Hi, P. J. Hoover here, and today I am so happy to feature Laura Stiles who is not only the librarian at our middle school but was also just selected by her colleagues as Teacher of the Year. Congratulations, Laura! We are honored that you are here with us today!
TxSandS: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, and who or what inspires you?
LauraS: I'm a reader, a baker and an exerciser. I love to read and bake - I exercise only because I love to eat! I'm not a natural athlete but I do it, anyway. My husband is a lieutenant with the Austin Fire Department and we have one daughter, Emma, who is in 7th grade. I love that she attends the school where I am the librarian (Canyon Vista Middle School) but you'd have to ask her if she loves that...
I'm inspired by my family. My mother worked with the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta in the 1960s and has been advocating for social justice ever since. My stepfather started the Opportunity Center for the Homeless in El Paso in the 1990s and continues, at age 76, to chair the Social Justice committee at his church. My brother, like my husband, is with the Austin Fire Department. I'm proud to be from a family of helpers.
TxSandS: What were your goals when you first started working with kids and books, and how has that vision changed now that some time has gone by?
LauraS: My goal when I started as a librarian, in 2000, was to get every kid to love reading. That vision has changed soooooo much! My goal now is to make every kid feel like they belong in the library - especially non readers! I've found that by doing unexpected things in the library - serving hot chocolate, hosting a chocolate fountain, lots of contests and puzzles - kids find the library a fun place to be. Some of those kids who don't love to read learn to love it. And, others don't learn to love it, but they still have a safe, academic environment where they feel they belong.
TxSandS: What has been the biggest surprise since you've entered the world of books for kids and teens?
LauraS: The world of YA lit has totally changed since I was a teen. The term "YA" didn't even exist in terms of literature back then! The current generation of kids and teens get books on every possible subject. I so loved Judy Blume when I was in middle school - I read and reread her books because I didn't see much else out there for me. Now, there's a seemingly endless supply of books for teens. I love that there are books about happy teens, hurt teens, teens of every ethnicity and income bracket and home life, etc. I truly believe there is a book - or many books - for every single kid out there.
TxSandS: How do you see reading changing for teens in the next couple years? What challenges do you see? And what can we do to help?
LauraS: About once a week someone asks me, "Are you worried about the shift to electronic reading? Aren’t you worried for your job?!" I love that kids can read electronically; I think it may make readers out of kids that might not read otherwise. That said, I like the feel of a book - the actual turning of pages is a joy to me.
Challenges...yikes. The fact that some states have gotten rid of school librarians or closed school libraries all together is completely frightening. I love the reading aspect of my job but I spend more than half my professional time teaching and researching. School librarians are teachers!
It astounds me to think that some people think school libraries are negotiable. They're not, and I'm so thankful to work in a school district that recognizes the value of the library.
Sweethearts and Scoundrels alike can point to the multiple state studies that have proven that quality school libraries directly impact student achievement. I'm more of the emotional/feeling type of person that appreciates school libraries that are inclusive to every kid, but testing matters when money is an issue, and the results of these studies give us the unequivocal data to prove that quality libraries positively affect test scores: http://www.lrs.org/data-tools/school-libraries/impact-studies/
TxSandS: Would you consider yourself a Sweetheart or a Scoundrel?
LauraS: A little bit of both. Hopefully people see me as more of a Sweetheart, but I'd bet my husband might label me as a Scoundrel...I like a little bit of trouble now and then!
TxSandS: Thank you again, Laura, for being here and for all you do!
Laura Leonard Stiles grew up in El Paso and graduated from The University of Texas at El Paso in 1991 with a degree in Literature. She worked in the high technology industry in Austin for several years until following her calling by becoming a middle school librarian. Laura graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Masters degree in Library and Information Science and has worked as a librarian in the Round Rock Independent School District since 2000. She lives in Northwest Austin with her husband, daughter and maniacal dog, Arlo.
If you know of someone who would make a great Featured Sweetheart, please let us know!
The best part? If you nominate someone, we'll send you a $5 Starbucks gift card :)