In April, the Rodriguez Elementary library magically morphed into a science lab equipped with safety goggles, experiment materials, and an in-house scientist. The librarian, Ms. Mott, was mysteriously absent, and her cousin, Dr. Stein, had taken over.
Dr. Stein instructed them to place their hands on the scanner when students arrived. If granted access, students could proceed to the lab. But for some students, the scanner went BEEP BEEP BEEP and the laboratory door did not open. Dr. Stein pulled them aside and scanned them for hazardous materials before letting them in.
The students proceeded to the lab, where, with the guidance of Dr. Stein, they performed experiments, ranging in topics from gravity to electricity to sound. The young scientists were surprised to learn that a ball of paper falls at the same speed, though much lighter than a rock.
Once the experiments were complete, students made their way to the other section of the lab, where they selected their books. After much deliberation and careful selection, every student left with two books that they had chosen to add to their home libraries.
Rodriguez librarian Barbara Mott has been doing Books for Me events like this for years, but she is retiring at the end of this school year. I sat down with Barbara for a short interview about her experience as a librarian, how BookSpring’s programs benefited her students, and her plans for the future:
How long have you been a librarian, and how long have you been at Rodriguez?
I’ve been a librarian for thirteen years, and I have been here at Rodriguez all thirteen years. But it’s my 37th year as an educator.
What did you do before becoming a librarian?
I was a classroom teacher. I taught grades three, four, five, and six, but primarily grade three.
What is one memory from your time as a librarian that sticks out to you?
I have a lot of wonderful memories. I think my favorite memories are when, after an event like this, I’ll go into the cafeteria for duty, and the students run up to me and say, “Miss Mott! I met your cousin so-and-so!” “Miss Mott! I just love the books you gave me. Thanks so much for my books!” The fifth graders who left two years ago were sitting on the story steps, and we started this conversation about how their last year at Rodriguez was and what they were going to miss. They started going, “I remember when your cousin came here, and you gave all the books away!” and “I remember how you would sit with us and show us all of the books,” and “I remember that story that you read.” Because you know, after so many years, you’re like, “Am I even making a difference?” I said, “Wow, you guys remember all of that, even from kindergarten?” They said, “Yeah, we remember it, we remember it all.”
How do you think BookSpring’s programs have impacted the reading culture at Rodriguez?
It’s helped me get the students to read. The BookSpring programs helped me get them to realize that having books at home and reading wherever you are is important. And it does, as we say, grow your brain. Without BookSpring and events like this, many of our kids wouldn’t have any books at all at home. Now they know reading is important, and having a bookshelf is important.
What was your favorite Books for Me theme?
I always liked doing the fairy tales one, Monster Readers, and the camping one, but the one that I was terrified of doing was Book a Trip with the airplane. So I went through the list, and I had done all of the activities before, and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to try this.” The first time I did Book a Trip, they loved it so much. They remembered taking off in the airplane. The students said, “We’ve never been in an airplane, Ms. Mott!”
It was really fun to set up for that. That was one of the first things I did at BookSpring, and help set up Book a Trip.
Having somebody help do that’s how I get it done. I can’t do it by myself. The first couple I tried doing by myself, and it just doesn’t work, but having the volunteers come and help, add to it, and make the imagination grow is everything.
Over the years, have you noticed how the summer success program has impacted your students? If so, how?
We haven’t had the chance to do the Summer Success program continuously because of covid. When we did the drive-by pickup, the summer success worked out well for the students and parents who did come. But the ones who were too busy or couldn’t make it or didn’t want to leave the house didn’t get their books. The summers when they did have the books to read, the kids would tell me, “Yes, I did read them.” I asked them, “How many times did you read them?” They said, “I read them a lot.” One parent brought me the sack of books and said, “My kid said they got all of these books.” I said, “Yeah, they get all of these books through the Summer Success program. They were worried the kid had taken them or picked up a bag from a teacher or something like that. [Laughs] The parent came and asked, “Miss Mott, where did all of these books come from? Are these your books?”
What is something you will miss about being a school librarian?
The kids, and reading with the kids. I will really miss being with the kids and talking about stories with them. I’ll miss helping a kid who doesn’t want to read find the right book, and when they actually start to want to read again, or when they’ll start to want to read. That’s what I’ll miss, bigtime.
Yeah, it is exciting when a kid doesn’t want to read and finds the right book.
Yeah, because sometimes they’ll tell me, “Miss Mott, I hate reading, I don’t like reading.” I forget which author said it, but I always tell the kid, “There’s no such thing as hating reading; you just haven’t found the right book yet. Let’s go see what we can find.”
What are you most looking forward to about retirement?
I was hanging out with my family, getting to see friends. But I’ve also promised my parents that I’m going to write a children’s book that explains the angels to kids and what angels do. That’s one, and then I’m supposed to write another book called Yowza. [Laughs] So we’ll see if that happens.
Can you give us any teasers about Yowza?
When something good happens, you go, “Yowza, that’s for me?” Or you fall, and you hurt your knee, and you go, “Yowza!” There are multiple uses for the word. My chiropractor’s idea was to write a book explaining the word “yowza.”
Any advice to new librarians trying to build a strong reading culture on their campus?
If you want a strong reading culture, you have to show kids how much you love books. It would be best if you gave them time to read. I had to fight to get our kids time to read in the classroom, time to read before school, or time to read after school. If you want to culture reading, you have to show what that culture looks like. You have to model it. You have to give them the resources to read. If they don’t have books, they’re not going to read.
Any last comments?
It’s been a really wonderful thirteen years as a librarian. Anyone who gets the chance to be a librarian, especially in an elementary school, with the little kids, is the best job you can get. I always had the older kids — second, third, fourth, and fifth — so thinking about trying to do pre-k and kindergarten was scary. But they’re the groups that are the most fun. Branch out, do new things. Don’t be afraid to try something that you’re not sure will work. Try it anyway.
Everyone at BookSpring wishes Barbara a happy retirement!
Our applications for the Books for Me program for the 2022-2023 school year are open. Apply here.