Alumna takes reins as president of national school librarians association

School librarian Kathy Carroll likes to be in the middle of the action and that’s where she finds herself every day, whether it’s helping students at Westwood High School in Blythewood or advocating for her profession as president-elect of the American Association of School Librarians.

Carroll, the lead librarian at Westwood, wants everyone to know what she tells students and teachers: Libraries have something for every interest, and librarians teach as well as create curriculum. And that old stereotype of a prim and proper school librarian shushing children? Not even close to reality in today’s libraries.

“Everyone says the school library is the hub. It’s a cliché, but it is the hub. All facets of the school should lead to the library. As school librarians, we’re teachers with a focus on literacy, technology and many other resources that were almost unimaginable only a few short years ago,” says Carroll, who earned her undergraduate degree in English, a master’s in teaching and a master’s from the School of Library and Information Science, all at the University of South Carolina.

Carroll, who grew up in Sumter, South Carolina, started out in the classroom, teaching high school English for 16 years in Richland District 2. She loved it, but found she wanted “a broader scope.” She looked at various options, and decided to head back to her alma mater to become a librarian.

“When I had to choose a specialization for my library fiture, I immediately decided to focus on school libraries. I saw how important a school librarian was to the school community, not just the students but the faculty and all stakeholders,” Carroll says. “We’re here to help, we’re here to broaden horizons.”

She first worked as a librarian at Ridge View High School in Northeast Columbia, and when Westwood High opened in 2012, she was chosen to be the lead librarian, with the chance to create a collection from nothing, something she called “daunting, but invigorating.”

Her work outside the walls of Westwood High also continues. Carroll has long been active in state and national professional library and other educational  organizations and was elected this year to be the next president of the American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association. She is the first African American to hold the post, and she is one of the few working school librarians to lead the organization, which has more than 7,000 members and serves school librarians in the United States, Canada and around the world. Among her goals is to get more school librarians involved in leadership and state and  national education policymaking.

As school librarians, we’re teachers with a focus on literacy, technology and many other resources that were almost unimaginable only a few short years ago.

Kathy Carroll, School of Library and Information Science alumna

“Many of  AASL’s presidents have not been practicing school librarians. They’ve been district librarians, college professors or library program directors.  I’m coming from a different perspective that hopefully will be helpful and ensure that all points of view are represented,” she says. “I hope to empower our librarians and encourage them to share what we know with others.”

So what does she want people to understand about school librarians? “That we’re teachers, collaborators, and curriculum and literacy experts. Also, while we provide professional development for our faculty, we also participate in our own professional development through our local, state, and national associations,” she said. “I am thrilled to soon be at the helm of our national association. AASL has undergone tremendous reflection and growth and in the last few years. I believe that our mission statement, ‘AASL empowers leaders to transform teaching and learning,’ is both comprehensive yet aspirational and clearly reflects who we are. This is an exciting time to be a school librarian.” 

Ashleigh Gilley is one of those classroom teachers Carroll interacts with. Now in her eighth year of teaching, Gilley earned her bachelor’s degree in English language and literature and her master’s in education from UofSC. When she arrived to teach English at Westwood High School in 2016, Carroll was one of the first people she met.

“She welcomed me with open arms and told me to come to her if I ever needed anything,” Gilley says. “That was the first time I’d ever had a librarian offer that type of assistance. She helped develop lesson plans. She is very hands-on when it comes to students and what they need to hit educational standards in inquiry or in research. I’ve told students, ‘I like this project, but I think Ms. Carroll could help you fine tune it and introduce you to some other resources.’ Every time, she knocks it out of the ballpark.’

“You can tell she has a background in education. You see her English teacher come out. The library is not a museum, and she doesn’t treat it like a museum. She loves for our students to come and explore in the library. She wants them there to engage,” Gilley says. “She loves that. And I love that about her.”

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