Library Media Specialist
Ellen Barnhizer (left) and Liz Deskins (right)
“…teaching students to evaluate what they read on the internet and make critical decisions for choosing reliable and viable content is so important now that everything can be accessed – my job is more necessary than ever.”
On Thursday, March 23, 2018, Liz Deskins and I ventured north up Route 23 to Holland, a suburb of Toledo, to visit Springfield High School and school library media specialist Ellen Barnhizer. Home of the Blue Devils, Springfield High School serves the communities of Holland, Sylvania Township, Maumee, Spencer Township, Springfield Township, and parts of Toledo. Springfield High School, originally built in the late 1960s, enrolls approximately 1200 students, grades 9-12.
Outside the entrance to the media center is an inviting quote, encouraging students to read. As we entered the media center, Ellen was just finishing up with a class. Bustling with end-of-day announcements, the students and teachers left the media center at the bell and Liz and I toured the space with Ellen. The media center is a large space with windows on one side that add to its openness.
Behind the circulation desk, Ellen showed us the “workroom,” you know, the room where all the audio visual equipment was once stacked, all the books are piled that need to be catalogued, covered, and processed. Ellen, in the few years she has been at Springfield Local School District has worked diligently with the middle school and elementary schools to catalog all those books so that all students have access to a diversity of resources. She speaks proudly of her middle school librarian colleague, Kellie Lippold, who recently joined the district who has worked tirelessly to coordinate their district’s collection. As we conversed further about the state of school libraries, Ellen, who is originally from Pennsylvania, is surprised “that the role of the library media specialist is not valued by school districts, particularly when budgets need cut. Here at Springfield Local Schools the budget was cut to two people when I came here and budget for books, subscriptions and supplies was sliced to $1.70 per student.”
As we walk around the media center, Ellen explains that “her most rewarding time as a library media specialist is teaching research skills.” She shares several stories from the week that made her want to laugh and cry. “A junior came to find a book on his own for the first time and then told the teacher he had no idea the library was so organized.” In another instance, she was told by a group of students who came to find research articles for their class that “she was really good at research and should consider teaching.”
Bookshelves surround the media center and on many of the shelves we see student artwork on display. Books fill every shelf, Ellen says that one of her challenges is teaching students how to find and locate information and that includes teaching them how to use the Dewey Decimal system to locate books. “They think everything they need to know is on their phone,” she adds. “Technology challenges me every day – teaching students to evaluate what they read on the internet and make critical decisions for choosing reliable and viable content is so important now that everything can be accessed – my job is more necessary than ever.”
Liz and I are drawn to the center of the space. We see tables with coloring stations and assorted other ‘maker” items. Ellen explains that these stations are set up for the students to use when they come to the media center during study halls. Students can use the materials she has arranged around the media center any time. At one of the tables she has set up some of the materials for the Study Skills Night: Bridging to Success, that is held in April. Parents are invited to participate in activities that will help them help their student succeed. The activities are geared toward reading, writing, and math and how to incorporate summer activities around the three as a way in which to maintain their skills for the fall. For instance, Chris Smith, FCS encourages parents to let their student cook and bake and showed how everyday activities promote math skills. Ellen explains that she attended the Teen Think Tank with teen librarians from the public libraries. As a result of this experience, Ellen “reached out to our local teen librarian and we made plans to help with night time activities. She is coming to our Study Skills Night and I am going to her Internet Cafes.”
Creating a space in which the social emotional well-being of students is respected is revealed on the media center bulletin boards. Inspiring quotes are shared by Ellen, teachers, and students as visitors enter the media center. An “Awesome Work” board is also found at the entrance. A look at the board reveals photos and newspaper clippings of student activities and events.
Ellen is an INFOhio District I Coach and in that role has opportunities to collaborate with teachers. As we discussed collaboration, Ellen shared that “she considers collaboration with staff beneficial. The exchange of ideas, strategies, and techniques helps both of us.” She attended the Future Ready Institute in Detroit in November and is very excited about the Future Ready Librarians and what that will mean for the future of highly effective school libraries.
You can follow Ellen on Twitter @sls_lib AKA Ms.B.