JLG’s March Librarian of the Month honor goes to Hilliard Weaver Middle School and its dedicated staff of one, Christina Dorr. She has been a JLG member for many of her 30+ years as a school librarian. We had the chance to meet her at a local conference recently, and in our 5-minute interaction we knew we needed to share her story. Here’s the 411...
Passion from the start
With a passion for children’s books, Christina Dorr has worked in libraries for patrons aged pre-school to grad school. Growing up in a large family, Christina says books were communal.
“I had a mom who liked to read, even though she didn’t have much time for it herself. And she took us to the public library, and she would read to us or tell us stories every night,” recounts Christina.
Once she began school, Christina knew she would be some sort of academic. As she says, “Schools, books, and libraries have been a really good fit for me my whole life. I always knew I was going to work in a career having something to do with schools or libraries.
“I thought I'd be a high school English teacher. I tried public librarianship and I tried college librarianship and I liked it all. But when I found school librarianship, that’s where it really stuck.”
Making her mark on her middle school
Christina recalls that, during her days as an elementary school librarian, collection development came fairly easily. But when she took over the librarian role at Weaver Middle School, curating a solid collection of middle-grade and early teen books for her 945 7th and 8th grade students was a little outside of her comfort zone.
“JLG became crucial for me when I moved to a middle school because I didn’t know true middle school and into teen books well at all,” she says. “Once I knew I got this job, one of the first things I did was call my JLG rep and say, ‘Hey I need you to help me out with this. I’m switching schools and I need to put together a collection that meets their needs.’ And the kids love them!”
With her broad collection and her approach to inclusive student engagement, Christina has transformed the middle school’s library. Christina says she manages her school library with a mission to provide as many opportunities to students as possible, adding that students have opportunities to come into the library during class time, lunch time, and before and after school.
“Not only do I work with teachers to teach all kinds of content areas, research projects, and technology usage, but I also feel that my space is flexible and that I provide opportunities that kids have let me know they like,” she says.
A place for everyone
It helps that the Weaver Middle School library space, which was renovated a couple years before Christina’s arrival, is extraordinarily kid-friendly.
“Kids love coming in here,” Christina says. “We have comfy areas, high-top tables. We have technology. There’s plenty here for kids to use and do. But it’s also about trying to make the environment make kids want to come to do things here.”
Among those library activities are lots of different clubs that Christina helps the students launch and run.
“A lot of the things I do only have a small number of kids who are interested, but it really meets a need for those kids. I try to keep it open and flexible and most of them know that they can sucker me into doing whatever club or creating whatever opportunity they need,” she says.
Case in point, a student asked for a poetry club after enjoying a library poetry slam, so the poetry club was born. That same student suggested a “music-writing” club and, despite having no experience in writing music, Christina took it on.
“I play around on the drums a bit, but other than that I can’t write music,” Christina laughs. “But... I said, ‘Sure, we’ll give it a try,’ and that’s my answer for almost anything they want to try. I happened to meet a musician who used to work with middle school kids and wanted to volunteer, and he’s been working with us for over a year now!”
Christina also started the first middle school GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) group in the district in conjunction with the assistant principal who was at Weaver at the time. She also partnered with a science teacher who’d taken multiple trips to the Antarctic and had her come talk to the students and followed her path to the Antarctic.
Christina giving Jason Reynolds an Ohio Buckeye
Children's and Teen Book Award
Skyping Kwame Alexander
Jay Cole Visiting the school
Best part of the job
Equally fulfilling to Christina is to take a reluctant reader or a kid who has trouble reading and find something that works for them.
"I had a 7th grader who was reading at about a 2nd grade reading level and he found a set of graphic novels, read them all, and then went on to read others too," she recalls. "Those kinds of successes come from talking books and getting them connected with what they need or want.”
“Hands down, the best part of my job is talking books with kids,” says Christina. “We just started our March Madness reading challenge recently and [it feels great] to see the kids, especially the ones who act like they aren’t interested at first, writing down a few book titles they want to read. I always tell them that I’ll get them any book they want as long as it is a children’s or teen book. So, they turn papers in and say, ‘Can you get me this one first and then this one next?’ So those are the best things!”
Life outside the library
“The hobbies I do outside of school also revolves around books and writing and travel and book award committees,” says Christina. “I’ve spent 25 years at least writing and speaking about children’s books.”
Christina’s first role on an award committee was for New York state’s Knickerbocker Award for Juvenile Literature through the New York Library Association. She then moved to Ohio and "served on every Ohio state award committee except for one, the James Cooke Book Award committee. It’s my goal to serve on it in the future,” she adds.
Along with her state committee work, Christina’s also participated on the national level.
"The first was the ALSC Notable Children’s Book List, which I did for two years and then from there I’ve just been asked or nominated to run for some of the other committees,” she says. “I worked on the Giesel committee one year, the Coretta Scott King committee for a couple years, Stonewall committee for two years, Young Adult section Excellence in Nonfiction Award, and the 2020 Caldecott. So now I am taking a little break from award committees. I spent 9 years doing them and hope to get back to them later.”
Christina on the drums
Life after the library
Christina will be bringing her 30 years of working in school libraries to a close after this school year, but is quick to remind us that she will still be working. She still plans to continue teaching for Kent State and wants to spend a lot more time in her log house in the woods than she can now. She also is going to be a national speaker on the topic of award-winning books starting in the in the fall. And, she's finishing up her third book! Plus, she’s looking forward to writing reviews again and wants to share her website as a professional resource for other librarians (www.opendorrs2books.com).
We are so proud of the work (and lots of it!) that Christina has done for Weaver Middle School and the children’s and young adult literature community as a whole. She certainly has kept busy during those 30 successful library years!
“My motto is: It’s not about the glass being half full or half empty,” she says. “It’s about filling it to the brim and letting it overflow!”
Are you a good candidate for our next JLG Librarian of the Month—or do you know someone who deserves some recognition?
Share the deets with us on social using #JLGLibrarian and tag us @juniorlibraryguild! Any librarian or library worker is qualified for this honor, so show us what you’re doing to advance literacy and the love of reading in your library! Recognized librarians receive a "Librarian of the Month" certificate, a tote bag of JLG goodies and a special offer for JLG categories and books!