Spotlights

BCPS celebrates National School Library Month

Meet Timothy Thomas, library media specialist, Hereford Middle School
04/05/2017

Meet Timothy Thomas, library media specialist, Hereford Middle School

After six years as the library media specialist at Hereford Middle School, Timothy Thomas sees his job as basically having three equal parts: reading, teaching, and community building.

Reading

“I spend a lot of time doing things that promote reading on a schoolwide level,” Thomas explains. His efforts have included coordinating 3-sentence mystery and 5-sentence story contests and encouraging students to create “spine poetry.” “Spine poetry,” he says, “is when you stack up books and create a poem from the book titles.”

Not all of the efforts work. “Six years ago, we tried a book trailer competition and only got about four entries,” he says. But sometimes, they are huge successes. “One year, on a whim, I invited staff and students to put their favorite quotes on Post-It notes which I put all over the walls and columns. It was fun and popular and kind of got out of hand. My whole goal though was to get people thinking about what they have read and what impact their reading has had on them.”

In addition, Thomas oversees three book clubs, one for faculty and staff, one for students reading novels, and the other for students reading graphic novels. “I am lucky that I have a lot of readers here at Hereford.”

BCPS celebrates National School Library Month

For students who are more reluctant readers, Thomas often finds it helpful to direct them toward graphic novels. “Actually in grad school, Cheryl Johnson (who’s now the library media specialist at Westowne Elementary) and I did a research project about graphic novels,” he says. Another of his strategies is just to get to know the students better so he is better able to recommend books that might interest them. “I might talk to them about movies they like to watch and try to go with that as a guide.”

Teaching

The teaching portion of the position, Thomas says, often involves co-teaching and working with teachers to help them infuse technology into lessons and student presentations. Thomas works with teachers across various subject areas. And he is there to support students working on research projects. “Some students just started working today in pairs on author studies of Laurie Halse Anderson.”

One important aspect of helping students do research, Thomas says, is helping them identify what sources are reliable, including extensive use of the BCPS databases and using EasyBib, which identifies websites as credible, questionable, and not credible. 

Most of the work Thomas does with teachers takes place in the library, but in the past few years he has begun spending more time co-teaching in classrooms.

Community Building

BCPS celebrates National School Library Month

The final third of his position, according to Thomas, is community building, which takes place in myriad ways, from establishing the library media center as a welcoming atmosphere to the schoolwide activities he coordinates, like the schoolwide spelling bee. Some of the community building takes place virtually, as Thomas uses a library website and Twitter account to promote library offerings and activities.

It all begins with making personal connections. “I try and make sure I connect with every kid in the library at some level. I want them to know me and have a connection. For example, if I am helping a student check out a book, that gives me an opportunity to talk to them about what they are reading and why.”

BCPS celebrates National School Library Month

“I want the library to be a safe place for all students, a place where they know they are valued and safe. Some students might be there because they love to read. Others might be there because they really need a space where they can be themselves. Every month, there are at least 20 kids here before school – reading, doing homework, talking to friends, and at lunch time maybe around 10 students will be here.”

From Ohio to Hereford

The journey that Thomas took to Hereford Middle’s library begin in Ohio where he grew up in a family of teachers. After doing his undergraduate in Kentucky and graduate work in Ohio, he worked in college administration. He discovered then, that although he had always resisted the idea of teaching, what he liked most about his administrative job was presenting workshops. Thomas went back to Ohio to get a teaching degree, and then moved to Baltimore County, where he had friends, and began teaching biology and earth science first at Deer Park Middle School and then at Patapsco High School.

“About 10 years into my teaching career, I started looking for other type of work I could do in education,” Thomas says. “I wanted something more diverse. I really like to know a little bit about a lot of subjects. When I saw an ad for a library media science cohort program, I thought this might be it. The program, including its technology studies, reenergized my work in education, gave me a jolt.”

BCPS celebrates National School Library Month

“It’s been a big change from working at the college level to working in a middle school and from living in Ohio to living in Baltimore County,” Thomas says. “It’s been challenging, hard, and rewarding. I love my job at Hereford Middle and being a part of Baltimore County Public Schools. There is tremendous support here for maintaining good school libraries.”

The library at Hereford Middle has about 12,000 titles, and Thomas manages it with Julee Williams, who has been a library assistant for 22 years, and with a few student helpers.

A favorite aspect of the job for Thomas is collection development, figuring out what students will want and need.

As a result, he says, “I read a lot more than I ever thought I would.”

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