According to the PLSA’s website, the award recognizes outstanding school library programming, instruction, and services which are integral to the students' education. In a letter regarding the presentation of the award, President of PSLA Cathi Fuhrman, Ed.D, wrote, “Your library program was chosen for this award as it exceeds the criteria with regards to the six indicators of Inquire, Include, Collaborate, Curate, Engage, and Explore. Your school library is truly an example of what we hold as exemplary in Pennsylvania school libraries.”
Director of Libraries Ruth Neely first learned about the award years ago as a graduate student. “PSLA remains a prominent part of my professional life and development, so I hear about the winners annually at the conference or through the listserv. Only in the past two or three years did I start to ponder if I should enter our team,” she said.
When the call for submissions came in early 2019, the Academy’s library team was in a particularly exciting phase at the time, having just finished redesigning the Cavalier Room in Hansen Library, which Middle and Senior School students use, and bringing on a third full-time librarian with a Master of Library and Information Studies (MLIS). “We were extending the research curricula into more classes and increasing cross-divisional programming,” Ruth explained. “All of this, paired with discussions surrounding the Academy's strategic planning process and reaccreditation, made the timing feel right.”
The application process was demanding, requiring the team to submit an electronic portfolio that consisted of six components: a description of the community served, an institutional profile, a collection analysis, letters of endorsement, keystone showing that the library is an essential part of the learning community, and evidence to demonstrate the libraries were performing in six foundational areas (inquire, include, collaborate, curate, engage, and explore).
“The application was much more rigorous than we had initially imagined. The result was a 60 slide portfolio that highlighted examples of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards for Learners at work in both of our libraries,” Ruthie explained. “In October, I as contacted by the PSLA Awards committee and they confirmed we were finalists and there would be a daylong site visit from a panel of statewide librarians. After the site visit in November, we waited. In January, I received a call from the president of PSLA letting me know that our library program had won!”
Ruth, who joined Sewickley Academy in 2014, enjoys the work. “I love being a librarian because I get to wear so many hats! Not a lot of people know what a resource a 21st century library can be, so I love coming in every day and working to surprise students and faculty alike with what we can offer to engage the community. Whether it's managing online databases of information, helping a Grade 6 student find the perfect book, discussing research strategies with freshmen, building new programming, helping with student clubs, collaborating with a colleague, offering professional development to faculty, writing articles, working on the Strategic Plan, or ordering new books - each day is different,” she exclaimed.
Ruth is humbled and grateful for the recognition. “This award is for our whole library program, not just me. We couldn't have created this program without the support of the administration and the collaboration of the faculty,” she said.
The application process provided the library team with an opportunity to reflect sincerely and thoroughly on the work they’ve been doing. “Days fly by and a lot of work we put in goes on behind the scenes, so sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees. It was really validating and refreshing to take a step back and be able to look at our portfolio application with pride for all the work we do,” Ruth said.
Congratulations, Sewickley Academy librarians and team!