A Legacy of Librarianship

May 24, 2016

A Legacy of Librarianship

Mother and Son SLIS alums share their experiences at Simmons and in the LIS profession

In honor of Simmons Commencement this month, we’re featuring two interviews with alums of the LIS program: Tricia London ’88LS and her son, Alex London ’14LS. The mother and son attended Alex’s Beta Beta Chapter induction ceremony in Spring 2014, and Tricia shared that Alex had been a baby when she attended her own ceremony. We asked mother and son a few questions about their legacy of librarianship. 

Q&A with Tricia London '88LS, Library Director, Avon Middle High School

How do you think your experience at Simmons differed from your son’s? Similar? 

I began the MLS program at Simmons back in the dinosaur days, pre-Internet!  Cutting-edge meant using a CD-ROM encyclopedia with my sixth graders while student teaching! I was working at a stock brokerage firm fulltime and going to school nights, taking a media class. I had to make a video interview.  I worked with a retired Patriots player, John Hannah, and he graciously allowed me to interview him. This was during the time when video cameras weighed twenty-five pounds and rested on your shoulder. The camcorder, (or maybe it was me) malfunctioned and only recorded audio. This was my first introduction to the concept of “technology fails.” When Alex started Simmons he recorded an entire concert, and it fit onto a tiny Sandisk memory card. Today there’s no need for a physical storage device; the recording can be synced to the cloud.

Did you encourage him to pursue librarianship? 

Alex decided to attend Simmons and become a librarian on his own. Did I encourage him in his love for reading? Certainly! Alex grew up surrounded by books. I read and re-read all of the Alfie and Annie books to him and helped him write a letter to author, Shirley Hughes—and she wrote back! When he was three we had to eat “bread and jam” just like Frances. Alex inhaled books. When Alex was four I picked him up from his kindergarten interview and the teacher told me he took a turn when it was reading time. I knew Alex spent a lot of time looking at books at home, but I didn’t realize that he could actually read. On the way back I quizzed him with street signs, and sure enough, the teacher was right. Alex has always been low key in that regard. 

I chose to only work part-time outside the home while my kids were growing up. I was a young adult/reference librarian at our local town library. I worked on “early release” Wednesdays, so Alex and his sister would walk to library after school and hang out for the afternoon, which they both enjoyed. Once a month I ran a book group for middle school students, and one for high school students, which ended up being my kids and many of their friends. When Alex was in high school he was the “Late Closer” at the library. He would browse for books, and sit and read while groups held programs in the community meeting room. I still work part-time, one night a week at the Westwood Public Library as a Reference Librarian where I have been working for eighteen years. I do a technology drop-in program for adults. I enjoy working with senior citizens after being with teens all day.

What courses or experiences at Simmons were the most rewarding and/or applicable to your current work? 

My two favorite classes at Simmons were Children’s Literature and Young Adult Literature with Professor Maggie Bush. I remember spirited discussions about those new-fangled American Girl dolls and the controversy around the company hiring well-known authors to write for these commercial purposes. I chuckled years later when Alex’s younger sister could not get enough of Molly and her stories of the Great Depression. One of my YA Lit course projects involved curating an imaginary library collection for an underserved population. I focused on LGBTQ lit.  This class opened my eyes to the genre, and the knowledge is something I still use today as I strive to build an inclusive collection in my own library. 

Can you talk about your work on the Mass Library System’s E-books Steering Committee? How do you think e-books are changing librarianship and school libraries?

I work with students in grades 7-12 who often expect immediate information. E-books help me get that information to students quickly. I am on the collection development team, and I purchase nonfiction and fiction YA audio and e-books for the MA Commonwealth Collection. This collection helps me augment my print collection. However, I work in a non-affluent district. Even if I can get an e-book for a student, he or she may not have a way to access the e-book. 

I love the immediacy of e-books, and love being able to get a sequel in a manner of minutes. However, one problem is the browse-ability factor. With my physical collection I can showcase new books and market acclaimed fiction with themed displays. When the physics class is visiting the library they will usually find something on the new books shelf that catches their eyes.  Sadly this does not happen with e-books. 

