JLG’s April Librarian of the Month honor goes to Billerica Memorial High School and Rachel Bouhanda. She has been a school librarian for over a decade and has been creating new resources for students all while transitioning to a new library space!
Rachel Bouhanda, Librarian at Billerica Memorial High School
Rachel has been at the Billerica Memorial High School in Billerica, Massachusetts for 6 years. Before that, she worked at Revere elementary and high schools, bringing her total time as a school librarian to 13 years!
But how did she end up in the stacks of a school library? She already had a B.A. in American Studies with a minor in communication from Rutgers University. But then Rachel moved to Massachusetts after getting married and was ready for a career change. She started to think about going back to school and doing something different. Rachel remembers her aunt, a retired school librarian that left right after digitizing the card catalog, telling her, “You’re really good at computers and I think that’s where the field is going.” So, Rachel went back to school to get her master’s as a school librarian.
New school, new library
“This year I got a brand-new high school (building)! We started off in September and moved into a new building. We used to be a 9-12 grade high school and now in the new building we are 8-12. We went from 1,200 students to 1,600 students,” said Rachel. “I was very fortunate to be able to go into the meetings with the other administrators and be able to give my input to the architects.”
Rachel said it took about 5 years to build the new high school, but thanks to the principal (who went to high school at Billerica himself), the timeline didn’t affect students and staff adversely. “He’s really strongly invested in the school,” she said of the principal. “And that really helps build the community.”
The new library holds much more than just books! With Rachel’s input, they incorporated lots of spaces for students to blossom, including a space for an innovation group called “Product Fair” that is similar to “Shark Tank” for both business students and those who enjoy tinkering.
There is also a Peer Leadership group in the library’s “1655” room, designated primarily for professional development. “1655 was the year the town was created,” said Rachel, adding that the room has an expanded copy of the town’s founding papers on one wall. Talk about pride and heritage!
Billerica is also working on opening a café in the library. Of course, the café space won’t just be any café, Rachel said. It will also be the College and Career Center, where the school can host admissions reps from various colleges that come to talk to students about their different programs. Parts of the old tin roof from the original high school were incorporated into the College and Career Center design.
Rachel also manages an active student tech support team and an “Innovation Center,” which eventually will be a space for students to train other students and teachers on using different technology. “It has a flat screen TV in there where they can Chrome Cast to do demos,” she said.
But don’t forget about the books! “We have books of course,” Rachel adds. “We have a little over 7,000 books, but we have more space to add on to that. Since we moved, I have been trying to increase the number of online resources with e-books, databases, and online resources for teachers to use too.”
“Two years ago, I won the Ellen Berne Pathfinder award through the Massachusetts School Library Association for creating Relax Cast with 3 of my students,” Rachel said. “The award was for an innovative library program. We interviewed several teachers in the school about different ways that they relax. So, we had one that did yoga. The Guidance Director did sound bowls and brought them in to show us how to use those. A teacher that is now retired had a dog that would come in for the students to experience pet therapy.”
The Relax podcast inspired a project where Rachel made sensory bottles, a few of which she still has in the library for kids to use while they’re in there. The podcast was part of the Television Production Club that Rachel advises which focuses on everything audio/visual you can imagine.
This experience has come in handy since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, taking school to students’ homes and changing the job of a school librarian drastically.
At the beginning of the pandemic in Massachusetts, students were not being required by the department of education to do schoolwork--but the department was wanting them to focus on the social/emotional part of school. This district provided a website for families to use with academic activities. Teachers are working hard to provide the connection the students need. The Relax project, plus the fact that one of Rachel’s degrees is in Education Media Technology and she's trained in designing online classes has been a huge asset to the school.
Clearly, Rachel doesn’t just hide in the stacks. In 2018, she even stepped into the role of educator ambassador for a local broadcasting service, WGBH! What was that, you ask? Well, she worked with WGBH and others to learn more about what public media’s role is in grade school education. Ultimately, she and others advised on how to implement the resources produced for educators. Keep up the good work Rachel!
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!