Alumni Feature – Jennifer Powell (MLIS ’15)

Jennifer Powell, MLIS '15

This month, SLIS alumna Jennifer Powell was interviewed for our alumni web feature. She graduated in May 2015 with an MLIS and certificate in School Library Media. Currently, she works as the school librarian for Tarrant High School, located in Tarrant, Alabama. Jennifer serves students in grades 7-12, and says she has a lot of roles and responsibilities in her work. “I manage my library collection, but also handle all building technology. I’m … very involved in classroom curriculum and work in close collaboration with my teachers to provide students with resources, integrate technology, and design units of learning.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has left no facet of life untouched, especially those working in institutions of education. Powell elaborated immensely on how drastically the virus has impacted her work as a school librarian. All her collaboration with classes in-person was nixed entirely. “I normally do many hands-on lessons in the library that, because of COVID restrictions, I was not able to do this year,” Jennifer explained. But she has seen this obstacle as a challenge to her abilities as a school librarian. “[COVID-19] has forced me to be more creative with how I still promote the library and stay involved with classroom learning.” She elaborated on using the new class management system, Schoology, to create an online library group to promote new books and resources, as well as other pertinent information to students and teachers. Powell has also made video recordings of herself teaching essential researching skills so teachers can still “have her in class” without physically being in the classroom.

At the beginning of the academic year, Jennifer’s school was completely virtual, or remote learning based. She implemented a curbside pickup service at her school, and also offered book delivery service to other locations around the city. “I wanted to make sure my students had access to books, and since the public library was closed, I created a system that best served my kids. COVID has definitely forced me to stretch my creativity, but in a good way.”

Jennifer was asked “If you could come back to UA and take any class, what would it be and why?” She responded, “The obvious answer for me is cataloging. Even though a majority of library software imports MARC records already created, there are some definite ins and outs of cataloging that I wish I would have been formally taught – I really like to know the rules before I start breaking them!

Her advice for current and prospective students can be found in a blog post she made last year, titled “Things They Don’t Teach You in Library School (but they probably should have).” The blog provides some insight about what unexpected challenges Jennifer experienced when she started as a school librarian. However, she also went on to say in the interview that students should “remain student-centered and be their champion. Spend time getting to know your students. Learn what their perceptions of the library are when you walk in the door, on your first day. Ask them what they need the library to be. And then create that space for them.  Advocate for them, always. Focusing on student needs will help you with collection development AND with establishing collaborative relationships with teachers.” She also highlighted the importance of Twitter, even for those who don’t tweet anything. “There are so many fantastic librarians and educators and authors who share ideas and books and programs.” Jennifer has asked us to share her twitter handle in hopes of connecting with other MLIS students. You can add her @Ace_Librarian7.

The American Library Association (ALA) Core Value that most inspires the work Jennifer does is Diversity and Inclusion. She had a lot to say about how having this tenet at the forefront of her decision making has drastically impacted what kind of work she does and how she does it. “From day one of my professional career, I have been an advocate for diverse books. I have spent the last couple of years presenting at conferences and leading professional development about the importance of diversifying your library shelves. I read diverse books, I celebrate diverse books, and I share diverse books. Why? Because every child deserves to see themselves represented on the library’s shelves. And it shouldn’t just be one book – they should be able to see themselves in MANY books on your library shelves. Diversifying your collection takes work, and it takes intention. But students deserve a librarian who is willing to put in that work.”

We appreciate Jennifer taking the time to talk about her journey beyond UA SLIS and we are thrilled to have an alumna that represents our program with class and an attitude of advocacy. We also celebrate her recent recognition as a Volunteer of the Year for the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association!