Bustling with activity and chatter, walls plastered with vibrant artwork and hi-tech equipment made available for student use, the Los Altos library defies our typical expectations of what a library is. Instead of pin-drop silence and a serious atmosphere, librarians Gordon Jack and Christine Bridges intend to create a fun, inspiring environment that encourages both collaboration and productivity. Together, they are pushing the boundaries of the profession and changing what it means to be a librarian.
To most, the librarian profession seems to entail rearranging shelves and helping people find books. But in the digital era, the role of librarians has changed dramatically, becoming more multi-faceted and technology-based than ever before. As academics are becoming overwhelmed with electronic resources, librarians must act as facilitators of high-value content.
“One of the hardships is people’s limited ideas of what librarians do,” Jack said. “[That] includes my wife who thinks I just sit there and check out books and levy fines. The job of the librarian now has become much more of a co-teacher with classes… it’s become much more of an information search position when there’s so much information out there, helping students find what they’re looking for.”
Jack has been at the forefront of this revolution in librarianship. Along with pushing for improvements in library technology, he has pulled bits and pieces from his past careers to develop the library into what it is today.
Before becoming Los Altos’ librarian, Jack first worked as an English teacher at Los Altos, and then moved to Mountain View to become a teacher coordinator and create the Freestyle program. Jack knew he wanted the library to be a place for more than just checking out books, and it was his involvement in Freestyle which inspired him to incorporate more interactive experiences into the library such as the Makerspace.
“Mr. Jack is innovative,” Bridges said. “Mr. Jack comes up with the ideas, and I’m the support system. I support whatever it is that he wants to do — just like the Makerspace.”
The Makerspace, or the “Media Center” as noted by the large sign above the textbooks, offers many resources such as a green screen and a recording booth. Next to the computers for printing is a table dedicated to makerspace projects. These projects were introduced last year. The purpose for the projects is to give students a creative outlet to try something new whether it be painting mason jar lanterns or designing coasters from ceramic tiles.
“Ms. Bridges has really taken this makerspace project and done amazing things with it and has really gotten people excited about the projects — that’s all her,” Jack said.
As a librarian, Jack finds that he can influence the English curriculum more than he ever could as a teacher. He starts his morning teaching a first period independent reading class alongside teacher-aid Anne Battle. Together, they work with a group of 10 Survey Skills students and have an informal reading and discussion of any book of the students’ choosing.
“If our goal in English classes is to get kids enthusiastic about reading and get them excited about talking about reading, then we should give them books that they want to read and talk about,” Jack said.
After three years of teaching mainly juniors and seniors, Battle and Jack have morphed their first period freshman class into a pilot class that promotes free reading, which Jack feels passionately about. With his extensive knowledge of contemporary, young adult and adult fiction novels, Jack has been able to make recommendations to teachers and students about free reading.
“I think, through that process, we’ve been able to move the English department toward adopting more free reading in the curriculum…” Jack said. “I don’t think I could have done that as a member of the English department or been able to think about doing it, but as a librarian, I’m in a better position to do that.”
Jack’s counterpart, Bridges, has been a librarian since she was 17. In high school, she took an opportunity to work at the NASA Ames research center in Mountain View where she was assigned to the library. She brings a more traditional perspective to the librarian team and describes herself as the “footsoldier” of the LAHS library.
“The library would not be able to function without Mrs. Bridges,” Jack said. “She keeps this place running. She can juggle six or seven different things at once and not lose her cool, she has great relationships with kids and clearly likes working with kids. We really complement each other very well, not just in our personalities, but in terms of our strengths and what we do in the library.”
Having worked at Los Altos since 1993, Bridges has seen the evolution of the Los Altos library from the days when it was merely a few portables in the back of the school, to the sprawling set-up students enjoy today. In all her years, she explains how a lot of the hardships that she faces as a librarian exist in the traditional aspects of running it. It’s difficult to find the right balance between avoiding being the grouchy librarian stereotype who constantly shushes rowdy kids, and keeping a room of sometimes over 100 students under control and on task.
“We have had fights in here,” Bridges said. “There was one time where I got in between a fight that was happening in the study room and I myself got thrown up against the wall. I’d like to avoid conflict at any means. That’s difficult.”
Despite the difficulties, Bridges loves being a librarian and doing her part to help students succeed.
“It’s all about the kids,” Bridges said. “Sometimes people ask me, ‘How do you work with high school students?’ It’s easy, you just treat them how you want to be treated, and they are great. You build trust. It’s really all about the kids.”