Life as a librarian

Oct 06, 2021

Countless Newman alumni are making a positive difference and transforming society on each continent of the globe.

In this contributing article, Newman alumna Cindy Rich ’90 talks about her life leading up to her dream job as librarian and how she loves to make an impact on youth.

I believe that I have always been a librarian.

It took me a while to realize it, but my latest career change has revealed what my heart has always known; I am a librarian and the library — any library — is indeed my “happy place!”

As a child, my family surrounded me with books and I was fortunate to grow up in a household that valued learning and literacy. Our elementary school library was not yet finished when I started school, so a book-mobile visited our elementary campus.

I have vivid memories of climbing those steps and searching for the perfect book. Even during hard, economic times in the ’70’s, money was somehow available to purchase from the Scholastic book orders at school.

Cindy Rich ’90

With four brothers and four sisters, finding a quiet spot to read was difficult and book ownership was extremely important. The school and public libraries helped fuel my appetite for reading — all for free!

We went to the public libraries often and I will never forget some of my favorite childhood titles. My own library card was a ticket to worlds so different from the rural, Kansas plains of my youth.  Reading became an escape, a refuge, a delight, an education, a thrill and a lifelong passion.

Finding a path

I enjoyed volunteering in my elementary and high school libraries, and during my last two years at Newman University, I worked at Ryan Library for my work-study job.

Sister Dolores Strunk, ASC, was a force to be reckoned with and could run circles around this tired college student taking a full course load, waiting tables at night and opening the library on the weekends.

In the ’80’s, the Newman library provided a place to learn, to gather, to research and to study. Small rooms were filled with students working together, the halls displayed student art and theater productions drew in crowds. It was one of the first times that I realized that libraries provided so much more than books.

Student teaching with my own fifth-grade teacher and Sacred Heart College alumna, Mary (Flaherty) Kirkbride ’65, allowed me to experience the joy of a good read-aloud that could keep students begging for just one more chapter.

Miss Flaherty gave me two books with personalized inscriptions — one as a fifth-grade student and the other when I graduated with an elementary education degree. I became the aunt who gave books for birthdays and Christmas gifts, with personalized messages, and an elementary teacher who enjoyed read-alouds as much as my students.

Sharing a passion

Fast forward 15 years, and I became a stay-at-home mom. The books from my classroom library overflowed my own children’s bookshelves and could be found in every room in our house. My son and daughter had more books than I could have ever dreamed of as a child.

They attended story hour at our favorite neighborhood library, listened to multiple bedtime stories always begging for just one more chapter, and received books as gifts for birthdays and holidays inscribed with personal sentiments.

An inviting place to sit and read in the library where Cindy works.

I started a children’s book club for our local MOMS Club chapter and volunteered in their elementary school library. When they could sign their names, they received their own public library cards. These allowed them to choose their own books, musical CDs and videos to find an escape, a delight, an education, a thrill and, hopefully, a lifelong passion.

After eight years at home, I returned to the classroom somewhat reluctantly for the next five years. I knew I wanted to do something different but still wanted to stay within the educational realm. As I checked out books to my fourth-graders in the library one day, the campus librarian suggested that maybe I should look into school library certification.

I researched area programs and started a journey that has led me to my dream job and a master’s degree in library and information science.

It also started a lot of conversations about what librarianship is and is not.

If you hear the words “library” or “librarian” and instantly picture an older woman wearing glasses with her hair in a bun who sternly reminds patrons that the library is a QUIET place, you haven’t been to a library lately.

Although I am getting older, have progressed to progressive lenses and have been known to sport a high bun and a cardigan, librarianship today is much more than the stereotype.

The importance of libraries

Librarians often hold teaching degrees and in Texas, where I live, must have a master’s and at least two years of teaching experience.

Studies consistently show that schools with certified librarians have higher student achievement. Librarians do so much more than just check out books.

A librarian is skilled in print, information and digital literacy. Librarians curate collections and help patrons research and access information. They stay updated on current trends in technology, literature and community outreach.

Libraries have changed a lot since Benjamin Franklin started the first library back in the 1700’s, but they remain a free, accessible, vital part of a city and school community.

Today’s public libraries are — more often than not — noisy, vibrant hubs where clubs meet on a regular basis, classes and performances are held, patrons utilize 3D printers and other MakerLab activities, patrons work in community gardens, participate in seed-sharing programs and discuss current events over a cup of coffee from the cafe.

Art adorns the walls and performances take place in outdoor amphitheaters and indoor stages. School libraries are similar places where students are encouraged to collaborate on projects, explore robotics and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) related concepts, learn to knit or sew and use technology to enhance their learning in a variety of ways.

Cindy’s co-workers arranged a surprise for her when she started her new librarian job.

Librarians coordinate and facilitate learning and still provide quiet spaces for studying and reading. And yes … they do check-in and -out books. Lots and lots of really good books!

Literacy remains a primary focus, extends across all curricular areas and has grown to include eBooks, audiobooks, self check-out and remote access.

Libraries and librarians are as relevant and important today as they ever have been. They serve a basic need; to provide access to information and knowledge.

My fourth year as an elementary school librarian is about to begin.  All of my experiences have led me to this point. I know that I will continue to adapt to the changing world just as libraries always have, and strive to provide my students with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful, lifelong learners.

That’s what librarians do.

Share your contributor story

Whether you want to share a challenge you’ve overcome, a day in the life of your profession or simply spotlight a passion of yours, you can now share your story through words, photos and/or videos for the chance to be featured on the Newman Today site.