You’ve received several awards for your work promoting student learning and other areas of importance to school libraries—can you talk about your philosophy or approach to working with middle and high students? 

I love books and I like kids, so really I have a dream job. My school is grades 7-12, and I teach Information Literacy to all seventh and eighth graders. This allows me to get to know the kids when they start and watch them grow. One of our graduating seniors fell in love with sci-fi when he was in seventh grade and still reads sci-fi today. When I returned to work full-time I was not sure if I wanted to work with middle school or high school kids. At my school I get to do both. I work in a small environment with only 340 students, so I learn everybody’s name and what they like to read. If they do not like to read, there is still a place for them in our library. We have board games and puzzles too.. I am also the coach of the school Academic Decathlon team—we qualified for e-nationals for the first time this year—and the advisor for the Diversity Club, so I am pretty involved in our school culture.  Every year we do a One School/One Book summer reading program, and in the fall I plan and execute a giant Cecil B. Demille celebration of the book.  

How do you think involvement in professional organizations like ALA, YALSA, and regional groups can enrich librarians’ practices and programs?

I am a member of MSLA (Massachusetts School Library Association), YALSA, and ALA. I think belonging to these organizations is hugely important in our profession.  Since I am a sole practitioner in my little school library, these organizations give me connection to the outside world. When you need advice or have questions, other librarians are a wealth of knowledge. It was exciting to be a member of YALSA this year when ALA Midwinter was held in Boston. I brought nine students to participate in the Teen Feedback Session for the Best Fiction for Young Adults Award. The BFYA Committee, authors, publishers, and librarians from all over the country, listened to what the students had to say about the approximately 150 nominated titles. It was an amazing experience. The students also got to lunch with authors, and receive tons of advanced reader copies (ARCs) of their books. They could barely lift their backpacks because of all of the ARCs! The kids had the time of their life. We were also invited to Cassandra Clare’s Book Launch at the Top of the Hub featuring yummy desserts. This was a “pinch-me-is-this-real?” moment.

Q&A with Alex London '14LS, Reference Librarian, Worcester Public Library

What made you decide to focus your career on public library reference work? Did you first start working in public libraries because of familiarity to the profession via your mother’s work?

Certainly, the fact that my mother brought me to the library at a very young age led me to my love of public libraries. I used to work at a public library in the same library network where I got my very first library card, and I discovered by looking at my record that I got my first card at age 4, and that I checked out a lot of books since then. That being said, I believe that I decided to go into the field of library reference independently. I’ve always loved research, and finding the answers to questions. The fact that the library lets me buy books for a living makes librarianship a dream job as well. However, I’m sure that my mom was happy that I chose to be a librarian. 

What courses or experiences at Simmons were the most rewarding and/or applicable to your current work?

The reference classes I took—especially LIS 407with Professor Lisa Hussey—were extremely valuable. Though all of my classes I took were applicable to my current work in some way. For example, even though I focused on reference, the young adult literature class I took helped me to become much more confident in providing reader’s advisory for teens.

How do you think your experience at Simmons differed from your mother’s? Similar?

I think the technology I learned about in LIS 488 was more advanced than what she was taught. I think the overall mission of librarianship has not changed though, just the tools we use. My advisor Professor Candy Schwartz was teaching at Simmons when my mom attended, so that was something we had in common as well.

What do you feel are the most pressing issues public librarians must grapple with today? Thoughts on the future of the profession?

I think it is safe to say the future of the profession is bright. I believe user instruction is, and will continue to be, an incredibly important skill for librarians. Many library users know information can be found online, but do not know how to access it. A librarian can teach them what resources to use, how to access them, and how to evaluate the information they find.  Additionally, the digital divide is real, and people are being left behind. Librarians can play an important part in teaching people the skills they need to successfully navigate a world that increasingly expects people to be tech-savvy. I think the challenge is to market ourselves, and let the public discover what amazing resources public libraries are, and how much we have to offer.

Photo: Alex and Tricia London at the Beta Beta Chapter of Beta Phi Mu induction ceremony at Simmons College in April 2014.