May I just say that Cynthia Alaniz is a real Nerd? And I mean that in the most complimentary way. Along with teaching fourth grade at Denton Creek Elementary in Coppell, Texas (near Dallas), Cynthia has posted many times over at the Nerdy Book Club.
Before we learn about why libraries have been/are so important to Cynthia, we’re first going to take a peek at her past.
- Favorite school lunch as a kid: I really don’t remember my school lunches as a kid. I do remember visiting my grandmother after school, and she always had Neopolitan ice cream for us as a treat. That meant a lot to me!
- Best friend in grade school: Friendships were tough for me because I was so shy. I was much more comfortable with books, and they were my friends. They were always there, and I learned a lot from them.
- Times you were the new kid in school: I moved twice: once when I was in 3rd grade, and then when I was a freshman in high school. It’s tougher to move when you’re in high school, but I devoted myself to learning and reading so I survived and made it through!
- Teacher who inspired you to stretch: I’d have to name two: 1) Mrs. Fulfer, my 3rdgrade teacher walked over to my desk one day and said these words to me: “You are a writer. Keep at it. “ I never EVER forgot that. (I also will never forget the cute white shoes she wore!) 2) My 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Garcia, was the first teacher to give me a book of my very own. It was Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I’m not sure what happened to that copy, but that moment was magical. Up to that time, all my books had come from the public library.
- The one thing you always wished you could do in grade school but never achieved: I think I did the best I could with what I had, so I don’t really have any regrets. I wished for many things, but I realized that a better life was up to me. Everything helped me become who I am today.
Cynthia, you told me that you wanted to talk about libraries and how important they’ve been in your life. What a great topic! What prompted you to suggest it?
I am currently enrolled in a library and information science graduate program—“library school” as I call it. I’m studying to become an elementary librarian! I am learning about libraries every day in my courses and I continue to be amazed at all the wonderful things libraries and librarians do for us. Libraries are wonderful places that provide necessary services for learner of all ages. They have a rich history, and I marvel at librarian friends who do so much at their libraries to meet their patrons’ needs and offer them resources.
Tell us a bit about your library history. Talk about that first library outing, librarians who made a difference, etc.
As a kid, any books in my house were ones I brought in myself. If it weren’t for my school and public libraries, I would never have had access to books. During
the school year, I practically lived in the school library. I felt very comfortable there, and it was a place that gave me hope because it was filled with books and possibility! There, it felt like I could do anything! I checked out as many books as I was allowed. (I read every single book I checked out, and I always returned them on time.)
During the summer months, there were no summer camps or family vacations for me, so the programs at the public library were my entertainment and fun. (My first experience with board games came from the library.) I remember it not just for the books, but also for the experience. I went there with my sisters just about every day. We’d walk the nine or ten blocks to the library in the hot morning sun, pulling our empty red wagon. Then we’d check out books, and the wagon was filled for the way back home. We’d return the next day for more!
I wish I could tell you I remember my librarians: I really don’t. But they must have been kind to me, because I was there so often, and I don’t remember them ever being mean. They let me wander and explore and read—unencumbered. I must have been a sight! I wish I could thank them now. They never knew just how much they did to make my life better.
How has your experience with libraries impacted your own classroom library collection?
Libraries have always held such possibility for me. The simple act of picking up the right book on the shelf could translate into an unforgettable experience with a story. I want to create that for my own students in my classroom as often as possible. I buy every book I can! Students in my school refer to my classroom as the “upstairs library”.
What is your philosophy about going to the library? About building a library?
What a glorious place the library is! It’s a place with books gathered especially for us, staffed by a librarian who is ready to connect us with information. How truly wonderful it is that we can walk into a building and browse through shelves of endless books!
I believe classroom teachers should surround their students with as many books as possible. We have a wonderful library at our school, but I know a classroom library is important, too. So I add to it as often as my checkbook will allow. What if the one book I didn’t buy is the one book that is perfect for one reader in my class? I try my best to get the latest titles and newest installments. My classroom library is more than a collection; it’s a teaching tool. I can walk right over with a student to my library and talk about genre, or show them a new title. Many great teaching conversations happen around the shelves. Our classroom library becomes a part of our community.
