At the tender age of sixteen, I was hired as a “Student Aid” at my local library. I knew very little about libraries; the books I read, for the most part, were given to me by my teachers and friends. I enjoyed casually reading, but I was far too preoccupied with the business of my own existence to bother with due dates and late fees. I felt intimidation when I entered the building, never knowing what was a “good book” and what wasn’t. The transition from Children’s Room to adult stacks isn’t always easy. The sheer volume of choices made me insecure; I had no idea where to start.
When the director hired me, I felt as if I was entering an elite group. They didn’t hire many students and the work was far better than waiting tables or watching the playground. I worked after school four days a week and was home by dinner every night. I shelved books, assisted patrons, and didn’t have to change a single diaper – it was fantastic.
Working at the library helped shape the person I am today, the teacher I am today. I fell back in love with reading. I. Fell. Hard. In no time my intimidation was gone and I could navigate the fiction and non-fiction like a mouse in a literary maze. I was always reading something, adamantly refusing to carry a purse that wouldn’t fit a glossy hard cover. When senior year approached and I began to look at my options for life, I knew I had to keep living in this world of books. Even further, I wanted to help other people my own age develop the same love I had – from cynic to celebrator.
With this idea in mind, I earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Secondary Education: English. My goal was to help students embrace reading; they didn’t have to love it, but they had to be willing to try. The library taught me to accept all readers and find what worked for them; an invaluable lesson when working with generally disgruntled teenagers. To them, the idea of reading was fundamental and no pleasure could be derived from the process. They stared blankly at me as I whipped books off the shelves like a disillusioned maniac, preaching the wonders of literature. “Seriously,” I’d profess, with an ear-to-ear smile, “You’re going to like it. Trust me!”
Over time, I created a culture in my classroom. I found immense joy when a student told me they “didn’t mind reading that.” The expectation for reading was formed from my work at the library. The change I found in myself as a life-long reader I can now pass on to my students. The library welcomes me back each summer with open arms, a job at which I regularly use my unique combination of library/education experience to help students find books for summer work and fun. Without my first job at sixteen, I would not be the teacher I am today. I’m a firm believer in the potential the library shelves hold, and I intend on sharing that belief for the next thirty years.
Alyssa Littlefield, High School English Teacher/Library Assistant