The American Association of School Librarians has a new president. Cody School District librarian Jennisen Lucas will begin her stint as one of the leaders of the more than 7,000-strong group in 2021.
Lucas will start her duties as president-elect in July.
The AASL is the only professional group for school librarians in the country. It acts as both the standards-setter for those looking to take on the role of school librarian and as an advocacy group at all levels of government.
The Enterprise sat down with Lucas to talk about her new role and the importance of school librarians.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Cody Enterprise: So, the AASL. In your words, what is that organization?
Jennisen Lucas: The AASL is the American Association of School Librarians. It’s the largest and only professional organization for school librarians in the country. There are about 7,000 paying members, but we tend to try to help everywhere in the profession.
CE: When you say “help in the profession,” what does that look like?
JL: We work as advocates in all levels of government. We provide services for people who are facing challenges for books or for positions, because library positions tend to be on the chopping block if budget cuts happen, and then trying to advocate for why it’s important to have certified school librarians in our schools.
CE: What does it mean to you to be able to step into this role as, as the head of the AASL?
JL: I’m excited about it, because I think it’s going to be a good help for Wyoming to see people as leaders from here. We tend to look at national organizations and think that they’re very far away from us. And I think that that’s the case in any profession, until you start to actually get involved and to be able to do things.
I’m hoping that my stepping into this position will help other certified librarians in Wyoming be able to step up into their leadership roles and for the powers that be in Wyoming education to see that it’s an important position as well.
CE: If you could talk to leadership in Cheyenne or Washington right now about your profession, what would you want to tell them?
JL: We are currently seeing a lot of change and upheaval, just in society in general, and a lot of it is being fed by misinformation. School librarians are a front-runner in being able to help teach in that battle against misinformation, to be able to validate sources, to be able to recognize the bias and know where it’s coming from. I think we need that more than ever.
Instead of cutting librarians, I think we need to make sure that we have one in every school.
CE: What kind of training do you need to become a librarian?
JL: In Wyoming you have to have teaching certification and an endorsement in school library media. In a lot of other states, like I started in North Carolina, you have to have a master’s degree in library and information science and teaching certification. And according to the American Library Association and AASL, they would like us to have a master’s degree in library science. And of course teaching certification because we are teachers.
CE: Can you talk a little more about that? I think that’s something not a lot of people understand.
JL: That we are also teachers?
JL: We have that understanding that librarians, like at the public library, they check books out and they help kids find stuff. And that’s a huge, important part of the job. But in a school, we are also certified teachers and therefore have that ability to reach them and be able to know how to assess them and to teach them those specific skill sets that kids need in order to be able to interact with society.
I read a book called “Our Enduring Values Revisited” by Michael Gorman a few years ago, who said that librarians’ role is the dissemination and preservation of both the human record and the cultural heritage of which it’s a part. And I love that because I’m like, “Yeah, that’s true.” We’re part of helping to share the human record and that’s huge.
But in schools, we also have to teach that there is a record. We have to teach that you can find truth in fiction, which is part of the reason why we can’t tell the difference between nonfiction and fiction all the time, because our human emotions and things are transposed and transferred on in fiction and in stories.
CE: If you were going to write a story about school librarians, librarians in general, what’s the story that you would want to tell?
JL: I think I would want to write a story about how great it is when you do have a school librarian available because they can be a colleague and a guide and a safe space and can get you the information that you can’t learn in a classroom because they have the standards in the classroom that have to be met.
In my opinion, this is where [students] can open their eyes to the world and discover what they didn’t know and what they didn’t think they could be because nobody told them that. I think that that bright spot of, “This is why we have school librarians,” to open our eyes and be able to see everything that the world has to offer.
It’s a place that everybody can belong because we try very hard to make sure that there’s a representation of all different types of stories and all different types of people in positive and joyful ways.
Jennisen Lucas is the new president-elect of the AASL. She starts her duties in July.