An Exemplary School Librarian
An interview with coast school librarian Cindy Williams reveals a woman who loves her job - and eager to share some of her favorite authors and books.
- by Carole McKellar
The Bay-Waveland School District is fortunate to have Cindy Williams as the Bay High School librarian. Cindy graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in banking and finance before discovering that she could choose a career based upon her love of reading. She earned a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Southern Mississippi. After college, Cindy became the librarian at Pineville Elementary in Pass Christian for two years followed by 15 years at Coast Episcopal School.
While at Coast Episcopal, Cindy initiated an ‘Author’s Fair’, an ‘Illustrator’s Fair’, and a ‘Harry Potter Breakfast’, among other literary celebrations. Her co-worker, Kat Fitzpatrick, remembered that Cindy was "a genius for getting volunteers and making the work seem fun." Cindy joined the faculty at Bay High two years ago and accepted the new challenge of using her enthusiasm and innovation to motivate older students.
During her first year at BHS, Cindy started a Bay High Book Club, which boasts 30 members. According to Cindy, club membership is casual, and students are free to decide which books they would like to read and discuss. Cindy initially envisioned a book list generated by the students, but found that they wanted her suggestions. In typical fashion, Cindy employed all of her book review tools—Booklist, Hornbook,book awards, blogs, etc—to make sure she chose books that had the best chance of engaging the students. The list reads like a Who’s Who of the best YA authors:
“Every Day” by David Levithan
“Young Elites” by Marie Lu
“Paper Towns” by John Green
“Where I Want to Be” by Adele Griffin
“1984” by George Orwell
“Unwind” by Neal Shusterman
“Unbroken” (Young Adult Adaptation) by Laura Hillenbrand
“We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart
“Shipbreaker” by Paulo Bacigalupi
“Midwinter Blood” by Marcus Sedgwick
“Code Name Verity” by Elizabeth Wein
For the past 2 years, Cindy has focused on increasing circulation and student interest in the library. The library is open before and after school, as well as during lunch, and students can come there at any time during the school day with teacher permission. Students can check out books, study, conduct research, or use the computers. The book club helped make students comfortable coming to the library for socialization as well.
Cindy initiated Library Orientation classes this year which included instruction for using the MAGNOLIA databases. MAGNOLIA is a statewide consortium funded by the Mississippi Legislature which provides online research databases for publicly funded K-12 schools, public libraries, and college libraries. Knowing how to properly conduct research is more complicated than merely typing a topic into Google. Librarians are uniquely qualified to guide students through the use of information technology.
Another focus is improving the appearance of the Bay High Library. According to Cindy, “There are so many talented artists at Bay High, and I’ve displayed their artwork throughout the library. I hope more students will contribute work so we have revolving exhibits through the year.”
In a collaboration between the art department and the library, students painted a large canvas copy of Gustav Klimt’s "The Kiss" which brightens the library with its intense colors. Artwork from the Digital Media class is also on display.
Cindy is active in professional organizations including the the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association. For the past three years, Cindy has made presentations at the Fay B. Kaigler Children’s Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi.
She is currently chairing the Mississippi Library Association committee for grades 9-12 that oversees the Magnolia Book Awards, a children’s choice award. Information about the award, including nominations and voting, can be found at the end of this article.
Cindy is a friend as well as a member of my book club, The Bay Book Babes. She is married to Joe Williams, a math teacher at Bay High who is also a gourmet cook. Our book club looks forward to the feast he prepares for us each summer. The book we read that month doesn’t really matter. Cindy and Joe have 2 daughters, Jessica and Cecilia.
An appreciation for books is a basic requirement for a librarian. Cindy Williams is a dedicated reader, and her enthusiasm for literature inspires her students. I love to talk books with her and want to share some of her thoughts on books and writers.
What book(s) are you currently reading? Do you generally read more than one book at a time?
