Sharon Colvin is a new member of VOYA’s Advisory Board.
Believe it or not, I started my library career as a work-study student at Harvard. I taught students how to navigate the enormous (and not yet online – this was 2000) library collection while working on my master’s in education. All I knew is that I wanted to be part of education without being a classroom teacher. I was a tutor, camp counselor, classroom aide, and afterschool provider and my librarian mentors encouraged me to pursue library school. It took five years to decide that I wanted to take out more school loans.
In a lot of respects, I’m an unusual librarian. Many people have asked me why I “left education for libraries.” Seriously. Don’t ever ask me that. I live and breathe my belief that librarians ARE educators. Because I have a background in cognitive psychology and education, I tend to approach librarians from a developmental perspective. In fact, when I applied for my first YA librarian job, the committee asked me if I was a big reader as a kid. I chuckled because the answer is no. I didn’t actually start becoming a reader until I started library school.
“Then why did you become a librarian?”
My answer was spontaneous. “The programs!!”
I naturally fell into the role of a librarian who valued the public library as a sanctuary for young people and a space for learning, development, and free from judgment. It just made sense to me. Of course, I started reading books and I love them. I haven’t read a “grown-up” book in over a decade. But while I love the stories, I’m more interested in how teens understand the world and how stories can bridge divides between people, communities, and ideas.
Of course, part of being a YA librarian is making mischief. One day I showed up to a meeting of the Massachusetts Library Association and the next thing I knew, I was on the board.
I took my job as vice chair/chair-elect of the Youth Services Section very seriously. I started presenting and writing and sharing ideas with my colleagues. One day, while talking to a colleague, we came up with the idea for the Teen Summit for MA Teen Librarians. It was an amazing opportunity for us to get together and share ideas about serving teens in our respective communities. There have been eight Summits since then. I like to think I made a mark in MA.
When I was crowned chair of the Youth Services Section of MLA, I came up with an awesome and slightly controversial idea. We made a Tattooed Youth Librarians calendar! We managed to raise over $3000 and make several news outlets along the way. There’s never a dull moment when I’m involved.
After working in MA libraries for about ten years, I decided it was time to take a wider perspective. I moved to Vermont and became the State Children’s Librarian. Working for the state was a great opportunity to affect state policies, train an entire state of librarians and get a better sense of the field at large. I was also in charge of three state youth-voted book awards and met a ton of extremely passionate people. Vermont is home to some amazing people.
One of the best parts of the job was meeting with colleagues around the country at the Collaborative Summer Library Program annual meeting. One of the hot topics of 2016 was outcomes and measurement. How can libraries prove that summer reading and library programs make a difference in the lives (and educations) of children? Of course, this is not a new question, but it really stuck with me. I wanted to be part of the answer.
In some ways, I have been searching for a reason to pursue a Ph.D. for most of my adult life. I just needed to believe that research could make a difference in the world. As a practitioner, it was hard for me to wrap my head around this possibility. How can you make a difference without actually working with kids? But, the field of libraries is more than just the librarians in the field. It’s also the research, professional development, and leadership that supports that work. And one thing that working two floors below the governor’s office taught me is that government resists funding anything without data to prove its worth.
So, I packed up my snowshoes and headed to Pittsburgh. I was lucky enough to find an advisor who sees the value in Out of School Learning and in libraries as spaces for learning. I’m the first librarian in my program, but my goal is to convince everyone in the building that libraries are where magic happens.
I’m currently working on several projects involving professional development, social justice, and LGBTQ youth groups, youth-adult partnerships, and youth leadership. My hope is that I can become an excellent scholar and add to the field of education while bringing libraries into the fold.
I am proud to say that I have more toys and youth-created art in my office than anyone else in my department. I always keep those library teens in the back of my mind.
I’m excited to be part of VOYA. You’ll see me push more research into my columns as I develop my own research ideas. It’s extremely important that libraries are recognized in the research and in the broader field of education. I love being part of this community because I will never stop being a YA librarian!