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5 QUESTIONS: ‘I CAN’T STAY AWAY’

September 18, 2019

 

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT

Rutherford County Schools

 

Erin Alvarado is in her 17th year as an educator and her eighth as a librarian and media specialist.

 

Alvarado, who began her career as a Spanish teacher, spent seven years in the library at Central Magnet School before taking a position as an instructional technology coach. After just two years, the allure and the passion for libraries and literature led her to the LaVergne High School library.

 

“I missed the students more than anything,” Alvarado said.

 

Walking back into a library after a two-year absence felt right for the Chapel Hill native.

 

Alvarado recently spoke about the task of establishing a new culture in LaVergne’s library, collaborating with students and teachers, and her own lifelong passion for literacy.

 

RCS:When it comes to making the library all that it can be – a destination for students and teachers – you have a task in front of you. How do you do that? What is step one?

 

ERIN:Well, the first step was making it look more like a space the students would want to be in. We were fortunate enough to be able to have some volunteers come in and repaint and move the circulation desk and have new furniture and build a media room. Really just open the space up to when the students and teachers walked in, they felt like it was something new even though it had always been here, and they kind of felt like they were rediscovering something. That is still a work in progress. It's not done, but, I mean, that generated a lot of excitement right off the bat. It's their place. It's their home. They get to come with friends and have their coffee in the morning or eat their breakfast or hang out in a place where previously they didn't come. They can talk. They can talk loud if they want to or find a quiet space if they need to. I feel like we made a big impact pretty quickly. And we've had a class every day in here since the beginning of school — every single day — which kind of blew my expectations out of the water.

 

RCS:What's the response been like?

 

ERIN: We're early in the year, but the response from the teachers has been wonderful so far. Part of that, I know is because having worked with the teachers before and collaborated with them, they knew me. They trusted me. They knew how excited I was to come over here and that we could collaborate together in a different way. I feel fortunate that I had that buy in from the faculty already. That they knew they would be welcome and we could create together.

 

RCS:Right. You are still collaborating with teachers, but in a way in which you get firsthand collaboration with students.

 

ERIN:Yes. Like this morning for example, I was working with one of our strategic reading teachers. ... We decided that twice a month we would have a touch with the freshmen. One of them is a mobile checkout where (Carissa Benton and I) both bring the carts down, book talk and get the kids really excited about that. Then they come in the library once a month.

 

RCS:Where and when did the passion for books and literacy come from?

 

ERIN:We read all the time in my house. Mom and dad read to us. My dad, in particular, was a voracious reader and my mom reads too, but dad just read anything that he could get his hands on. From my earliest memories, we were always read to or were reading and in the library. That was one of the best things. I can remember being young and once a week we would go to the library. We didn't have one in Chapel Hill, so we would go to Franklin. We'd go to the library with our library card and we could pick whatever we wanted. It was just magical. I always knew that this was a love, a big love of my life.

 

RCS:Did you ever think it would become a job, that you could cultivate a career?

 

ERIN:Not when I was young. Not at that age. ... I started out as a Spanish teacher because I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I was at a TEA Conference – Tennessee Education Association – and one of the presenters talked about how this was her first year as a media specialist – as a librarian at her school – and she talked about how wonderful it was. She said if you want to know how I did it, see me afterwards. … I didn't even really think of that as something I could do. I did know pretty clearly from where I was working at the time that, that there could be a lot of things going on in a media center that weren't happening there. The perception of the library was we're going to shush you and kind of a precious don't touch my books and just kind of an antiquated idea of what a library and a librarian would be. When I met this woman, she was young and she was vivacious and I thought, “I could be that kind of librarian.” We talked and she said, "You just have to get your master's" and explained the process. I spent the summer researching how I would do it and I started as quickly as I could. I started in August. By the time I was able to get a job in the library was three years and then Central (Magnet School) was opening up and I managed to get one of the librarian positions there. Here we are now. I can't stay away.

 

PHOTO / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT