— YALSA (@yalsa) December 12, 2015
At the DuSable Campus, Ms. Sayigh is a calm but buoyant presence who loves and respects her students. She tells me it’s a myth that teenagers don’t read. Hers do, all the time. The first thing you see when you go into her space is a shelf full of student recommendations. She runs a weekly book club. She has a cabinet of books so popular that it’s kept behind the circulation desk to keep especially close tabs on the volumes.
She handles other things beyond the library, as most librarians do. She created the large technology lab across the hall by means of grant writing, and staffs that too. I tried to find out how many librarians handle the technology positions at their schools, but I must’ve asked the wrong folks at CPS because nobody was especially forthcoming. But the fact is, a room full of computers without a technology staff person is maybe even more ludicrous than a library without a librarian.
On top of everything else, she runs the After School Matters programs at her schools–all that remains of after school or extracurricular activities at a school that used to have a woodshop, engineering, home ec, a publishing house that created its own yearbooks, and of course, a legendary music program. I got to see all that stuff in the old yearbooks Ms. Sayigh showed me. All that’s gone now, subject to budget cuts and ideological whims du jour.
Beyond the itemized list of things she manages at the three schools, there are things that can’t be listed but are perhaps more important still. I visited over lunch time and all three schools had many kids coming in during their lunch hour, talking quietly, using the computers, reading at the tables. “This is a safe space for them,” Sara says of her students. “I don’t know what will happen to that when I am gone.” She collaborates with teachers on their research projects–communication that takes a long time to establish. She started an oral history project in the building about its long backwards reach of big personalities and events–so critical for neighborhood kids to know their very own history.
Those kids love her so much that when they heard the news of her firing they cut their classes and staged a “read-in,” started online and paper petitions, and took to twitter.
A read-in. The above should be a resounding fuck-you to the next thinkpiece about Kids Today and how they Don’t Value Learning and It’s About Values and They Only Want iPhones and Nobody Reads Anymore. Bookmark it, so that the next time your halfbright aunt or cousin is on Facebook talking about the decline of civilization, you can post it in the comments. Those kids are phenomenal. Those kids should be given every prize we have.
Some of my earliest memories take place aboard the Bookmobile.
The Bookmobile was a bus full of books that would stop in the parking lot behind my grandmother’s house, open its doors, and wait for people to come check the books out. It had a tiny section of every flavor of fiction, and a tiny checkout desk, and right up until I was in high school I’d go running for it whenever I saw it. It still tools around my hometown, hopefully not in the same vehicle.
It brought me every Babysitter’s Club book, historical novels that taught me about things like discrimination and rebellion, romances that were way above my understanding of sex or relationships and that therefore were AMAZING, and adventures halfway around the world. That little rolling library lead to the libraries in grade school and high school, which led to the school newspaper, which led to my entire damn life. There are all these pieces that make people up, and the library is one of those for me.
Books were my home, one of my assured safe places. I was a socially inept kid, computers basically didn’t exist, TV watching was restricted to age-appropriate (boring) shows, I wasn’t good at what video games we did have, and so in winter reading seemed to offer the best chance for escape. I grew up middle class and my parents valued reading, and valued books. From the earliest I can remember, books were not a chore, they were a necessity. If you get money spend it on books and art and experiences, my dad told me once, not on clothes or cars.
So I grew up surrounded by books and my parents loved reading and had the leisure time to instill that in me, and I still loved the library like a blood relation. I can’t imagine how I’d feel about it if I loved to read and had none of that support at home.
There are all these pieces that make people up, and we’re cutting them away, bit by bit.