With a Little Help From My Friends: Practicing Gratitude in Challenging Times

This past year has been full of personal and professional challenges, yet I continue to practice an “attitude of gratitude.”  

I have been fortunate to benefit from good health, stable employment, and increased time with my teen daughters and my fluffy dog, Bunny.  And while I should have received a medal for “Most Frequent Asker of Questions on the AISL Listserv,” I am instead the proud and grateful recipient of the AISL Vision to Reality Award for the 2020-21 school year.  

When we had to abruptly close our library doors last spring, our library team brainstormed the ways in which we could deliver instruction and services to our students in Grades K-12.  In an effort to “bring the library to our patrons,” we decided to offer several virtual author visits on Zoom to keep student spirits high.  We were able to accomplish this by programming four virtual events, including presentations from picture book illustrator Barney Saltzberg, novelist Karen Tei Yamashita, and the graphic novelists and illustrators Maris Wicks, Jim Ottaviani, and Lila Quintero Weaver, all in May of 2021.

Yet while the world seemed to stand still in a quarantine fog, this was not the case. The murder of George Floyd and the worldwide protests for social justice required us to take action in some capacity.  The outpouring of anti-racism resources and support from AISL colleagues helped to connect our independent school library community, and ultimately planted the seed that propelled me to apply for the AISL award.

Viewpoint School’s English curriculum includes graphic novels taught across Grades 6-12.  This, combined with the voracious graphic novel-reading habits of our younger readers inspired me to apply with the proposed topic: Every Picture Tells a Story.  The award description read, “This collaborative project will create a year of celebration around the connections between graphic novels, comics, reading, art, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

In retrospect, there are so many ways that our libraries have benefited from receiving the $1,000 in funds.  The AISL Vision to Reality Award encouraged me to:

Move Forward with Confidence

I had grand plans for a full campus-wide program, yet coordinating during a year when teachers and administrators were trying to keep the school afloat proved to be a challenge.  Luckily our remote schedule and supportive climate provided the time and opportunity to program virtual author events, and we hosted nine authors during the 2020-21 school year, with a total of 14 “visits.”  Having the AISL grant kept us motivated to program even when we had to put in extra effort to find space in our busy school calendar.

Collaborate with My Library Team

We could not have programmed author visits across four divisions without the help of a communicative and collaborative library staff.  While remote learning made “finding each other” more challenging, in many ways we were more committed to working together than ever.  I am grateful for my team’s enthusiasm and their support.  I am also grateful to my school, for providing us the opportunity and resources to run a fully staffed library program during an uncertain year.

Hone My Programming Skills

While there are many fabulous graphic novels, finding authors and artists who are affordable, available, and willing to “speak” on Zoom can be a delicate balancing act. With author fees ranging from $300 to $10,000, we spent many hours researching author availability, watching YouTube interviews, attending virtual book fests, and reading articles to support the theme.  The Vision to Reality dollars helped us to pad the overall program budget, as well as seek out affordable authors who in the end, turned out to be incredibly generous with their time.  The funds also made it possible to buy copies of books for book raffles and book clubbers.

Find a Little Help from My Friends

Thanks to my connections through the AISL listserv, I was able to discover illustrator Ana Aranda (who presented during our school’s World Language Week), we were able to book Grace Lin, based on AISL member reviews, and I connected with new comic book artists at the Schomburg Center’s Black Comic Book Festival.  These shared suggestions allowed me to build collaborative efforts with our teachers as well as our parent community.

Connect with Our Community

We have long wanted to offer family programming related to the library.  Thanks to our school’s active Parent Partners for Diversity and Inclusion, we were able to collaborate with parent volunteers to plan author visits, an in-store and online book fair, and four virtual Pajama Storytimes. 

Additionally, the DEI themes of the graphic novel authors and illustrators we hosted supported the efforts of our faculty Diversity Coordinators.  As a result, this year our libraries have offered community programming to celebrate the Jewish holidays, Hispanic Heritage Month, Diwali, Black History Month, and Asian Pacifc American Heritage Month.

Increase Library Visibility

Creating programming that evolved throughout the year offered new opportunities for me to weave a story to present out to our greater school community.  I combined my author research with our programming success and wrote an article on the importance of graphic novels in the curriculum for our school magazine.  

When we noticed that other departments were presenting at our monthly parent meetings, we volunteered to present as well, highlighting the ways we kept the library visible and active throughout the year.

Open New Windows

Introducing children to new books with diverse characters and themes helps them to better understand and embrace the world around them, and the greatest joy of hosting virtual author visits has been the opportunity to “open windows” for our students.  Not only have our students “visited” the studios and homes of Victoria Jamieson, Robin Ha, Tricia Elam Walker, Anna Aranda, Jennifer Holm, Julie Berry, Henry Lien, Grace Lin, and Lila Quintero Weaver during the school year, they have learned about the importance of crafting and publishing books that tell stories that deserve to be told.  

Serving as a librarian in a school can be a lonely enterprise unless you actively seek out partners and support.  My 22 years in the profession have been deeply rewarding, and I cannot imagine this time without my AISL colleagues. The organization has been a lifeline, connecting me to outstanding mentors and role models, and helping me to “deepen my practice” along the way.

In a time when our schools are seeking ways to demonstrate value,  I encourage all AISL members to actively seek out partners, and to consider applying for the Vision to Reality Award as a way to solidify the importance of the library and the librarian in the school community. 

5 thoughts on “With a Little Help From My Friends: Practicing Gratitude in Challenging Times

  1. Sarah,
    WOW! What an incredible year! I am most impressed and motivated by all that you accomplished this year, thanks for sharing. You certainly represent as recipient of the AISL Vision to Reality Award!

  2. This is so inspiring, Sarah! In a world where I feel I’ve had a successful day when I’ve put on SHOES you have created this amazing program to bring the world to your school in spite of the shutdown. Thanks for taking the time to share the details.

  3. That does sound like an incredibly impressive year, especially in a pandemic! Your school is so fortunate to have you, and what wonderful experiences you are bringing to your students! I wish I’d had a librarian like you when I was in school. 🙂

  4. Sarah, I already know this about you from our AISL session, but you are an amazing and inspiring colleague. Your students are so fortunate to have you as is your school. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your world this year.

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