Elementary teacher finds new career as award-winning school librarian

When Sarah Siver’s elementary school in Sparta lost its librarian a year few years ago, the third-grade teacher was concerned.

“For the first time in 14 years, my students didn’t have consistent access to the library or library lessons, Siver said. “I learned that multiple library positions had been open in the past in the district, and it was often a struggle to find certified library applicants, or applicants of any kind at all.”

Sarah Siver

That was in 2016, and although Siver loved being a teacher, she decided to take up the challenge of becoming the school librarian. Thanks to a new UWM pathway to librarianship, she completed her library certification in spring of 2019.

She’s been so successful in her new role that this year the Wisconsin Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (WACTE) honored her with its Early Career Educator Award for UWM. This award is presented to an outstanding educator within the first three years of their professional career.

“Although only in her 3rd year as a school librarian, Sarah has made a tremendous impact on her community,” wrote Susan Hersh, school library media coordinator and senior lecturer in the School of Information Studies, who nominated Siver for the award.

“By mentoring others, she has built a network of teachers who support each other and their district. Aside from planning a future-ready library remodel with architects and administrators, Sarah has earned over $7,000 in grant monies for coding, robotics, green screen and STEAM maker space projects,” Hersh added.

Online program helps

The Certificate in School Librarianship program was approved by the Department of Public Instruction in 2018 so teachers who intended to work within school libraries didn’t have to earn the full master’s in library and information science.

In addition to teaching third grade, Siver had two small children at home, so being able to juggle all that was a factor when she started researching education options for her career switch. UWM’s program, which can be completed entirely online, fit the bill for her, she said.

“I knew I needed a program that would provide the academic rigor to fully prepare me for new role, but also provide me the flexibility to continue to be a quality parent, work full time in a new role, and take classes for the new certification.”

Hersh, her mentor, noted with a laugh that their efforts to meet in person in Sparta were thwarted when school was canceled several times in the winter of 2019 – by a snow day, a cold day, an ice day and a flood day.

Since she took on her new role as school librarian, Siver has worked with the school district and the teachers to increase opportunities for students.

“I looked to my staff and students. What were staff struggling to teach, how could the library or technology support this struggle and make it more engaging, relevant and timely? What were my students really interested in?  How could I use those interests to connect to learning standards we needed to master?”

Focusing on technology

She also went to professional conferences and sought out other librarians for information on best practices.

Technology became a focus.

“The library face-to-face time with students doubled when I took on the role,” she said. “Half the time was to be spent on library curriculum and the other half the time focused on technology curriculum.”

Siver also introduced coding, robotics and STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programs, writing grants for materials and makerspaces. Under her leadership, the library was able to obtain additional technology for students – before they had one iPad or other electronic device for every three students; now it’s one for every student.

That focus on improved technology proved very important when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring.

“COVID has pushed all educators to use multiple new and emerging technologies simultaneously,” said Siver. “I’ve needed to ensure I know as much as I can about all the platforms we are now using in the district, but also keep my ear to the ground and investigate what others are using in districts literally across the world.”

New library

Most recently, she’s overseen the design and construction of a new library that combined the former libraries serving two elementary schools. That project was completed in October, with technology and books now in place. “It’s been amazing to see it all come together.”

She is quick to share credit for the accomplishments that earned her the WACTE award.

“I always attribute success to the ability to collaborate with those around me.  I learn so much from our district technology coach and team, classroom teachers, administrators, and fellow librarians and technology instructors.”

And, she added: “I am proud to have earned my certification at UW-Milwaukee and to teach at the Sparta Area School District, both of which have provided me the ability to meet the criteria for this award through academic and professional mentoring from the best of the best.”

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