Q&A: Librarian Susan Geiger and Moreau Catholic High School

An ongoing look at BayNet members who work in libraries and information services around the Bay Area.

How did you become a high school librarian?
My early career was in a public library as a children’s librarian and then as young adult librarian. I moved on to become a Branch Librarian but knew working with teens was what I really enjoyed.When I heard about the position at Moreau Catholic High School I was attracted to the idea of having a captive audience of teens. What I soon learned was that I would have three categories of patrons – students, teachers, and administration each with different needs. Also the idea of a school schedule with a long summer break was very attractive to me as the mother of a two year old.

Librarian Susan Geiger

How has technology impacted your role as a school librarian?
The library team’s role has changed as the school embraced technology. We are first-line tech support for over 900 students and their laptops. As the only information professional in the school, it’s my job to keep teachers and administrators aware of current research, curriculum trends, and useful web tools.  My Twitter stream, blog reader, and social networks are composed almost entirely of library, education, and educational technology sources.

My staff and I do a lot of instructional and technical support for teachers. They come to us with an idea or a lesson plan, and we try to find the best technology and resources to support their learning objectives. In the process we provide information literacy instruction to their students. We create digital pathfinders using LibGuides software that allows us to embed RSS feeds, video and other media.  We do presentations on Digital parenting to help our parents understand and work with their digital native children.

One of the biggest changes I have seen since becoming a laptop school is the transformation of the library into a production space.  Students use our conference room to record voice-overs and to edit video, and it’s common to find kids filming all over the library. We have 3 flat screen TVs in the library that screen MCTV, our student run, digital TV station. We also use the TVs to run new book promotions that we create in powerpoint, save as jpgs and play as slide shows.  We have two drop down LCD screens in the main seating area that students use to give presentations. Recently the library hosted a Skype conference for an AP Government class with an alumna, Rosie Rios, the US Treasurer.

The library is a very popular place on our campus.  Students come to check out books, flash drives, headphones, and video cameras. They use our tables to work in groups, and our power outlets to charge their laptops . They ask for help in person, by chat, and even by email. They become fans on our Facebook page. The students see the library as a learning commons.

Lunch hour in the Moreau Catholic High School Library

Lunch hour in the Moreau Catholic High School Library

What school projects you’ve done that you’re the most proud of?
When my school was three years into our roll out as a 1:1 laptop school, it became obvious to me that our faculty needed to become more comfortable using their laptops.  My staff and I led a “23 Things” web 2.0 staff development program using the CSLA 23 Things Classroom Learning program as a model. The program was pretty successful because we did a lot of marketing and had great support from our administration. The incentive to sign up for the 9-week program was that the participants were allowed to wear jeans every Friday. We designed a black t-shirt with the school logo and the legend, “23 Things for 21st century Learners.” Our school has a dress code and wearing jeans is a big deal.

We made a promotional video featuring teachers and administrators to introduce 23 Things and an Animoto video of the first people to sign up and create blogs.  Seventy-seven administrators, teachers and staff signed up. Every Friday was Tech Friday when my staff and I provided personal assistance and treats.  By going into the offices and classrooms of people setting up blogs and using various web tools we provided, “Roadside Assistance”.  In the process we forged a lot of personal relationships, taught a lot of people how to use their toolbar menu, and established the library as a “go to” place for technical assistance.

What was the most memorable experience you had as a librarian?
Three years , prepare for a library remodel and expansion, I moved my entire library into four storage rooms and two classrooms.  I planned the move on graph paper and had the book collection measured down to the inch on spreadsheets. We broke down shelves and then moved and reassembled all of the shelving and most of the book collection during a three-week period. I have memories of standing on study carrels, socket wrench in hand, dismantling our lovely old wood wall shelving. I still can’t believe we got everything done in time.

Moreau Catholic High School Library

What do you love and hate about your job?
I love just about everything about my job, especially helping students find recreational reading and working with teachers on making curriculum relevant and exciting. As a school librarian in an independent school I get to do a bit of everything: acquisitions, reference, cataloging, marketing, web design, staff development, and teaching. It’s very satisfying to come up with the perfect piece of research for an administrator taking a graduate course, the perfect book to hook a 10th grade reluctant reader, and the perfect resource or web tool to fit a teacher’s curriculum need all in the same period.

There has been a lot of press lately about whether schools still need libraries because of a perception that students don’t use books anymore.  I think this is a ridiculous argument because students and faculty need books, electronic resources, and librarians. What has changed is that I buy much less reference and non-fiction in print. One of our challenges is to teach students how to use databases and eBooks, which they sometimes find complex after their search experiences with Google.

The food police role is probably the least favorite part of my job. I wish we could have a library café area, but our new library is carpeted.

Are you impacted by the California economic downturn?
As an independent school we are dependent on our families being able to afford tuition.  While the school is committed to providing as much tuition assistance as possible, it’s still a struggle for many of our families. Compared to the catastrophic budget cuts affecting librarian positions in public schools, the independent school sector has been pretty fortunate.  Still, many of my colleagues and I are trying to do more with fewer resources these days.

Any advice for SLIS students thinking about becoming a high school librarian?
It’s great job because you get to do a bit of everything, but it would help to be into multi-tasking and screaming teens.