“I just want students to fall in love with the space of the library and feel welcomed there and affirmed there,” said MSIS student Alissa Browning-Couch as she explained why she decided to make a career change and become a school librarian.
Browning-Couch doesn’t have a background in education or libraries but she fell in love with the work children and school librarians do when she started taking her own kids to the local library, and when they started attending elementary school.
She joined the Tennessee Library Association in the middle of 2020 as a way to learn more from others in the field and to seek out professional development opportunities – so she was pleased and felt affirmed in her choice to start a new career when the Association chose her to receive the Edwin S. Gleaves Scholarship. The scholarship gives $1,500 to a library and/or information sciences student who is a member of TLA, to help with tuition, books, and technology expenses.
This fall, Browning-Couch will get some hands-on experience as a student teacher in Chattanooga, where she lives. She’ll get five weeks each in elementary, middle, and high school libraries. She said she is especially interested in middle schoolers because they’re in such a transitional part of their lives, and discovering who they are. After seeing how her own children benefited from their school library, Browning-Couch said she is excited to be a part of something that can positively impact a lot of students in a school.
“What the school library can do in the lives of students, and how it can serve students in such a unique way, is really important. It is an accessible, welcoming space for all children,” she said.
Browning-Couch said that she knows students’ experiences at their school library can be a decisive factor in whether or not they’ll use public libraries as adults. Instilling information literacy into children who may only get to experience libraries through their school is a passion of hers.
Her experience in the MSIS program has also been affirming, and she describes the instructors as flexible, understanding, and supportive as they taught throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. She describes the very first class she took, Children’s Materials with lecturer Suzanne Sherman, as a fresh start that made her excited about a new and daunting academic endeavor.
“I think everybody at SIS has done a great job of communicating to us and reminding us that they understand and it’s hard and they want to work with us. Even if you don’t need the extra help it’s nice to know that they’re supportive,” she said.