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Mentors: Letter to a New Librarian Part 1.

By July 16, 2018May 13th, 2021The Kerlan Blog

Dear New School Librarian,

Congratulations on your new position. I am so honored to be your professional mentor and to be a part of this exciting journey. I hope that you continue to look to me for advice and counsel.

My own mentors have been a part of my life for over 30 years.

Helen Mullen

Helen Mullen, Head of Children’s Works Department Philadelphia Free Library, (The Daily News, 6/6/91, Courtesy of the Print and Picture Collection, Free Library of Philadelphia.)

Helen Mullen was Coordinator of the Office of Work with Children, and was instrumental in expanding the Free Library’s programs and services for preschoolers at a time when the focus had predominantly been on services for older children. She also served as chair of the Philadelphia Children’s Reading Round Table (PCRRT) and went on to win the Drexel University/Free Library of Philadelphia Children’s Literature Citation, as well as the American Library Association (ALA)’s Allie Beth Martin Award for outstanding achievement for a librarian.

She served on the board of the Please Touch Museum for Children where I worked in the 1980’s as well as on the PTM Book Award Committee. I was so impressed with her, with her knowledge of children’s books and storytelling, that the library seed was planted.

Ellen Loughran

was the first librarian to welcome me to the profession. At the time she was the Coordinator of Children’s Work at the Brooklyn Public Library. The real truth is that she talked me into being a librarian. Did I mention she had assigned my cohort a reading list of over 100 titles that a public librarian needed to read?


Ellen Loughran, Brooklyn Public Library Retired

And like Helen Mullen, Ellen Loughran was one of my story telling mentors. These included Amy Spaulding, Rita Auerbach, and Carmen Deedy. Not storytelling but Julie Cummins taught me how to write, and to stand up in front of people and advocate for Children’s Programs. 

Pat Schuman

Pat Schuman, Former president of the American Library Association. Founder of Library Advocacy Now!

Pat Schuman taught me how to advocate, to train advocates, and to walk into government officials from city, to state, to congress and speak with conviction and clarity of the public libraries worth to the citizens of their communities, counties, states, and districts.

Barbara Genco

was in charge of Collection Development at the Brooklyn Public Library when I was hired. Some people are lucky enough to take her Collection Development class at Pratt Institute where she teaches as a Visiting Associate Professor. She helped me understand that selections and de-selections (weeding) are the responsibility of the the librarian who understands the community norms, the curriculum needs, the reading interests of the users, and the importance of open access and freedom to read. 

Barbara Genco, Visiting Associate Professor, Pratt Institute

Sandra Payne

Sandra Payne, retired coordinator of YA services at the New York Public Library

Sandra Payne was a teen librarian and later Coordinator of Young Adult Services at the New York Public Library. Sandra helped me be a teen librarian and to advocate for services for young adults, separate from children and the grown-ups. Sandra is not only a generous mentor sharing her knowledge of Young Adult literature, she is also a fine artist. For a visit to her studio click here  

Barbara Stripling

When Barbara Stripling was the Director of School Libraries in New York City for the majority of my time as a school librarian. 

As a leader and former president of the American Library Association, she has been a tireless advocate for library services and a mentor for everyone in the profession.

She was the one who taught me about library management, professional leadership, advocacy for school librarians, and my responsibility for my own professional development and that of others. She is why I always have student teachers, interns, and volunteers in every position that I have held.

If I had a “bible” this would be it. EMPIRE STATE INFORMATION FLUENCY CONTINUUMAligned with AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner

 Also the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards for the 21st-Century Learner.

Virtual Mentors

Doug Johnson is the Director of Technology for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) Public Schools.

Doug Johnson is the Director of Technology for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) Public Schools. His teaching experience has included work in grades K-12. He is the author of nine books, columns in Educational Leadership and Library Media Connection, the Blue Skunk Blog, and articles published in over forty books and periodicals. Doug has worked with over 200 organizations around the world and has held leadership positions in state and national organizations, including ISTE and AASL.

This professional mentor taught me information literacy and how to teach it to elementary and middle school students. 

And he has a delightful sense of humor.

Doug Johnson. Why I Write for Professional Publication Knowledge Quest Web, May/June 2001. See below.

 ADVICE: When asked to serve say yes.

These relationships are a two-way street. I begged for professional advise. I showed up in their offices to cry about work stuff. They gave me opportunities to be of service to the profession. 

Join professional organizations. In New York, I was a member of NYLA. In Minnesota, MLA. Yes, it is a lot of money. If the choice is between keeping the lights on at home and paying membership dues, keep the lights on. Look at your choices. There were times when I had to choose between NYLA and ALA. I chose ALA. Looking back, I am sorry that I lost touch with my local state cohort.

Read, Read, and Read Some More

I read reviews from Horn Book, LJ, PW, Booklist, Book Links, Teacher Librarian. Also award winners: ALA, NBA, the Caldecott, Newbery, Sibert, Coretta Scott King, Pura Belpre, and the ALSC notable children’s books. These all empower librarians to make selections that serve not only the curriculum but the entire community of readers.  


Linda Greengrass co-chair of the Bank Street Book Committee

I realized that the list of my mentors is endless. Every librarian who has written a review, given advice, blogged, served on a committee, told a story, presented at ALA, served on Council, read aloud a poem, supervised, trained, and served.

Every stage of my career there have been those that I turned to in times of stress and uncertainty. Linda Greengrass was the director of the Bank Street College of Education Library, previously the school librarian, and presently the co-chair of the Bank Street Children’s Book Committee.

My first day on the job as a school librarian, she said sign-up for LM_Net . She was right.

Odds are that the school librarian is the only one of their job title at a school.

Sign up for this listserv. Everything you needed to know about being a school librarian from a community of 12,000.

It has since grown to become perhaps the most important professional development resource for school library professionals. There are 12,000 members from 64 countries on LM_NET.  

Part Two

Resources to prepare for your first year in position.

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