I used to read only one book at a time, but I’ve recently read five books at once! I just finished “Salt to the Sea” by Ruta Sepetys, “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner, “A Girl Named Mister” by Nikki Grimes. I’m currently reading “The Story of a New Name” by Elena Ferrantes, and “Honeydew” by Edith Pearlman.
Who are your favorite writers of adult fiction? YA fiction? Children's book writer?
Adults: Barbara Kingsolver, Jodi Piccoult, Ann Patchett, Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende, Stephen King, John Irving
YA: John Green, David Levithan, Libba Bray, Laurie Halse Anderson, Philip Pullman, Marcus Sedgwick, Maggie Stiefvater, Maureen Johnson
Children’s: Jerry Spinelli, Natalie Babbitt, J.K. Rowling, Lois Lowry, Kate DiCamillo, Nancy Springer, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Jennifer Holm, Kimberly Willis Holt, Brian Selznick
Who is your favorite Mississippi writer?
Donna Tartt – I loved “The Secret History”.
What is the last book you read that made you laugh? Made you cry?
Laugh – “I Feel Bad About my Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman” by Nora Ephron and everything by David Sedaris. I love him!
Cry – “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner (a new YA novel)
What kind of reader were you as a child?
My penchant for books began early. I loved picture books and, even before I could read, I would pore over the illustrations for hours in my bedroom. When the rest of my family was watching TV, I would be in my room lost in a book.
Some of my earlier favorites were “The Little House” by Virginia Lee Burton, “The Pokey Little Puppy” (a Golden book), “White Snow, Bright Snow” by Alvin Tresselt, and “The Bear’s Vacation” by Jan and Stan Berenstain.
The first time I was allowed to purchase a book of my own was at a school book fair, and I chose “Harriet the Spy” by Louise Fitzhugh. Other childhood favorites were the “Anne of Green Gables” series, the “Little House on the Prairie” series, “The Secret Garden”, “A Little Princess” and “Charlotte’s Web."
Everyone asks me about my school libraries growing up, but I don’t have a lot of fond memories of them because students weren’t allowed much time to visit them. My mother always took me to our public library where I had hours to browse and really explore books. Mysteries and historical fiction were my favorite.
Name the book(s) that made you who you are today? (not necessarily professionally, but personally as well.)
That is a tough question. I think ALL of the books I’ve read have made me who I am today. I’m a person who loves books and stories. I love being a librarian because I am immersed in book culture every day. I’m surrounded by books. I read books. I read about books. I get to share all that I know and love about books with other people. It makes me very happy. I really love my profession!
What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
Because I have such huge stacks of books-to-be-read, there are very few books that I’ve ever read more than once. “Maniac Magee” by Jerry Spinelli, “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White are a few that come to mind.
Of course, when I was an Elementary School Librarian and did read-alouds, there were certain picture books I would always return to. Here are just a few that come to mind: “Duck on a Bike” by David Shannon (His new one is finally coming out in September, “Duck on a Tractor”), “Miss Rumphius" by Barbara Cooney, “The Little House” by Virginia Lee Burton, “The Little Old Lady who was not Afraid of Anything” by Linda Williams, and “I Ain’t Gonna Paint no More” by Karen Beaumont.
You're hosting a dinner with/for writers. Who's invited?
John Green, David Levithan, Kate DiCamillo, Marcus Sedgwick, Jon Scieszka, Libba Bray, Maggie Stiefvater, Brian Selznick, Maureen Johnson.
What do you plan to read next?
“BFG” by Roald Dahl because I want to see the movie, and I always like to read the book first!
To learn more about the Magnolia Book Award, check this website.
There are 4 categories for the award: K-2, 3-5, 6-8 and 9-12. Books may be suggested by any adults in Mississippi. The deadline for book suggestions is September 30.
The committees then read all suggested books and make a short-list of books for nomination. During the year, librarians across the state promote these nominated titles and encourage students to vote for their favorites. Librarians then submit student votes in February. Winners are announced at the Children’s Book Festival at USM in Hattiesburg in April.
The 2017 Nominations can be found on the link above as well as instructions and criteria for submitting book titles for the 2018 awards.