rewarding to work with teachers and students across grade levels and subject areas, I am never bored!
One of the challenges I’ve shared with others in my role is overcoming people’s stereotyped ideas of what a librarian should look and sound like. “Hush, hush” is just not my thing… In fact, in a recent staff survey one of my colleagues commented that “The librarian talks and laughs too loudly.” I consider that a compliment!
You expressed your interest in technology and your goal to help integrate technology and research skills into the curriculum. Would you share some of the progress you have made?
I am pleased to say that our Virtual Library, which provides 24/7 access to technology resources including databases and electronic pathfinders, which features online tech and research projects, has received a Web Seal of Excellence from the Massachusetts School Library Association. I recently collaborated with our awesome creative writing teacher, Lori Ayotte, on a multi-media literacy project that I then highlighted in a newly published ISTE book, “Literacy in the Digital Age.”
I was also fortunate to work this past year as a project consultant on the multi-media learning layer of Eric Newton’s “Searchlights and Sunglasses: Field Notes from the Digital Age of Journalism.” We developed media and digital literacy lesson plans to integrate at the high school, community college and university level. All of these projects have been very exciting! I am currently serving on the planning committee for a “Better Together” Conference being organized by MassCUE (Massachusetts Computer Using Educators) and MSLA in which librarians, instructional technologists and classroom teachers will showcase their collaborative research and technology projects.
What advice do you have for students to help them get the most use out of the library?
Get to know your librarian! She (or he) is one of your best allies through your high school years and will lead you in the right direction toward countless print and electronic information sources, technology tools and yes, good, old-fashioned books, which will turn you into a highly knowledgeable, technologically literate, creative problem-solver! Not only will you benefit personally, you will then be in a position to go out there into the real world and make a positive difference!
What do you find most exciting about the future of library and information work?
Of course, the transition toward digital tools will continue to be of monumental importance but what most fascinates me in the education and library world is the strong focus currently on the creative process in learning as evidenced through STEM initiatives. The concept of “makerspaces” in libraries, and the evolution of more courses which emphasize collaborative problem-solving, virtual resources and environments in which students are in the driver’s seat and encouraged to be active, self-reflective participants. For example, some libraries are now offering “digital badges” to their school communities by providing a wide range of PD offerings on their websites. Very cool!
What do you see as the main issues facing librarians and library staff today?
We are facing a critical school librarian shortage in this country, with states such as California completely de-professionalizing and dismantling the majority of their school library programs at the expense of children. It is a crime. We need to do a better job of advocating for the importance of our positions and the “value add” we bring to our communities.
What is the best piece of career advice you ever received?
A few tidbits of wisdom that have helped me immeasurably in my career and life: QTIP (Quit Taking It Personally); Never underestimate the importance of networking; never define yourself by other’s perceptions of who you are or what you are capable of; and finally- follow your passions, because by doing so you offer your creative spirit to the world and have fun in the process!
What career advice would you give to a current LIS student interested in your career?
Ignore those who say that the field will soon be extinct. They are pessimists who lack imagination.
Finally, what can you tell us about yourself that we might never guess?
Once upon a time, I was featured in an action shot photo gallery of a now extinct “belly dancing librarian” website in which librarians shimmied their way among the book stacks in their sparkly costumes. I saw it as just one more way to break the public’s stereotyped ideas about librarians.