Interview by Tad Andracki, CCB Outreach Coordinator
“Opportunities come up that you don’t expect. Take them. Youth services librarianship always requires lots of flexibility.”
For students on campus, Georgeann Burch and Betty Bush are likely familiar faces. The CCB was pleased to have the opportunity to feature some of this dynamic duo’s insight and put the spotlight on their experiences with an interview about their work as on-campus youth services adjuncts.
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Can you tell me a little bit more about the classes you teach at GSLIS?
How did you end up at GSLIS? What were you doing before?
Can you tell me a bit about what you do outside your work as adjuncts? How does that enrich your teaching?
How have you seen librarianship change since you started teaching? What about books for children?
What advice or parting thoughts do you have for students going through the youth services or K-12 school librarianship program?
Georgeann: I teach the school library media course on-campus every other spring. This course is pretty much designed for students who are interested in learning what it’s like to be a school librarian, especially the instruction portion of that job. I’ve also helped teach the nonfiction course via LEEP, and I coordinate the seminar for student teachers and supervise school library practicums.
Betty: I teach children’s literature in the fall, informational books for youth in the spring, and for the past two summers, the children’s reference course. I have, in the past, taught the YA course and, once, the school library media course. I’ve only taught on-campus sessions.
Georgeann: I did my master’s here in GSLIS and finished in December 2004 as a working librarian; that spring, this position as the school library media licensure coordinator opened up. I was the first person in that role, and I’ve been here ever since. I spent a few years as a school librarian, but I started out as a classroom teacher—I also have a master’s in curriculum and instructional media. I was also the instructional TV specialist at PBS here in Champaign for a few years.
Betty: I had a job as a school librarian in the archdiocese of Chicago for several years. I was recruited by Roger Sutton to review for the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books while they were still in Chicago, while I was finishing my LIS master’s at Dominican—actually, while they were still Rosary. Because of my work as a reviewer after the Bulletin moved down here, I was offered the chance to redevelop the children’s nonfiction class. If you’d asked me then, I would have told you, “No, I never wanted to teach.” But I stuck through it, and it just grew like topsy—you know, I met Georgeann when she took the nonfiction class the first time I taught it here.
“If you’re teaching, you’re forced to keep current—well, maybe not forced, but it’s important.”
Betty: For me, it’s all about staying on at the Bulletin. I’ve enjoyed that work, and it’s a huge step to know what’s current. There simply would not be one without the other in my case. The reviewing and the teaching go hand-in-hand. Of course, I continued to work as a school librarian, and my students here at GSLIS—and I think GSLIS, too—say they appreciate having a practitioner as their instructor, getting that hands-on perspective.
Georgeann: Supervising students in the field is my main job, and that’s where I get a lot of the fodder for my teaching. That supervision helps me get my students ready for their field experiences and their later jobs. It really keeps me up-to-date on what’s actually going on in school libraries. I also volunteer at a local school one day a week, and that’s helpful for me. I get to see real kids; it’s good to actually be in schools. If you’re teaching, you’re forced to keep current—well, maybe not forced, but it’s important. The two of us have seen some examples of instructors relying on old information, and that really does their library students a disservice. I think that’s something both of us really stress.
“It‘s in our best interest to accompany people at the helm of educational technology. A lot of educators think technology is great, but they often don’t understand how kids actually use it. Librarians have the opportunity to help people understand: ‘This is how kids learn to use technology.'”
Betty: I think that we really see the field embracing the idea that nonfiction isn’t a throwaway. Nonfiction has really gotten a jolt of importance that it should have gotten a long time ago, which I—of course—find exciting. The pigeonholing of genres is breaking down, too. Putting a label on things—is it “action,” “mystery,” or “romance”?—is getting much harder to do. You’re finding a lot more books that are doing all of these things, and doing them well. It’s a very exciting time. I think that amount of information delivered in nontraditional formats is going way up, as well. It’s much easier to find a great educational video or a nonfiction book in audio than it used to be.
Georgeann: I see a trend to genre-fy junior high libraries, especially—to try to get kids to find the things they want by putting the mysteries together, the DIY stuff together. It’s an interesting concept, and it requires a lot of skill to be done effectively.
Betty: And this totally runs up against my point earlier. This is really interesting. I understand the impetus, but it’s nonrealistic. It’s going to be a hard thing to do.
Georgeann: Another thing is, of course, changes that are going on in schools. Common Core standards can be a boon or a bust for school librarians, but it seems like they’re not going away. It changes the curriculum, so it changes the school library. There are also new teacher evaluation systems being implemented, and there are questions about how we as librarians fit those into our goals as a profession: How do you measure a student’s growth because of things they learned from a school librarian? It’s a tough question. Technology continues to change the role, as well. School librarians often become the default tech person, and I think librarians should really embrace that leadership role. It‘s in our best interest to accompany people at the helm of educational technology. A lot of educators think technology is great, but they often don’t understand how kids actually use it. Librarians have the opportunity to help people understand: “This is how kids learn to use technology.” Internet filtering continues to be an issue: Who gets the fallout? It’s the librarian, not the people who come in and use the computer lab to teach typing once a week. We need to keep preparing people to deal with this, as well.
Betty: I think one of the great things about GSLIS—and having people take Georgeann’s or my classes—is having people going toward public librarianship soak up what’s going on in schools. Kids spend so much of their time in school; it really shapes them and their experiences. And school librarians use the public libraries so much—but it doesn’t always happen the other way around. There are a lot of similarities between school and public libraries, but some important differences. I think people can get both perspectives here, and that’s great. It takes some investigating to figure out which route will work for people. It’s about asking, “Is this going to suit me?” I was planning on a public librarianship route, and I ended up in a school library. So, I guess the advice we’d have is that opportunities come up that you don’t expect. Take them. Youth services librarianship always requires lots of flexibility.