“As a child, my number one best friend was the librarian in my grade school. I actually believed all those books belonged to her.” ― Erma Bombeck
To honor all the hard working, endlessly cheerful, and irreplaceable children’s librarians, I am thrilled to offer this interview of Deborah Smith, the librarian at Oak View Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia.
Thank you, Debbie, for the opportunity to peek into your busy and rewarding life!
1. How did you decide to become a librarian?
I taught for several years, then stayed home to raise my three boys. Upon returning to the work force, I started part-time as a library aide (did not want the full-time workload and stress of teaching right away). Realized that I LOVED library work, and felt immediately that I had found my true niche in the world. Applied to library school, went to full-time teaching for 3 years while I sought my library endorsement through a cohort program. Upon receiving my certification, the librarian at our school was retiring, so I moved right into her position!
I love the chance to interact with all the students in the school, their parents, and the chance to collaborate with and help ease any literary stresses of every teacher in the school. Being a librarian is what I was made for, and I consider it to be the best job in the world. Since becoming a librarian, I can honestly say there has not been a single day of my career that I have disliked. The beauty of the library is that it is a positive space, and every moment of every day is different and unpredictable, that’s the style of work I thrive within…and who wouldn’t want to spend their days with kids who are full of hugs and smiles and questions and interesting information to share with their librarian!
2. What types of books are most often checked out?
Currently, most popular with upper grade readers are fantasy series.
Primary grade readers (K-2) are wild about: GIRLS – princess, fairy, mermaid books, anything pink and girl-y. BOYS – Star Wars, military books.
Graphic novels. Informational texts on student interests = span all grade levels.
Authors with current buzz at our library are Wendy Mass, Rick Riordan, Erin Hunter, Anthony Horowitz, Mary Downing Hahn, Mo Willems.
3. Do the children change their taste in genre as they move up in grade?
By 4th grade, kids usually begin to expand their willingness and ability to try various genres and titles, rather than staying focused on the books that they have been most “comfortable” reading. In the upper grades, a booktalk by the librarian can spread a reading wildfire through a group. Peer recommendations also play a more major role by 6th grade.
4. What types of books do you suggest for a reluctant reader?
Books with high interest story plots, low reading level. Larger text type and more white space, with illustrations. Humorous books. Graphic novels which can later be paired with fiction that matches topic. A book that interests that reader, rather than one which is chosen by a parent or a teacher. It is vitally important for reluctants that they get the chance to choose what appeals to them rather than have books imposed on them. If a child is interested in a subject, topic, plot, author – it will build inner excitement and motivation to “keep on-keepin’-on”.
4. Have you found that graphic novels encourage students to make the transition to more traditional books?
Yes and no. What I mean is that it really depends on the child. I have more often found that graphic novels will draw a reluctant reader into the world of books. Students who say they “don’t like to read” often change their minds upon encountering a graphic novel. And I think this new genre can create a self-confidence in reading if one is lacking.
Even excellent, above-level readers often go through a phase of being obsessed with the graphic novel genre. From there, kids branch out to harder chapter books. I think graphic novels are fantastic in building confidence in a reader, and just allowing them to have some plain ‘ole fun when reading.
They also have a place in filling the gap when literature may be too difficult for elementary aged students – for example, my library collection has several graphic versions of the classic, and Greek mythology.
6. What are your favorite types of books to read?
Unlike the stereotypical female reader, I find myself most frequently reading (nonfiction) informational text! I suppose that ties in with my need to find information – after all, that is what a librarian does!! I have begun to enjoy fantasy, with its increased popularity. I also particularly love books that have an overriding theme that goes deeper than the plot – themes of sacrifice, perseverance through personal hardships/handicaps/difficulties. I enjoy a book that has beautifully descriptive writing, as I like to collect phrases and sayings. And, I am absolutely partial to dog stories. I do NOT read scary stories,because they give me nightmares – and my students find that very comical. I explain that when I read, I am completely absorbed into the story, so t is quite difficult for me to separate the fiction with the real life moments when I am reading!
Born Washington DC , Debbie grew up in Northern Virginia and attended Fairfax County public schools, which is where she has spent her entire teaching career. She has been married for 31 years and is the mother of 3 excellent guys. Debbie earned her B.S. in Elementary Education at George Mason University and is certified in Library Science (K-12) from the University of Virginia. She has been a youth-worker for teenagers at her church for the last two decades, was previously a speaker at Christian women’s retreats, and has lectured weekly at an interdenominational Bible Study group of about one-hundred women for seven years.
Debbie is an avid birdwatcher (her sons prefer to call her a bird nerd and since she is a librarian and also a self-professed word nerd). She is a lover of nature, the beauty of God’s creation. To relax and unwind, she sings, reads, creates poetry when inspired, and plays with her dogs. “I am NOT a runner: I prefer sitting; like Ferdinand the bull, I am just happy sitting and smelling the flowers of life,” she says.
Her best moments are times alone with a book under a shade tree with her cup of coffee (hot or iced). She is a caffeine addict, hopeless pack rat, and collector of books and ideas. As a visionary and out-of-the-box thinker, Debbie is often so busy thinking about life and its philosophical implications that she is frequently late. “I am an optimist. I am grateful for the good life I have been given.”