A line made up of dozens of students taking up more than half of a hallway at Francis Lewis leads to one room nearly everyday – the Library. Students are drawn to this accessible hub of information due to the welcoming atmosphere created by the school librarians. As an integral component of the high school community, school librarians serve as a source of knowledge for over 4,500 students.
School librarian Ms. Vittiglio has dedicated sixteen years of teaching at Francis Lewis High School. She attended school as a student here, then taught English for ten years, and now works as a librarian. Throughout every stage of her life at Francis Lewis, Ms. Vittiglio continuously strives toward improvement and making a positive impact for students.
“When I was a student at Francis Lewis High School, I knew that I wanted to come back and help students here,” Ms. Vittiglio said. “In such a large school, I too, much like many of you [students], I felt like I was never really getting the help I needed when I need it, and I didn’t know where to go to get it.”
In an overcrowded school of greater than 4,500 students, it is no surprise that individuals may feel neglected or ignored. As a student, Ms. Vittiglio held a desire to help this school prosper and give others the help she felt she did not receive. She utilized her skills in English to obtain a career as an English teacher.
“When I was in high school here, I had a part time job at the East Flushing Library branch as a clerk,” Ms. Vittiglio said. “So, I knew that I loved books, that I loved getting information, I loved being surrounded by information, and I kind of unified all of that into stage one and stage two of my career.”
Being an English teacher in present day society presented Ms. Vittiglio with new obstacles. While being a teacher came with its typical struggles, Ms. Vittiglio also felt her intended impact wasn’t being achieved. Her passion for sharing information and appreciating the art of the written word felt wasted in the classroom setting.
“I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of the classroom and I saw this world evolving into more of a digital kind of world,” Ms. Vittiglio said. “I felt like I could be of more importance in the library, reaching out to more students than just those in my classes, and kind of just evolving my career as a teacher into a career as a person who works in a high school, helping students find what they’re looking for.”
The transition from English teacher to school librarian was not difficult, as she was able to easily find an opening from a recently retired librarian. The only challenge was obtaining another masters degree, but as Ms. Vittiglio said, “it was worth it,” as she truly felt that she could contribute more to the library and to students.
“I hope to help students find what they’re looking for, no matter what it is,” Ms. Vittiglio expressed. “Whether it’s a book, whether it’s a piece of information, whether it’s a way to express themselves, or just a way to spend their time leisurely finding books that are good, or finding what’s valuable about literature, about the written text, and how to use that themselves for self expression.”
While school librarians hold an integral role in the school environment, there is an ongoing debate upon whether they can be labelled as teachers. While they are often categorized as teachers on paperwork with the Department of Education, the jobs differ greatly.
“Classroom teachers have a lot of take home work, a lot of routine and repeated tasks,” she said. “While I have many tasks in the library, I have a lot more freedom to cultivate the message that I want to send to students that both aligns with the curriculum, but can be personalized with how I put in my perspective of what students need.”
Nevertheless, Ms. Vittiglio holds on the belief that labelling librarians as teachers is justified. Librarians constantly teach students through every interaction, where they are offering information or providing assistance when needed. Especially for Ms. Vittiglio, who values the idea of inclusion greatly, and revolves her teaching philosophy around it.
“We should all have access to information, we should all be included in the information that we give out,” she said. “I think it’s okay to call a librarian a teacher because there’s so many moments during the day when I teach a student how to do many things, either technologically, or in terms of writing, or in terms of finding information.”
“I just wonder if other people share my sentiments about our library, and I hope that they do because libraries are the foundation of democracies, where you go to get information, where you go to be informed, give back to the community, and share things for free!”