An avid reader, I spent a lot of time in libraries growing up. I have fond memories of the libraries, but not so much of the librarians. I don't remember that I interacted with any of the librarians, aside from checking out books. And I'm pretty sure I was scared of most of them. This is why I was fascinated to learn how Erin not only runs her library, but how she interacts with the kids. I would have LOVED to have a cool, young librarian who read the same books I did.
I've known Erin since around 2008 when John and I bought a house in the same neighborhood as our friends Mike and Amanda. Erin and Amanda are sisters and the three of us have spent many a cook-out talking about books, what we're reading, and what Erin tells us we should be reading. Without a doubt, some of the best books I've read in the past few years have come from Erin. Meet today's bitch, YA aficionado, Erin Alvarado!
What is your job title and where do you work?
I'm a Librarian/Media Specialist at Central Magnet School.
When did you first learn about this field of work?
My mom always made sure that my sister and I spent time in the library every week, so I grew up knowing that it was the most magical place in the world. When I was a young teen, I started volunteering in our local community library in Bethesda with the most amazing librarian, Susan Cuevas.
How did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I’ve always loved books and libraries, but I didn’t think about librarianship as a career until I started teaching high school. I realized that many of my students hadn’t set foot in a library since elementary school, and they had no idea that libraries could transform them and change their lives. I knew that I had to go back to school and get my LMS so I could help them.
What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?
I studied Spanish in college and worked as a paralegal and court translator at an immigration law office. I also worked at a local business where I translated documents and sold advertisements for the Hispanic Yellow Pages. Then, I started teaching Spanish at Smyrna High School, and I figured out that teaching is what I am meant to do. After a few years teaching Spanish, I started on my M.Ed./MLS so I could transition to the library/media center. It’s hard to separate myself from my job and my students. Sometimes I don’t know where I end and my job begins.
Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?
You’re never done learning and life should never be static.
Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?
Everything my first year of teaching felt like the biggest failure imaginable. However, there is one incident that stands out that changed the way that I saw my students. I was teaching and couldn’t find my teacher’s edition of the textbook. Since it has all of the answers to every activity, it was a big deal that I couldn’t find it. However, instead of carefully looking for it, I immediately accused the kids of stealing it. I even used those words and asked who “stole” the book. After I tore into them, one student kindly pointed out that the TE was sitting right in front of me beside my overhead projector. I cried. That was the moment when I realized that I viewed my students as my adversaries instead of the interesting, smart, complex young people they were. I embodied everything I detested about my worst teachers.
That incident helped me to make some drastic changes in my teaching style and the way I related to my students. I was so ashamed, but I am grateful that I went through that absolute failure. I know that it’s shaped me into the teacher and person I am today. Now I focus on teaching and working with students before I focus on teaching and working with a particular subject. That moment changed my life.
What would you do with 2 more hours a day?
What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?
Being one of the founders of the SE-YA Book Festival (Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival). This started as a seed of an idea... what if we could create a huge book festival for the young adults in our area? I think we were all a little crazy to try it, but crazy turned into amazing! We trended #5 on Twitter for 12 hours!
What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?
Twitter, but not my personal account. I use my work account much more.
How do you decompress at the end of the work day?
I read and sometimes have a wonderful cocktail.
What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?
No day is ever the same or how I think it will be, so it can be very difficult to plan. I have to be ready to respond to any request, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. Also, and this sounds crazy, but some days I hear my name called so many times that I feel like I’m going to scream if I hear it one more time. It can be difficult and overwhelming to cater to so many people at the same time, without an end in sight.
What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?
People think librarians are old ladies and “shushers.” We’re really curators of all sorts of information and have the answer to pretty much any question. Also, the library is a really dynamic place and should be noisy if you’re doing it right. Collaboration and curiosity aren’t quiet. Also, I don’t just sit around and read all day long. It can actually be challenging to find time to read, even when I leave work.
Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?
Parts Unknown and popcorn!
All photos courtesy of Erin Alvarado