Kathryn Roots Lewis is director of media services and instructional technology for Norman (Okla.) Public Schools. In spring 2017, she was elected 2018–2019 president of the American Association of School Librarians, and she has spent the past year serving as AASL president-elect under current president Steven Yates. She has held a number of leadership positions in the organization, including as a member of the editorial board responsible for updating AASL’s new National School Library Standards. I spoke with Lewis as she was preparing for ALA Annual Conference, which will mark the official start of her presidential term.
Would you tell us a bit about your presidential initiative?
As you know, AASL released new standards for the school librarian profession last fall, the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. My presidential initiative aims to share those standards and their importance with decision makers and stakeholders and help building-level librarians share those standards with education and community stakeholders. The standards are the result of a three-year process that began with seeking input from school librarians and stakeholders from across the country through both surveys and focus groups. That work culminated with the standards that we are implementing today.
I believe that these standards take school librarianship to a new and broader level, influencing the whole school community more. These standards champion core beliefs that I think resonate with people everywhere, including the following: the school library is a unique and essential part of a learning community; learners should be prepared for college, career, and life; and reading is the core of personal and academic competency.
One thing I want to do as part of my initiative is find a framework that will help explain the structure, purpose, and value of the standards to stakeholders and partners beyond the school community: to state and regional library leaders, national education organizations, state education departments, and school administrators. One important piece of that is to get information about the standards into the literature that our stakeholders are reading—not just in library magazines, but in magazines that a principal or a school board member might read.
What are some of the issues facing your membership these days?
There are some key issues that bring to mind some questions for me. How do we continue to elevate support for school librarians for their practice? How do we help them embed these new standards for their practice, and how do we also support them in all ways? How do we give school librarians the tools to garner support from their own administrators, and how do we help school librarians truly impact their school communities?
I believe that the school library position is at a unique and pivotal crossroads right now. I think Jim Neal addressed this so well in his article “Fight for School Libraries,” which appeared in the March issue of American Libraries. In that piece, he wrote, “Libraries constitute an ecology of educational, research, and community services. In this environment of interdependency, we, as a family of libraries, must embrace advocacy for school libraries as foundational to the success of our collective work for students who love to read, as we prepare them for college, career, and life.”
For me, school libraries are truly integral to the health and vitality of all libraries. When you think about it, it’s in school libraries where learners, our students, often start their relationship with libraries. Universally, all librarians want their patrons to be lifelong learners and educated citizens. We want the library to be the place where our citizenry feels comfortable and confident in their pursuit of knowledge as well as pleasure and informational pursuits. So the impression of libraries that school librarians leave with every learner that they see is really critical in shaping that learner’s view of libraries throughout their lives.
What are your plans for being an advocate for school librarians?
One of the things that we’ve been doing at AASL and I’ll be doing again is to go out to state affiliate conferences and visit with librarians. It’s a wonderful way to connect with school librarians from around the country and hear about what they’re doing and learn what is important to them, whether they need support, and how AASL can help. I love that part of what we do.
I think this is an important year for AASL as an organization, because we’re developing a new strategic plan that will guide our association’s work for the next three to five years. That’s a big step. We’re still working through aspects of the timeline with our board, but it should be completed next year.
What are you most looking forward to at ALA Annual this year?
We have an awesome AASL board of directors and we have a great affiliate assembly. The energy of both groups is really contagious, and it’s nice to walk into those meetings and feel that vibe in the room; it’s very empowering. And it’s exciting to see a group of people working together to really think about the role of school librarians and how the organization can support what they do.
One thing I’m looking forward to personally is having time with the new board members who were recently elected and will be feted at lunch on Monday of the conference. And I’m really looking forward to having time with all of them and visiting; I’ve already been sending them emails.
I’m looking forward to the inaugural luncheon. A lot of board members attend that as well. It will be fun to celebrate with all the other ALA division leaders we work with and with our incoming ALA president. Some of my family members are coming, so I’m excited about that.
As another note, I’m looking forward to hearing former first lady Michelle Obama and Viola Davis, who are speaking at the conference. It’s a rare opportunity.
Has outgoing president Steven Yates offered any tips for making the most of your term?
Steven has been a great model for me and a mentor. He’s an amazing visionary and very passionate about the work that he does. He often says to me how important it is that we all work together as a board and I think that’s critical.
As you know, being part of a board requires a lot of energy and time and attention to detail. It’s very time-consuming. Steven is so thoughtful and thankful and appreciative of the work the board does. He’s very good about saying thank you and taking time to connect with people, and I feel like that’s something important for me to do as well. It’s a great comfort for me that Steven will be on the board next year and will be there to support me in this role.
I want to champion the school librarians across our country who are making a difference in the lives of learners, teachers, families, and their communities every day. They’re thinking about what we want learners to be able to do when they leave K–12 education. We want them to be thinkers, and we want them to be creative, and innovators, problem solvers and great citizens. It’s an exciting time for our profession, and I’m honored and humbled to be part of that.