Eclectic Middle School library media specialist Amy Harrell

Daniel Dye / The Herald

Eclectic student Sarah Lovelady, left, receives reading guidance from EMS library media specialist Amy Harrell.

Editor's Note: This is part of a series of stories featuring Elmore County teachers.

Eclectic Middle School’s Amy Harrell is in her eighth year as a library media specialist. 

According to Harrell, she’s seen the role of the librarian grow beyond being keeper of the books resting on the shelves.

“The role of the librarian is changing,” she said. “We are really collaborating with classroom teachers to extend what they are doing in the classroom. That goes beyond language arts. 

"We are pulling in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) resources. We are trying to see this space as more than just a place for reading.”

A recent project Harrell conducted with sixth-grade students had nothing to do with checking out books for a report or a specific reading assignment. It involved graphite, a circuit board and a Google Chromebook.

“I had a group of sixth-graders create a remote control to a Tetris game through a Makey Makey kit (which is an electronic invention tool and toy that allows users to connect everyday objects to computer programs),” Harrell said. “That’s been really good for me. Using STEM in the library has pushed me out of my comfort zone. It’s not about just the books anymore. It’s about reaching and working with the teachers to give kids new experiences.

“Several sixth-graders got very excited as they were tinkering and creating this remote control. It was a complete STEM activity. I didn’t even have a book to go with it.”

Elmore County Schools director of professional learning and development Amy Harrison recently commented on the role of the county’s school librarians.

“We are really looking at librarians as an untapped resource,” Harrison said. “Many librarians are now collaborating with teachers to deliver STEM lessons or reading lessons. We want kids to be able to think, discover the answers on their own and not be afraid to make mistakes.”

Harrell said all Elmore County public school librarians are going through strong professional development courses related to STEM. 

“We’re all going to a workshop to learn how to bring in resources that include a variety of projects,” Harrell said. According to Harrell, one way Eclectic Middle School’s library can accommodate active learning involves something simple — seats and tables.

“Currently the seating and the tables in the library are heavy,” Harrell said. “A new trend among libraries is to have flexible seating. Having chairs and tables we can move around will allow students to work in small groups.” 

She expects the library will receive chairs students can easily move around sometime this school year. Future purchases by the library will include tables that can be configured in different ways. 

While utilizing the library in new and innovative ways to enrich the learning process is important to Harrell, she realizes growing students’ reading skills is critical to success in the classroom and beyond.

“I tell the students if they can read their lives will be better,” she said. “I think that better readers have an easier time. We all need to value how important reading is.”

Harrell said one of her challenges with middle school students is to keep them excited about reading.

“As kids get older, some get disenchanted with reading,” she said. “I’m super enthusiastic about the books that we have, and I think it is my responsibility to show them. I always think of it as introducing my friends to the students here. 

“I’ve read so many of these books here if I could help them find that one book that just really speaks to them. There are so many inspiring books here about kids who overcome.”

Harrell isn’t afraid of the changing role of libraries.

“I’m really excited to see how this new library direction is going,” she said. “I’m in the process of making those shifts and I really depend on my fellow librarians in the system and the teachers here. They are very creative. It’s just a good time to be a librarian.”