K.C. Boyd, School Librarian, Answers Our Questions!

K.C. Boyd, School Librarian, Answers Our Questions!

K.C. Boyd is a well-known figure in the library world. Some were introduced to her when she was named 2015 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, some from her outstanding blog, The Audacious Librarian, and some when she appeared on the cover of School Library Journal. What quickly becomes clear, however, when exploring K.C. Boyd’s vast online presence is that at its core is an irrepressible dedication to the success of her students; it is obvious that any fame Ms. Boyd has achieved is secondary to the work she does on a daily basis to encourage literacy among our youth. K.C. is also a valued advisor for EveryLibrary on school libraries. We are grateful that she took the time to answer questions posed to her by EveryLibrary Medium Magazine Contributing Editor, Oleg Kagan

Enjoy the interview!

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Where do you work and what do you do?

I’m currently working as a school Librarian for the Washington D.C. Public School System. Previously worked in East St. Louis, Illinois as a Lead Librarian for two years. Over twenty years of experience working for the Chicago Public Schools System in various positions, elementary, middle, high school and administrative levels. I am also a member of the Advisory Board and reviewer for Booklist Magazine.

Why did you decide to become a school librarian?

My late father influenced me to leave corporate America and work in education. He saw that I had a love of reading and felt that I would make a greater impact serving children in the library rather than the teaching 4th grade, which is what I originally wanted to do.

Lastly, I get to read all day and expand my own knowledge...it doesn’t get any better than that!

Most people have no idea what the daily activities of a school librarian look like. What’s a day in the life of K.C. Boyd?

It’s non-stop. I’m up early checking newsfeeds and social media posts. Because I now live in the DMV area and have a rachet (yes, I still use that term) commute to work, I listen to podcasts, YouTube, and news programs to remain connected to what is taking place outside of the school library world. Why? Eventually those various schools of thought, events, etc. trickle into the school house and the library. I need to be prepared to help my students effectively deal with them.

Students usually greet me between the school door or immediately after I sign-in, in the morning. Conversations range from how much they liked/disliked a book to assurances that a book will be returned. These conversations continue throughout the day as students come to the library every period to check-out book or in some cases “check on Miss Boyd.” This is what I find hilarious, because they are out of their classroom on a pass but find a way to make a detour to see me. It’s a stalling tactic for not going to class but it demonstrates that they like coming to the library, as they didn’t in the past. It is also testament to how the overall view and culture of the library has changed in the eyes of my students. Once viewed as a place that was avoided, students now come in and ask for help. They understand that this is a place in the building where they will be heard, not judged but gently checked if they are doing wrong and can chill especially on those days when they are not having a good day.

Some weeks I teach classes that support the curriculum in conjunction with lessons that are taught by teachers. I enjoy this immensely because I’m presenting curricular content in a different way. This alternative way of teaching the lesson often provides students with a more global view of the material and makes it more meaningful. There are other weeks when I do not have classes. This is when I’m identifying print/digital resources for the teachers and students for use in the classroom, scanning the net for free programs that are aligned with the mission/vision of the school, and keeping abreast of new trends in library science that I can use in my library. Lunch periods are always busy as I have students in the library either checking out books, quietly talking to their friends or watching a book that was made into a movie with my Apple TV.

My specialty is connecting non-readers/reluctant readers to books that interest them. Just check out my posts on Twitter and Instagram, I celebrate the reader like they are hip hop stars! This takes place throughout the day: When they come in with their teacher, with a class, or independently. The readers’ advisory that I provide to students who have historically been non-readers is one of my greatest strengths as a librarian. For example, I have a group of 20–25 students that come to the library daily for movie time during their lunch/recess break. Some students watch movies based on popular books, while others come in, check-out books, and leave. I regularly speak to a number of students at the circulation desk about behavior, improving their academics, and help them focus on positive things. I encourage reading because, for them, it is a form of bibliotherapy that has a calming effect. Many of these students are what I consider re-emergent readers, those who were reading heavily from Kindergarten through 3rd grade, and for some reason stopped reading altogether during their 4th grade year. The key is identifying the books that will re-ignite their interest in reading again.

The job never ends, this is why I abide by the popular Twitter hashtag created by Angela Rye, #workWOKE. It’s not just about remaining informed, it’s also about applying and doing to the work to make a difference, the difference in this case is making a difference in the lives of young people. I’m always reading and thinking: Will this book, program, activity, etc., fit and will the students enjoy it? I’m also thinking too, will lending my voice or action to this issue make a difference and support the cause.

Tell us your favorite thing about your job, and the biggest challenge?

