By Kathy Mansfield
James Allen’s passion for teaching and technology led him to become a school librarian. This year, Allen is president of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians (KASL).
In addition to being the school librarian at Eminence Independent Schools, Allen is a 2015 PBS Learning digital innovator, organizer of edCampKy and moderator of the #KyLChat Twitter chat. Before moving to Eminence this year, Allen was school librarian at Oldham County High School. He started his teaching career in 2001 as a music teacher at Oldham County schools.
Kathy Mansfield, library media/textbooks consultant at the Kentucky Department of Education, asked Allen about KASL, education technology and the future of school libraries.
Why should librarians be a member of Kentucky Association of School Librarians?
“By becoming an active member of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians (KASL), you are supporting and advancing the impact school librarians have on students’ intellectual growth. KASL accomplishes this by connecting teacher librarians, promoting and providing specialized and quality professional development, celebrating the influence school libraries have on school communities and by supporting school librarians facing challenges to intellectual freedom.”
What are your goals as KASL president?
“I am passionate about communicating the impact and importance of having school libraries and school librarians available to every student in Kentucky. One of my goals as KASL president is to continue and expand our showcasing of library programs all over our state that are providing outstanding resources, learning spaces, learning experiences and exciting opportunities for students. We can accomplish this through awards, professional development, social media and by simply sharing more often with fellow librarians and our own school communities.
“Along these lines, another goal I have is to help advocate for school libraries through the collection of important data and stories, which will help to measure the impact we have on education. We have started this process by creating a Kentucky School Library Snapshot Survey. This information will help us to stay connected, predict trends and celebrate growth over time.”
What is your vision for the role of school librarians in Kentucky?
“School librarians, also sometimes referred to as library media specialists, have always been solid examples of lifelong learners. We continue to read, share and explore the latest and greatest books and resources that we can offer our students and fellow teachers.
“As librarians and as educators, our jobs are always evolving. But as our society continues to rapidly change in terms of how we find, consume and create information, so too will the definition of our roles. I believe school librarians will have to be open to accepting new responsibilities in our schools and be ready to help support students and regular classroom teachers. We can help accomplish this by being open to change, open to multiple perspectives and by supporting one another through organizations like KASL.”
What are trends you see in the school library profession?
“The most important stakeholders that we serve are our students. They are unique individuals who have distinct tastes, needs and abilities. The increasing appreciation of making, creativity and project-based learning are trends that we will have to support in our libraries. The cool part about these trends is that we are uniquely qualified to help students find and explore their passions. We are specialists in the access of information, curators of resources and, for the most part, have some of the largest and most flexible learning spaces in our buildings. Our profession will shift, as many others will, but as long as we stay focused on student needs and learning, we will be successful.”
Who has influenced you in your role as librarian?
“I believe those who have influenced my career path and growth the most have been the administrators that I have worked with. I have been lucky enough to teach under the leadership of principals and other administrators who have given me the flexibility, support and trust needed to improve our library programs and to explore what is possible in this role.”
What are books you would recommend for professional reading?
“These three books not only have really challenged my thinking, but also have shown me what is possible. The first is a book that has been around for a while, but its content is critical for our roles. It is ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,’ by Carol Dweck. If you haven’t explored the implications behind the idea of having a growth mindset, you must read this one. Two more titles you might want to explore are ‘The 20Time Project: How educators can launch Google’s formula for future-ready innovation,’ by Kevin Brookhouser, and ‘Show Your Work!’ by Austin Kleon.”
Some consider you to be a tech and app guru. If you could only have three apps to use with students in your school, what would they be and why?
“It feels nearly impossible to narrow this list to only three, but these are my favorite right now. I think Google Classroom is a game changer. It really isn’t fancy or full of bells and whistles, but what it accomplishes is powerful. It allows teachers to quickly, easily and efficiently connect to their students’ work, share ideas and provide feedback. The key word is easily.
“My second app would be Google Drive. Again, ease of use is key. It makes the creating of documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, maps and more a painless task. The best part is that students and teachers can all work together on these creations. The mobile apps also work great on both iOS and Android.
“Thirdly, I’ve learned of the creative, artistic and educational potential that exists in Minecraft. This is really more than a game. It is an open ended and vast sandbox which your students can use to create, explore and demonstrate learning in almost any content area. Thankfully, some developers took time to create a special modification, MinecraftEDU, to make it even easier to leverage the power of this tool in the classroom.”
It has been a remarkable experience working with James whom I thought of as a man ahead of his time when he first entered the role of school librarianship. His expertise, enthusiasm, and passion about digital information literacy is evident in all he does. James has always been generous with his time and knowledge as he supported his colleagues. I take pride in knowing him and being a witness to his accomplishments.
Here is my final thought…How are our colleges and universities preparing students majoring in library media for the role James describes?