Chapter 5: Relationships by Jennifer Sturge with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker|
Blog post by Stacy Allen, Jennifer Sturge, and Sandy Walker
As we set out to write this first blog post, a pesky little tune popped into Jen’s head and seemed to stay there for the duration of our writing. “Relationships, we all want ‘em, we all got ‘em, what do we do with them?” This quote can be attributed to the great Jimmy Buffett and his song Fruitcakes. It may be a lighthearted and fun song, but there is a lot of unpacking that can be done in that last part of the line: “what do we do with ‘em?” In school libraries, the short and sweet answer is, we build ‘em! This blog post features a story from one of Stacy’s friends, Yesenia and the relationship she formed with her elementary school librarian which continues to this day.
Conversations about Books
At the start of our journey in writing this chapter, Stacy reached out to Yesenia, curious to compare their experiences with books and libraries as children. Yesenia attended elementary school at PS 16 in Brooklyn, New York. Stacy was a student at Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland. Stacy’s elementary school library memories were unremarkable, yet her access to books in childhood was undeniable. Between school and family weekend trips to Annapolis Public Library on West Street, she always had stacks of books she was longing to read. Books like the Nancy Drew mysteries even featured strong female protagonists who looked like her. When Stacy reached out to her friend, she didn’t know what she would hear during their conversation. She didn’t expect it would not be as much about books, but more about the relationships that formed because of books!
But a library isn’t simply a room full of books, is it? Books were not even close to the center of the conversation for Stacy and Yesenia. The conversation centered around relationships. Yesenia spoke of a transformative relationship with her elementary school librarian, one that continues to this day. At PS 16, in the second-floor library, Yesenia first became an award-winning author — and she credits her relationship with librarian Muriel Feldshuh for the push.
During the conversation with Stacy, Yesenia was pulling out memory books with newspaper articles highlighting her win of the Ezra Jack Keats Award and the Brooklyn Literacy Contest as a third grader, and a letter of appreciation she received from then First Lady Barbara Bush. She also shared that she has novels Ms. Feldshuh sent her from contemporary writers like Margarita Engle and Judith Ortiz. “I owe her so much in my life,” Yesenia said, “I moved there in second grade, and she encouraged me beyond books. To this day she sends me emails and news clippings, on books, on mothering. She is my eternal pen pal.”
Access to Literacy Guides
Like the three of us, Yesenia grew up to love books and reading, but, “There wasn’t a Meg Medina picture book for me,” she says. “I remember Strega Nona, Babysitter’s Club, Judy Blume books, and Nancy Drew. But what I remember most is that she [Mrs. Feldshuh] created a safe space for me in the library. She is a very influential person in my life.”
“The school librarian has the power to suggest, discuss, and recommend something that is often very needed in students’ lives–literature and information” (Sturge, Allen, and Walker 2021, 79). The relationship that Yesenia and Mrs. Feldshuh shared, and still share, is one in which the school librarian nurtures a love of reading, takes the time to learn what their students are looking for in a book, and ensures that she sees the whole child, not just the surface.
Relationships are the foundation on which all else is built – and without those relationships we cannot provide what our students need the most – to be seen, heard, feel valued, and find their own success. The school librarians of the world, like Mrs. Feldshuh, make a difference one relationship at a time and one child at a time.
Building Relationships with School Librarian Colleagues
As many school librarians will be embarking on the journey to the American Association of School Librarians Conference in Salt Lake City in the coming days, we want to encourage you to think about relationships there as well. Jen serves on the planning committee for the 2021 conference and wanted to share a quick story about how relationships can develop across the country between school librarians who have never met before in person.
Two members of the planning committee met in person for the first time at an AASL conference several years ago. Prior to that, they had only followed each other on Twitter and other social media platforms. In our planning meetings, the friendship between the two is visible – despite the physical geography that separates them in their daily lives. When they finally met in person, it was like meeting a long-lost friend; we’re told there were squeals, screams of happiness, and hugging!
As you set out to enjoy all the conference has to offer, be sure to say hello to people that you have never met in person before. You never know – that social media relationship may blossom into a beautiful friendship! As we strengthen our professional relationships, we can strengthen our network for learning, support, and growth.
Remember, Jimmy Buffett said it best, “Relationships, we all want ‘em, we all got ‘em, what do we do with them?” The answer simply is: build them.
As you move through the 2021-2022 school year, what steps are you taking to build lasting relationships with your students, faculty, and school community?
Buffett, Jimmy. 1994. “Fruitcakes.” Margaritaville Records.
Sturge, Jennifer with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker. 2021. “Relationships.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 75-90. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
About the Bloggers
Stacy Allen, MA, serves as Assistive Technology Specialist for Calvert County Public Schools in Maryland. She has worked in Special Education for 25 years. Her current position allows her to focus on equity and access for students with disabilities through work with teachers, students, and families. Connect with her on Twitter @artisfood
Jennifer Sturge, EdD, (she/hers) is the specialist for the library media programs coordinating the professional development and library media programs for Calvert’s schools. She is a 2017-2018 Lilead Fellow, the Maryland Technology Leader of the Year for 2019, and was the 2020-2021 Maryland Association of School Librarians President. Connect with her on Twitter @sturgej
Sandy Walker, MA, serves as the Supervisor of Equity and School Improvement for Calvert County Public Schools. He works with school administration, staff, and students to establish an identity-safe learning and working environment where success is not predetermined by income, zip code, or race. Connect with him on Twitter @Real_EquityCCPS