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What I do: Christina Gavin, School librarian

New York Teacher
Christina Gavin
Jonathan Fickies

Christina Gavin is the librarian at the Herbert H. Lehman HS Campus in the Bronx, where she serves 3,200 students and more than 300 staff members in the seven schools that share the building.

Why did you become a school librarian?

When I was really little, at the age when most kids want to be a ballerina or an astronaut, I wanted to be a librarian. I grew up in southwestern Pennsylvania in a very tiny Rust Belt town, in kind of an impoverished area. But there was a great librarian in our town who made our public library a welcoming space for children. Our town didn’t have a lot to offer, but in the library you could travel the world without going anywhere.

How do you see your role?

I’m the one librarian on a campus that has seven schools. We have 3,200 students and probably more than 300 staff members. Our library is open access, meaning students can come in whenever they’re free. Outside of books they can borrow, there are a lot of things to do for fun. We have beautiful, high-quality drawing paper, art materials and supplies, board games and makerspace activities. The library is a place for learning at your own pace with no stakes: there’s no testing in the library, there are no grades. There’s a lot of space to explore. You know those old black-and-white TV shows, where there’s a switchboard operator? That’s what I feel my role is for teachers. I’m connected to all these opportunities — for grants, for professional development — and my job is to take the information and funnel it to the appropriate people.

How have you made the library an inviting place?

My first year, I brought in decorations, posters, supplies and new books. I spoke to students to find out what they liked and were interested in, and I brought in those things. I keep up to date with new releases by reading advance copies of books from publishing companies and sharing them with students to help decide what we’re going to purchase for the library. I’ve learned to delegate to students a lot because they are super helpful volunteers.

What’s a typical day like?

When I come in, there are seven mailboxes to check. I have to place orders for books from seven different budgets. I’m trying to make sure we have books available not only in English, but in other languages such as Spanish and Arabic as well. I think about how to support students with disabilities — that might mean ordering more high/low titles, audiobooks, graphic novels and large-print books.

What do you love about your job?

When I see students reading and excited about reading, that’s the best. We’re in the Bronx, which is an underserved area. The nice thing about libraries is they champion equity. Last year we had four author visits. A campus favorite was Mark Oshiro, who wrote the book “Anger is a Gift.” It’s set in a large school with metal detectors, and we’re a large school with metal detectors. Students were really excited to meet him. He’s an LGBTQ author who’s Latinx. A lot of our black and brown students don’t see queer people of color in leadership positions. Things like that get students interested.

How do you stay up to date with best practices?

I’m the only one in my library, but there’s a very strong virtual network of professional organizations for networking and sharing info so I never feel alone. We have the New York City School Library Association and the Office of Library Services, which are for all school libraries. Being a librarian is also very much a leadership role — I was able to be on a panel at Comic Con this year about diverse representation in comics in school libraries.

What do you want people to know?

The biggest thing I want people to know is that New York State law requires that every school have a librarian. You have the right to advocate for a librarian in your school. The librarian is there to help you and is very interested in collaborating with teachers. Librarians know a lot about a lot, so bring your students to the library!

— as told to reporter Rachel Nobel

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