by Steve Zalusky
Sheikla Blount maintains a high standard for the library at Columbiana Middle School in Columbiana, Alabama, even in an environment where it has not necessarily been required.
In the words of Jason Mayfield, her fellow teacher and nominator for the 2017 I Love My Librarian Award, “Ms. Blount has had to fight and create everything that’s good in that library. She hasn’t had resources, finances, or really any encouragement to do the exceptional job that she’s done. Time and again, she’s risen to a standard far above anyone at the school and in the county.”
Mayfield said Blount, whom he calls a “quiet giant,” was the first National Board certified teacher the school has had. In addition, she has been relentless in making sure media center programs serve the needs of readers, whether they are reluctant or advanced.
Her library is a welcoming place, a warm contrast to what it was before her arrival. Mayfield said, “The previous librarian wouldn’t open until two weeks into the school year. She would close the entire month of May to inventory. Ms. Blount has always been welcoming Day 1.”
As soon as the first week of school starts, the library is open to students who wish to check out books. And before the school day begins, the library is available for reading and project work.
Blount has had a direct impact on her students, mentoring one high school student in particular who wanted to become a librarian. That student knew even in middle school that she wanted to enter the library profession. Four years later, she had the chance to receive a teaching internship and asked to return to the middle school to work with Blount.
Mayfield said, “She had the student volunteer twice a week to work in my classroom. As she explained, ‘A librarian’s job is not just sorting books all day so she needs to work in a classroom to get the full experience.’ With the senior’s help, my students were able to publish a creative book of their own.”
That is just one example of how Blount collaborates with teachers, another being a project she and Mayfield conducted to enhance student learning, the “Read More, Read Better” campaign. It helped result in several students qualifying for high academic honors.
Blount has served as a model of success to minority students and has relentlessly advocated for minority author inclusion at book competitions in the county.
She has also helped create and sponsor programs, including a book competition and two teams at the Junior United Nations Assembly, in the process ensuring that children who don’t usually participate in after-school activities are included.
Most important, she makes sure reading material reaches her students’ hands.
Mayfield said, “I teach at her school and know firsthand that student access to books is very limited outside of the school. Very few of the students go to the public library. Many of them have parents who will not buy reading material. I have seen this time and again with my summer reading list for my class.
“We do not have the Title I money that our elementary feeder schools have to give students books – to keep – so Ms. Blount has worked to build and maintain a library with very little outside support. Additionally, she has worked to get technology, e-readers and tablets, into student hands and available through checkout. Her library serves a unique and critical need that you might not understand unless you were from a rural environment.”
Interviewed following her receipt of the award, Blount said about winning recognition, she said, “It’s such a big award, and just to be considered for it is just amazing. And just to think that one of my co-workers took the time to actually write about me and to think that I actually deserved such an award.”
She said, “I would hope that I would instill in every kid to realize the value of libraries and that that is the link to them being successful students and how important it is that they incorporate the library into their studies, because that is how they are going to find their answers. That is how they are going to get support for their learning and their projects.”
Asked about the importance of libraries, she said, “I grew up in a rural school, and going to the library was really important and one of my favorite things to do. And I would want to say that libraries are just vital, and everyone needs to be connected to the library.”