AYER -- With Internet access and all of the technology available to students today, one might think that school librarians are no longer an essential part of a school's professional staff. Nothing could be further from the truth.
According to a 2012 Pew Internet & American Life Project study, "How Teens Do Research in the Digital World," while the Internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than in the past, the available amount of online information is overwhelming to most students.
Today's professional librarians must be experts in teaching the search skills that help researchers evaluate the quality of information, recognize what information is and is not relevant, and synthesize information from multiple sources.
Needless to say, there is a lot more to today's "librarying" than meets the eye.
One of those who recognized the importance of the work of his school's librarian was Ayer-Shirley Regional High School Assistant Principal Al Varga. Varga recently nominated ASRHS school librarian Margaret "Peggy" Twiss for the Massachusetts School Library Association's Super-Librarian Accolade. On Jan. 26, Twiss received word that she is one of this year's five award recipients.
In a recent email to Ayer-Shirley Superintendent Carl Mock and Assistant Superintendent Mary Beth Hamel, Varga wrote, "With (Principal Brian Haas') support, I nominated Peggy, and am ecstatic that she is being recognized by her professional association for all of the hard work she does on behalf of ASRHS and our students, which we are lucky to bear witness to on a daily basis.
The Super-Librarian Accolade honors MSLA members who have demonstrated excellence in their school library programming and curriculum, or who have made a significant contribution to their school through the library.
The Busy Life of an Ayer-Shirley Veteran
In a brief interview between her instruction of Virtual High School (VHS) students and the entrance of another class, Twiss said that she started her school library career in Shirley 16 years ago.
"I have been at every school in the district," she said. "I was at the middle school for two years, but the position was cut to 80 percent, and so I applied and went to Page Hilltop (Elementary School)."
Eventually, there were more budget cuts, and when her predecessor at the high school retired, she began working half-time there and the other half at Page Hilltop.
"This is my fourth year of being here full time," Twiss stated.
"The rules have changed so much, even in the time I've been doing it," she said of her official duties over the years. "The more technology there is, the more the kids have to sift through. You didn't used to have this barrage of information. Now students need to learn how to discern what is good information and what's not."
Fortunately, said Twiss, the school library is part of the Massachusetts Library System (MLS), so the students have access to the state databases.
"Most of my time is spent with classes, instructing them on specific and ongoing projects. Research projects require a lot of online searching."
As for acquisitions, Twiss said that she focuses both on books the students recommend and like to read, and on those books, CDs, and DVDs that support the school curriculum.
With the renovation of the high school building ongoing, Twiss knows that the library will soon be moved to another temporary space, but looks forward to the completion of the construction, when the library will be located where the open courtyard is now. Construction is expected to be completed in the fall of 2015.
She said that she was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to advise the building committees of both the middle school building in Shirley, and the new facility at the high school in Ayer.
"It has been a great process," she said.
As the ASRHS librarian/media specialist, not only does Twiss manage the library/media center, but she also oversees the libraries at the middle school and elementary school levels.
Although modest in her accomplishments, she was nominated for the MSLA award for demonstrating excellence in many areas. Her achievements include writing and securing grants to obtain resources to update the library collection; training to become a site coordinator for VHS; directing VHS students in contacting online professors to obtain assistance; reviewing and submitting grades for VHS students; and performing appropriate parent/guardian outreach.
Twiss is also being recognized for successfully purging the entire library fiction section and continuing work on the nonfiction section; directing students in independent studies as library assistants; reviewing, purchasing and implementing a new online catalog system for all district schools; providing input into the design and function of the new library/media center for ASRHS; and serving as committee chair for the upcoming five-year New England Association of Schools & Colleges(NEASC) review.
Twiss also works collaboratively with all faculty members to provide online and physical resources for class projects, and teaches classes in research and source acquisition for students.
She will be formally honored on Sunday, March 9, during the MSLA Annual Meeting Dinner and Awards Banquet in Hyannis.
As a winner of the Super-Librarian Accolade, Twiss is required to write an article for the MSLA online newsletter, "MSLA Forum."
She said that she is considering writing about the school library as a collaborative meeting space for students to study and work together, part of the focus of this year's conference.