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Middletown Life

Appoquinimink High School librarian receives national award

Mar 31, 2015 03:34PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Photo courtesy Allison Iannone

If you want to know how important librarians are to a school district here in 2015, consider the words of student Rachel Wagner when she nominated Appoquinimink High School librarian Christine Payne for the 2014 I Love My Librarian Award.

“The library,” Wagner wrote, “is a place to go: students are always in there to do research, read, explore, or share ideas. Sometimes, we go in there just because she’s there. Ms. Payne is accepting and easy to talk to, easy to ask advice of, easy to go to for help. This environment has made our circulation rates skyrocket since Ms. Payne became the librarian…kids wants to read, they want to be in the library. This is because they feel safe, they feel at ease, they feel invited in.”

Payne was one of only 10 library professionals from across the U.S. to receive the New York Times/Carnegie Corporation of New York I Love My Librarian Award in 2014. She traveled to New York City last Dec. 2 for a ceremony that, in her words, made her feel like something of a rock star for a night. She got to meet the presidents of the American Library Association, the American Association of School Librarians, and many others during the festivities, and traveled with a large contingent from the school district—including superintendent Matt Burrows, assistant superintendent Sharon Pepuyaki, and high school principal Keisha Brinkley.

“It was overwhelming,” Payne said during an interview in February. “It was a who’s who of the library world. It made me reflect on the many years that I’ve been doing this. We do it all for the students. They are great. I absolutely love these kids.”

Payne has been a librarian for 15 years, the last 13 in the Appoquinimink School District. In addition to the I Love My Librarian Award, she has also been named as the Delaware School Librarian of the Year for the 2012-2013 school year.

“Anyone who knows her knows that she’s dedicated to expanding the hearts and minds of students,” Burrows said after the announcement of the award.

That sentiment was echoed by Delaware Library Association president Beth Borene who said, “The Delaware Library Association is thrilled that Christy was honored with this award. We think it is wonderful that she is nationally recognized this year for her innovation, dedication, and hard work—and for her many excellent contributions to her students, her colleagues, and to the profession of librarianship throughout her career so far.”

According to Payne, the role of the modern librarian is very different than it was years ago, and the role is continually evolving. One vital aspect of the job is the research component. Online resources are plentiful, but that makes it a challenge for students and teachers to select the best ones. Payne said that it’s very important for students to learn how to find and evaluate the resources that are available to them.

“I also collaborate a lot with classroom teachers,” Payne said, explaining that she assists them with using technology to produce and publish information.

School librarians also help students develop a love of reading and learning—according to Wagner, Payne excels in this area. Wagner wrote: “Ms. Payne frequently serves as a hotline for kids. They run to the library to talk to her because she is that adult in the building you just know you can trust. Her treatment for teenage heartache? Here’s a book. Need to feel less alone? There’s a book for that. She is able to listen to what is going on, and give us a lifeline—in the form of a novel.”

Payne said that she takes great satisfaction when she knows that she has helped a student realize that reading and learning can be useful and fun.

“It’s really about helping them find value in reading and learning,” she explained.

Payne’s fondness for libraries started early in life, though she didn’t always aspire to be a librarian.

She grew up loving books and reading. In elementary school, she served as a library aide and was influenced by Mrs. Deale, the school’s librarian. She did not grow up thinking that she would one day become a librarian. After high school, she studied at the University of Delaware and then joined the Army, training at the Defense Languages Institute in Monterey, California. After three years in the Army, she returned to civilian life, earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware, and decided to pursue a master’s degree from Drexel University with the goal of becoming a librarian.

Her first job after obtaining the advanced degree was in the Colonial School District. After two years there, she moved to the Appoquinimink School District. She spent the first six working at the Olive B. Loss Elementary School and then moved to the Alfred G. Waters Middle School when it opened. She transferred to the high school four years ago. Incredibly enough, Payne’s movement through the school district mirrors that of this year’s graduating class of seniors, who spent the exact same years in each building. She has been the primary librarian for Wagner and most of the other seniors since that class was in first grade. More than a few of those students agree with Wagner’s assessment that they love their librarian.

Wagner wrote about how, throughout her career, Payne has broadened the library’s appeal by creating new and exciting events for students and their families to participate in.

“In each school, the library became the heart of the school. Activities flowed from the library; students and their families flowed in. Literature circles were not just for the students, there was an evening literature circle for the family. I remember bringing blankets and pillows to camp out on the floor of the library as we discussed the latest book we had all read. Students wanted to read so they could participate in the fun.”

When students formed a Gay Straight Alliance a few years ago, Payne agreed to become the club’s advisor. She also serves the same role for the Paintball Club. Payne helped build three different book clubs at the high school that now attract as many as 80 students during lunch periods. She initiated the popular “Real Men Read” program that encourages boys to develop a love of reading. She was a founding member of the Summer Libraries Program, and has been instrumental in the Visiting Authors Program. She is also involved with the statewide celebration, “Festival of Words.”

Payne is very involved with library activities at a statewide level. Because Delaware is a smaller state, she said, there are plenty of opportunities for collaboration and sharing among librarians.

Payne was appointed to the Delaware School Libraries Council, which was enacted by Gov. Jack Markell in 2011 to improve school library services. In February of this year, the Delaware School Libraries Council announced plans to develop a statewide master plan for Delaware’s school libraries. The master plan, which is expected to be completed over the course of the next year, will evaluate the current status of school library services and look at how to address the future needs.

This effort is coming at a time when some school districts in the state are eliminating librarians from the schools because of funding concerns.

“School libraries are really in crisis,” Payne said.

While Payne is thankful that the Appoquinimink School District supports its libraries, she is concerned when she sees a small but growing number of school districts in the First State being forced to eliminate library positions.

“I do understand how difficult the budget situation is,” Payne said, “but without a librarian, students lose out on the opportunity to learn many skills. You can have a room full of books, but that’s not a library. A library affects every student and teacher in the entire building.”

Librarians are usually doing more with less these days, and Wagner wrote the following about Payne’s dedication to students when she nominated her for the I Love My Librarian Award: “Ms. Payne has been honored as the Delaware Librarian of the Year. Knowing her personally, these types of accolades are not what motivate her—but I think it speaks a lot about how she is perceived by her peers. Everyone around her senses the real motivation, she leads because she loves what knowledge and literature bring to the world: a chance for students and a chance for them to make the world a better place.”

In the information age, libraries are changing rapidly. There is no longer a need for a reference collection in book form, and the card catalog is a thing of the past. But that doesn’t mean that libraries are becoming antiquated. A good library is an essential part of the school.

Payne said that she expects the pace of change to continue to accelerate as technology evolves, and librarians will be at the center of that change.

“I think the role of librarians is changing now more than it has in the past,” she said. “The role will be very different in five years. I see it as an exciting time to be involved with libraries.”

One thing that won’t change, however, is the idea that the library is a welcoming place for all students.

“It’s about creating that welcoming atmosphere—an open, equal, and safe place for everyone,” Payne said.

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