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HomeEducationThis educator is reimagining Clemente’s college library

This educator is reimagining Clemente’s college library

Andie Townhouse arrived at Roberto Clemente Group Academy on Chicago’s West Aspect to seek out dusty cabinets and a woefully outdated assortment within the college’s library. 

Earlier than it enlisted Townhouse, the college hadn’t staffed a librarian in additional than a decade. 

She got down to replace the library’s checkout system and its choices – heavy on Scientology and consuming problems, mild on partaking fiction. However she additionally tackled an entire rethinking of the house for the post-pandemic period, including 3D printers, yoga lessons, a knitting circle, tutoring, and an herb-growing wellness nook — a gathering place the place college students can set the agenda, join with one another, and uncover extra about themselves.      

Townhouse is an impassioned advocate for varsity libraries at a time when Chicago and districts throughout the nation are slicing again. College librarians have change into one thing of an endangered species over the previous decade. The layoffs of a pair of Chicago Public Colleges librarians made headlines this previous spring

Chalkbeat spoke with Townhouse about her work to reimagine Clemente’s library, the response from her college students, and the function of college librarians in pandemic restoration.

What drew you to a profession as a faculty librarian?

I’m drawn to the methods by which librarians are relationship architects. I really like collaborating with my colleagues, group stakeholders, sports activities groups, native authors, companies, museums, in addition to every other group that desires to point out up for our children.  

I really like being a connector of free sources as a result of, on the finish of the day, I need these sources to assist folks propel their lives or instructing follow or analysis. I’m additionally a graphic novel professional, and I get pleasure from sharing my very own studying id with highschool college students immensely.  

The trope of the “shhhing librarian” is lengthy over.  We’re out in the neighborhood, assembly folks, and seeing how greatest to be a thought accomplice.  

While you began at Clemente Excessive College final 12 months, you have been the college’s first librarian in 13 years. What was in your to-do record early on?

The day I used to be employed, a ceiling pipe had burst, and followers have been in all places to dry out the carpet. The very first thing I noticed after I walked in have been about 300 books from the Church of Scientology. 

Weeding turned my precedence. I had largely non-fiction that was all outdated materials. This went past “Pluto is a planet.” I had racist books, books that perpetuated stereotypes, books that made enjoyable of disabled kids, and about three bookcases devoted to simply consuming problems.  

The world has modified 4 occasions for the reason that library was final weeded, and within the library world we name this “spoiled milk.” I had a “curdled assortment” as a result of no person was there sustaining what is actually a dwelling, respiratory factor.

I additionally realized that books have been all checked out on the “honor system,” which is admittedly no system in any respect.  Now, college students can take a look at books at a self-checkout station, place holds, seek for print variations of books, and even borrow eBooks and immediately learn them. 

I took curiosity surveys at lunch, within the hallways, within the foyer — wherever I might discover youngsters to inform me what they favored to learn as a result of this was now their house. The brand new books needed to be a validating mirror reflecting again their lived realities. I used to be capable of order 900 brand-new books this 12 months. 

What are your plans for reimagining Clemente’s library to fulfill the wants of immediately’s college students?

We have been just lately the recipient of two grants to jumpstart our 12 months. Makers4Change just lately despatched the library our very first 3D printer, and I’ve one other one on the best way for a brand new 3D printing lunchtime membership. 

I’m additionally within the course of of buying a number of stitching machines, gown kinds, material, knitting needles, yarn, embroidery floss and hoops. I just lately purchased a Cricut slicing machine. Our youngsters will have the ability to reduce out vinyl stickers for his or her water bottles or punch out memes with our button maker.  

I’m turning sure spots of the library into makerspace corners, the place our college students will now have the ability to resolve real-world issues with their arms. 

Final 12 months, we have been gifted two hydroponic towers. One of many grants will assist us restock much-needed vitamins and seed pods, instruments, tubs to move herbs, and a micro-collection of gardening how-to titles. I’m wanting ahead to assembly up with our Gardening Membership to enact a pesto and chimichurri taste-off with the herbs grown in our wellness nook.  

Over the summer time, I earned my 200-hour yoga instructor certification. I can’t wait to deliver yoga to our children after college, in addition to aware meditation classes throughout lunch.

How do you see your function and that of different college librarians within the push to assist college students get well from the pandemic?

The pandemic’s social disruption was felt by everybody. Hardest hit have been our children, although, who hadn’t been round one another in almost two years. College librarians have been so adaptable throughout this time, delivering books to households outdoors of working hours and zooming with college students to conduct reference interviews and readers advisory companies. 

Sustaining a connection just isn’t one thing that may be replicated on Zoom, and our children actually misplaced find out how to work collectively, find out how to really feel collectively, and to course of their feelings collectively. The library stays and can all the time be a shared house. College librarians, who stay community-builders at coronary heart, are serving to youngsters really feel their method again into the world as a result of now we have welcomed everybody again into that shared house.   

What suggestions have you ever acquired from college students in your work up to now?

The scholars love being within the library throughout lunch as a result of for some, the lunchroom is simply sensory overload. This 12 months, alongside our English Language Learner Division Chair, the library began a thriving tutoring program throughout fifth interval lunch. College students are taking possession of their studying throughout this time, and so they deliver alongside their homework, their research expertise questions, and their pals. 

This summer time, Chicago Public Libraries launched a part-time paid internship program for highschool college students 16 and older. For some college students, I’m the primary librarian they’ve ever met since they didn’t have a library to go to throughout elementary college. College students noticed a profession path for his or her lives that wasn’t there earlier than. When a few of them landed this internship at their neighborhood department, I cried on my lunch break. 

In Chicago and different city districts, a rising variety of faculties wouldn’t have a librarian. What’s the fallout?

I’m solely one in every of 80 librarians left in CPS out of 600 faculties. It upsets me as a result of folks making the choice to shut college libraries wouldn’t settle for this for their very own kids. While you shut libraries, reduce funding, and take a librarian out of their house, you lose the power to make your college group cohesive. Youngsters are left to boost their reader selves alone and take a look at books — if in any respect — with zero steering, and the gathering turns into utterly missed. 

Colleges that spend money on staffing their college library see sturdy returns academically, socially, and emotionally for his or her whole group of learners. If faculties are eager about re-opening their library, they will contact the CPS Libraries group at  

Mila Koumpilova is Chalkbeat Chicago’s senior reporter protecting Chicago Public Colleges. Contact Mila at



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