Wyoming might be a small state, population-wise, but our librarians are not afraid to take the national stage! Jennisen Lucas, District Librarian for Park County District 6, is a great example. On July 1, she officially began her term as President of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL).
AASL, a division of the American Library Association, is the only national professional membership organization focused on school librarians and the school library community. AASL has more than 7,000 members and serves school librarians in the United States, Canada, and around the world.
We decided to ask Jennisen a few questions so she could share her perspectives.
How did you get started in school libraries?
I planned to be a librarian for as long as I can remember, but I had originally wanted to be a cataloger at a college library. When I attended classes as a perk for a job at Eastern Illinois University, I started to study children’s literature. By the time I was enrolled in library school, I realized that if I became a school librarian I could be on the same schedule as my husband. After getting my first job in a school library, I was hooked. I absolutely love how school libraries connect learners to the world and connect all of their content areas together.
What made you decide to take a leadership role?
This is a really interesting question. It was an evolution, but the short answer would be that I decided to say yes when I was asked. I never thought of myself as a leader beyond my building until I attended what I thought were membership meetings for the Wyoming Library Association School Library Interest Group, and I was asked to take a leadership role because I came to the meetings. The more I thought about leadership, the more I realized that I needed to be involved in professional organizations to learn. That led to presenting at WLA conferences and then at AASL Conferences. Then I found that people asked me to step up and join committees, and then ultimately, this large leadership role.
What inspires you?
My learners inspire me. They are still searching for ways to make a difference in the world, and they remind me that I have that opportunity. I hope that my involvement will, in turn, inspire them to open the door when opportunity knocks. We have to not be afraid of success.
What is the importance of school libraries?
School libraries are critical spaces for learners to discover themselves, connect their interests to the world, and ask real questions that go beyond content studied in their classes. Learners deserve current, diverse, dynamic, and curated collections of materials that will help them make connections between their classroom learning and their passions as well as certified school librarians to guide them on their journeys as they create the future.
Why is telling the story of school libraries so critical?
Telling the stories of school libraries is critical because their very existence is under fire. Misunderstandings about the roles of school libraries as just being the storehouses of books coupled with the stereotype of school librarians just reading to children and checking out books have led to cuts of librarian positions and even spaces when budgets are tight. The only way to correct these misunderstandings is to educate through stories that tell more than just statistics. We need to highlight how our school libraries literally save the lives of our learners by providing safe spaces; how our learners grow beyond the school walls and even their small towns by interactions with information in our libraries; how certified librarians act as instructional partners, information specialists, guides, and facilitators; and how school libraries enrich the learning environment for all members of the school communities.
What do you hope to accomplish in your year as AASL President?
I hope to accomplish two things during my year as AASL President. First, I would like to help my colleagues remember to look at the positives of our positions, even when it seems we are beaten down by outside forces. Secondly, I want to convince everyone to tell their stories and share our truths. School librarians take on this career because of strong beliefs in our core values, especially those of intellectual freedom and democracy. It is the school librarian that teaches learners about the human record, guides them as they discover it, and encourages them to add to it. We are vital.
What future do you see for school libraries?
I optimistically look forward to the future in which school libraries really do take their place as the heart of every school, staffed with certified school librarians that guide our learners from knowledge seekers to true purveyors of wisdom. I see a future in which school librarians lift each other up and share our stories, and we can continue to invite great learners into our spaces to share in the abundance of knowledge and create new information, reshaping the future into a better world for everyone.