Emily Colpi – School Library Media Specialist and Technology Integration Specialist
On Wednesday, September 25, 2013, I met up with Emily Colpi, high school librarian and technology integration specialist in Mariemont School District, ten miles east of Cincinnati. Upon entering the high school library, you are immediately struck with the coziness of the space. Although it has high ceilings and what looks like a balcony overhead, Colpi has taken the space and made it warm and inviting. The large windows are the home to countless plants and comfy seating. The cafe tables and chairs and the Collaboration Cafe with its booths are perfect for one-on-one conversation and, according to Emily, have “actually made it quieter during busy study hall periods.” The booths that form the Collaboration Cafe surround one area of the library and were occupied by students either working alone or in groups. Mrs. Morris, Emily’s aide, is at the circulation desk helping a student.
The evolving nature of school libraries, especially those built in the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, is helpful to capture since so many school librarians work in school buildings constructed in that time period. What have school librarians done with those spaces over time to adapt to the changing resources and activities? When I asked Colpi about the evolution of the library, she informed me that in the 1970s it was built as a middle school library on the second floor and a high school library on the ground floor. In the 1980s district librarian, Marianne Haase was “way ahead of her time”, says Emily. Haase established a strong school library program with research projects for seniors and a K-12 scope and sequence. In the 1990s the middle school library was moved and the print collection was rearranged. In the early 2000s the library underwent major reconstruction. According to Colpi, the whole space was gutted and the second floor was enclosed to create computer labes. Last summer, the computer labs on the second floor were transformed yet again, and the College and Career Planning Center was created. As I looked up to the second floor, I could see the conference area with its projector that serves as a seminar room. When I asked Emily to comment on how she has funded some of the changes such as the Collaboration Cafe, she informed me that “it’s all about collaboration and that she had applied to the Mariemont School Foundation and received a grant.”
Emily has been a school librarian for twelve years. At Mariemont, with its 1680 students grades K-12, Colpi is the only licensed school librarian in the district. As Colpi reflected on her career at Mariemont, she said the “number one issue is going it alone and developing a school library program with a K-12 scope and sequence.” She finds the OELMA listserv and SWON (Southwest Ohio Neighboring Libraries) meetings with other librarians are invaluable as a way to “fire ideas off each other.” Emily went on to say, “If you don’t get out you miss the big picture.” The most life changing event in her school library career was the district’s move to 1 to 1 last year. In addition to her school librarian hat she now wears a technology integration specialist hat but to Colpi, “that’s what a media specialist is already.” The move to 1 to 1 has changed both what her job looks like as well as the pace of her year. “In year’s past”, she says, “the beginning of the year was ordering books and working on lesson plans but now ninety percent of the time, especially the first few weeks of school, I work with her 500 high school students and fifty teachers to set up their Blackboard through Learn 21.” Colpi’s advice for those immersed in the 1 to 1 is to remember that “your role is not about the tool itself but matching the teacher at the time of need – just in time learning.” In her role, Emily plays an integral part in the 3-day professional development days entitled Mariemont Academy Days. In planning for these days, the district solicits input from teachers about what they need – Blackboard, evaluation system, SLOs, curriculum mapping, assessment – and then develops the framework for each Academy Day.
Among the many exciting programs Colpi has introduced to Mariemont is the Fellowship of the Book. Thirty-five students meet every Friday morning for breakfast to discuss not only their books but other cool stuff such as Manga and Dr. Who. To facilitate the Fellowship of the Book, she created a closed Facebook group. Emily also sponsors and hosts the Anime Club and the Chess Club in the library weekly.
When I asked Emily what surprised her the most about being a school librarian she quickly responded the pace of change. “Twelve years ago I was introducing Google Advanced Search techniques, but none of my lessons that I taught twelve years ago are the same.” As we discussed further, Colpi talked about the importance of “organic fit” in which the teacher and school librarian design a project together so that the information literacy skills fit naturally with the content. I glanced over to one wall near Emily’s desk and noticed tons of sticky notes stuck to a board. We walked over to the board and Colpi referred to it as her “low-tech Pinterest.” Not everything has be about technology – students were working on a social issues project and she had students write down on sticky notes as many issues as they could think of that would affect them in their lifetime and place them on the board. Students in the class can now examine all the issues on the “low-tech Pinterest” and pick one to research that intrigues them.
As we wrapped up our time together in the high school library, Colpi said, “I want to be the learner-in-chief and convey that passion to everyone else.” I nodded my head because I think all librarians regardless of their venue love learning and about instilling that passion in others. Perhaps we should create bumper stickers that say “Librarians = Learner-in-Chief.”
After our time together at the high school, Emily and I drove to the middle school. Recently remodeled with input from the community, it is bright and airy. High ceilings and open balcony seating on the second floor are its hallmarks. As students entered the library they gravitated toward the booths that line the one wall of the first floor. A presentation space with a fixed screen and projector enables students to sit on comfy seats with built-in backs in a circle. Cafe tables surround this unique circular structure. As I walked by, students sat comfortably with their laptops open. Stuffed chairs in the middle of the first floor seemed popular with groups of students. Bookshelves are situated in the corner of the first floor and upstairs in the balcony area where I could see more traditional tables and chairs. A very versatile space with ample room for meetings, presentations, collaboration, and quiet study.
Thank you Emily and Mary Ann for sharing part of your day with me.
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