My absolute favorite thing I love about my job is providing a safe and welcoming space for kids to come to and enjoy in the schoolhouse. Through these visits, connecting kids to books that they will enjoy, or aiding them with the use of any form of technology, brings me joy. Seeing that lightbulb appear over their heads or the spark in their eyes once they have enjoyed a book or gotten the hang of an app, for example, is a precious moment for me. All children deserve an organized, clean, well-stocked library filled with books/material that they will enjoy regardless of their zip code.

Did I say that I love being surrounded by books? Having access to a wealth of books that represent various views, opinions, experiences, and stories is also one of the things that makes my job fun and has kept my attention throughout the years. If you look at my timelines on Instragram and Twitter, I post alot of pictures of students holding up a book showing it off as one would do to show off popular sneakers, clothing, games, etc. The celebration of reading is what keeps me fueled up to face each day working in this field that I love.

As far as challenges I face while working as a school librarian, access to students/classes is a consistent challenge I face daily while working in school libraries. In today’s school system, where scores drive everything, it is sometimes difficult to tear students away from those test-prep lessons so they could visit the library just to check out a book. Another challenge is book leveling or lexile scoring — trying to maintain a balance of supporting the classroom curriculum (lexiling) and encouraging a student to check-out a book simply because they are interested in reading that book.

Finally, the lack of school library services for children who reside in lower income-high poverty communities is a huge concern for me. As budgets become more strained, school officials have been eliminating library positions and programs in cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles with smaller school districts following this destructive pattern. Despite my being gainfully employed, I’m concerned about the staffing challenges within school districts across this nation. Equity in access to school library programs should be consistent for our young people. In addition, school librarians should not be the “utility staff person” that principals use to fill-in, cover classes, or perform tasks that are outside of the scope of the library program. If we want to produce independent readers in our school system, one way to do so is ensuring that there are credentialed librarians and rich library programming that children will enjoy.

Some people claim that young people don’t read anymore, or are reading less these days. Is that true in your experience?

Not true, if anything they read more these days, in my opinion. With the influx of social media in the lives of today’s kids, they are reading online heavily. The problem is adults need to step back and encourage students to read whatever they are interested in. If a child wants to read Captain Underpants, Bone, Dragon Ball-Z, The Coldest Winter Ever, let them…They are reading! We need to be more focused on providing students with the books they are interested in rather than steering them to the ones WE as adults want them to read.

When you were named a 2015 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, you said “What kids are interested in is not what we were interested in…” Do you have any tips for parents on how to stay up-to-date with what their kids are interested in?

It begins with having an open relationship/dialogue with your child where they can feel comfortable sharing their interests with you. Start with identifying what they are interested in and connect that to books found in the library that they may be interested in. Parents can receive the assistance of the school librarian since they serve the entire student body and are experts at what children like to read. Lastly, remain involved and observant. Kids will open up to you when they see you are consistently present and they feel like they can trust you.

I do understand this is difficult for some parents. For example, some of my student’s parents are working two, sometimes three, jobs. Some of my parents are working third shift and only see their children on the weekends because another family member is caring for them throughout the school week. The effort has to be made not only on the part of the parents, but representatives from the school, to support them so that the students are successful and make sizable gains each school year. So, in other words, it takes a village to raise a child.

If there was a nationwide teen-parent book club, where parents and kids had to read the same book and discuss it. What book would you nominate?

Dear Martin by Nic Stone, my starred review in Booklist.

It’s important for young people to understand the life and the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. beyond his famous, ‘I Have a Dream,’ speech. Stone has skillfully woven a powerful story of a young man struggling with societal ills who writes the slain civil rights leader a series of letters comparing the struggles of yesteryear and today. This is the first book that celebrates the written work of Dr. King in a relatable manner that kids will understand and apply in their personal life.

Did you have any other remarkable books you’ve read lately that you wanted to share?

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina
  • Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi
  • Push Out: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris

You have a very active web presence. Have students at your schools ever Googled you?

Yes, and my presence is clean! This is why I teach the digital literacy lesson: “Think Before You Post!”

Can you share some links to people or organizations that would be useful to parents to learn more about school librarians or libraries in general?

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Any parting words?

Attend your local school board meeting once a grading quarter and ask the following questions about library programming in the town/city you reside in:

  • Is the library open for students? When?
  • Who is running the library? (An aide should never be running a school library)
  • Is the librarian a credentialed librarian? (holds an MLIS)
  • Is the librarian given an opportunity to work and team teach with classroom teachers?
  • What is the district doing to support teachers that wish to migrate over to the library? (Ex. establishing cohorts through universities, tuition reimbursement, etc.)
  • When was the last time funds were directed to the purchase of library books?
  • How often do the students visit the library in the scope of one week?
  • Are there any clubs (book clubs, STEM club, Makerspace club, etc.) that are sponsored by the library and run by the librarian?

These are YOUR tax dollars at work here. You have every right to ask how your local school library is run and funded. Ask questions and remain involved!