Why are libraries important?
Libraries connect people to information. With information, we can all do great things. Libraries offer hope, learning, and the possibility of a better tomorrow. In a library, patrons find a gateway to the next step in their lives.
What skills do you see your students gaining from using libraries?
My students are learning how to access information, evaluate sources, and think critically about content. They are developing literacy skills by learning to read in different formats—electronic and print. They are also learning HOW to learn: figuring out what they need to know, information-seeking, then assessing and moving forward despite challenges. Also, my students are learning how to collaborate with others through projects and digital tools.
Do you have a favorite anecdote of how a library visit has changed a child?
I guess my best story is really a collage of many little ones:
- Readers in my class who find a book that they connect with.
- Students from other classes who walk by me in the hallway and share their favorite book with me
- The look on a student’s face when you bring the book they’ve been waiting for.
- A note from a student who says thank you for letting them read.
- The rush to be the first one to read a new book
- Overhearing two students share a book
- Watching proudly as one student recommends a book to another mimicking your words
If you could create a library – and funds are no object! – what would it look like?
My dream library would be like everyone’s idea of a perfect living room. You’d find comfortable and cozy places to sit and be alone. Every book you could hope for—new releases especially—would be available in multiple copies and in e-books (if you’d prefer).
Or, if you wanted to meet up with other learners and work together on a project, you could use the collaboration area. You’d have strong free Wi-Fi and access to the latest tech devices (with someone there to show you how to use them). You’d create fabulous products for the world to enjoy and use.
There’d be an area for special events—and learners would connect there to dream new dreams. Authors would visit regularly from around the country and the world, and there’d be book signings where people who might never meet authors COULD.
You could go there to learn more about things you’d heard about, and things you never knew existed. You’d have space to work, learn, and imagine. The building would have beautiful natural light (that would not be harmful to precious collections), and it would be open late into the night—staffed with expert librarians who always had the right answer for you.
Can technology (ie Skype, Twitter) be successfully incorporated into library experiences? If so, how?
Definitely! In my own classroom, Skype has allowed us to connect with authors such as Katherine Applegate, Ame Dyckman, Dee Garretson, Mina Javaherbin, and Christopher Healy. They have given my students the best reading and writing lessons just by talking about their books and creative process. Skype has enlarged our reading community because it’s allowed us to connect with librarians and teachers from around the country. Also, through our class Twitter account, we can share our learning with others.
Yes, I know that technology can be incorporated in the library; in fact, I think it must be! For some students, it is the only access to technology they may have. Through tech, they have greater access to information. That means they will learn more!
How has your love of libraries influenced your career choices?
I know that my love of reading helped lead me into teaching. Books opened up the world to me, and my favorite teachers were instrumental in my accomplishments. I wanted to pay my teachers back by doing the same for other students. Now, as I pursue my own dream of becoming an elementary school librarian, I can see that coming full circle. What librarians do every day is magic. It will be an honor for me to be an elementary librarian.
What do you wish I’d asked you that I neglected to ask?
I wish you had asked me about a time I had met a favorite author!
Last summer, I met Katherine Applegate at ALA Annual. My students designed a banner to thank her for our Skype visit, and I personally delivered it to her. She was so kind, and it was a dream come true! My class and I had read aloud from THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN, and we had all enjoyed it so much. I attended the 2013 ALA Midwinter Youth Media Awards to be there in person if THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN won the Newbery, and when it was called as the winner, I jumped for joy! The next part of the story is that I’ll be there in Chicago to watch Katherine Applegate accept her award and give her Newbery speech! I know I will cry with happiness! And in that moment I know I will think of my students and wish they could be there with me.
Sniff, sniff — Cynthia: this is the first blog post that’s made me cry. Thank you so much for sharing this anecdote and I hope we can be friends even though I did not (and still do not) read every book I check out nor do I turn them in on time.
Cynthia has a teaching/book blog which takes its name from an activity she and I share in common: buying shoes. Visit her at Teaching In Cute Shoes or follow her on Twitter,