Ace Advocate: K.C. Boyd Is 2022 School Librarian of the Year

The librarian at Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, DC, brings excellence to her library while gaining national recognition for her advocacy on behalf of school librarians.

K.C. Boyd, School Librarian of the year Winner, with students at Jefferson Middle School Academy, Washington, DC
K.C. Boyd, Jefferson Middle School Academy, Washington, DC
Photos by Kirth Bobb

 

As a librarian at Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, K.C. Boyd transformed the reading culture, helping the school go from a second to last ranking among schools in Illinois when she arrived in 2010 to earning an “Excellent Standing” by 2014.

A few years later, as the lead librarian of East St. Louis School District #189, she led a rebuilding effort of eight libraries for schools where 100 percent of students lived below the poverty line. By the time she was done, more than 15,000 books had been checked out by students over the school year, a first for the district.

And since becoming the librarian at Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, DC, in 2017, Boyd has continued her inspirational work—from elevating digital literacy to running a popular makerspace program that has attracted more students to the library. These remarkable achievements, as well as her commitment to advocacy and activism in support of librarianship, have earned Boyd the 2022 School Librarian of the Year Award.

It’s another in a long list of accolades for her two decades of dedication to the profession. Those include induction into the Chicago Public Schools “Librarian Hall of Fame” in 2014, being named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2015, and winning the District of Columbia Library Association’s Distinguished Service Award in 2020.

In the words of Kevin M. Washburn, director of library programs for District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), Boyd is a “shining star in the field.”

“In my work with Ms. Boyd over the past few years, I have seen a leader dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children address issues of systemic racism and bridge the equity divides across multiple levels that limit access to information and resources,” Washburn wrote in his nomination letter.

Despite a lifelong passion for reading, becoming a librarian was a bit of a second act for Boyd. She began her career in media working for a local television station before transferring to a corporate recruiting position with FedEx. But in both roles, she felt that there was something missing.

“I was utterly bored,” Boyd says. “It was a job, and not a career, and my father quietly observed this and said, ‘Why don’t you go into teaching?’ If you’re a teacher’s kid, that’s the last thing you want to hear, but I trusted my father because he said I didn’t have to be a traditional classroom teacher. I could be a librarian. He understood the impact a librarian could have on a learning community.”

Photo of K.C. BoydThroughout her career, Boyd has made an impact in large part by investing in books that mirror her readers. That has been a cornerstone in creating a culture of reading at every one of her libraries.

“I’m a strong believer that when you incorporate stories and characters that reflect the reader, kids feel more passionate about their reading,” Boyd says.

In Chicago, Boyd based her purchasing decisions on student interests, filling shelves not only with manga and vampire stories her teens enjoyed, but also street lit. She says the genre fostered a love of reading while serving as a teaching tool because those books tapped into the social and emotional issues her students were facing.

At Jefferson, Boyd has filled the library to reflect the more than 300 students attending the Title I school, 90 percent of whom are Black and hail from a range of neighborhoods and wards across the district. Although she says not every student is an avid reader, they have become more comfortable with reading and trust her suggestions. “All I ask is that they just try,” Boyd says.

Boyd’s other indelible impression on her students has come through her use of technology. “Many people think kids are automatically tech savvy,” Boyd says, but teaching students about digital literacy is an important part of her day-to-day work. Last year, she taught a class on media studies during remote learning, integrating current events into her lessons, including the attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Boyd says, “hit our kids hard because they had family members who worked in or around the building.”

Boyd has long been an advocate for digital literacy and recently became one of the first ambassadors for the News Literacy Project, for which she receives compensation. She says that work is “important because sometimes we talk about digital literacy one time during the year, but it has to be ongoing. I’ve incorporated that thinking into my library.”

 

A hands-on library

Originally built in 1938, Jefferson underwent a major renovation in 2019 and Boyd now manages a brand-new, 4,269-square-foot library that features original glasswork and shelves alongside a modern print and digital collection with an impressive 37.6 books per student. There are learning and reading spaces, a conference room, and most exciting of all, a makerspace.

Dotted with tall wooden tables reminiscent of a shop class, the makerspace puts students “in the driver’s seat,” Boyd says, where they can take part in hands-on, independent learning, like a READ poster project where students used a green screen and the graphic design software Canva to create inspirational posters of themselves with their favorite books. For another project, students studied the history of patchwork quilts in the Black community and made their own out of patches featuring quotes from important Black figures.

When the pandemic hit and the school shifted to remote learning, Boyd continued makerspace projects virtually. Through a grant from the KID Museum of Bethesda, MD, students learned about how to reduce crashes between vehicles and people and animals in their community, and designed their own safer 3-D intersections.

While Boyd receives some district funding, including two grants through the DCPS central office for intial STEM supplies, it’s up to her to keep the makerspace stocked. She’s been successful utilizing DonorsChoose, her “best friend.” Many projects are fully funded within days of posting.

Those donations go toward an array of activities, from supporting students in exploring STEAM careers to a recent unit studying the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans, a city connected to Boyd’s own cultural heritage of Louisiana, where both of her parents were born.

Boyd loves this type of project because it allows students to “develop a stronger relationship with me,” while at the same time to “discover more about the world and their place in it.”

She promotes this work on social media, where she’s developed a strong following and the hashtags “#JAReaders” and “#KCSaidIt.” In 2017, Scholastic named her one of “15 Librarians to Follow on Instagram.” But she doesn’t just post for likes.

“Kids are really proud of it, saying ‘Wow, you thought so highly of us you put it on Twitter.’ I always share out with the greater community. School librarians get so busy doing the job, it’s important to inform as we’re teaching. I want other librarians to see it and have their students have a wonderful experience, too.”

Boyd also leads weekly discussions through her Clubhouse chat group “Boss Librarian and Friends,” discussing everything from advice for new librarians to ideas for National Poetry Month.

SLJ April Print Cover honoring K.C. Boyd as the School Librarian of the Year WinnerThat collaborative spirit extends to her colleagues at Jefferson as well. Torri Pierre is the school’s health and physical education teacher. Pierre knew immediately the two would be friends when they met, and they’ve partnered on interdisciplinary projects, including a recent unit on cyberbullying and digital literacy.

Pierre says Boyd’s impact on the school is felt everywhere, from keeping the library stocked with LGBTQIA+ resources for Jefferson’s pride club to coming in early to open the library for the school’s morning zero-period, to always being enthusiastic to work with teachers on a range of subjects and projects.

Because of all her efforts, Pierre says Boyd deserves a new title: “Queen of Advocacy. Her intentions are always for the betterment of those disenfranchised and powerless.”

 

Voice for change

Boyd’s advocacy has long been a part of her practice, but it has taken on new meaning at a time when books, librarians, and teaching have come under vocal attack.

“It’s a lot I’m involved with, but it’s for good reasons,” Boyd says. “When you do these things, it leads back to the kids and serving kids more effectively.”

Besides her responsibilities at Jefferson, she holds leadership positions including serving on the executive boards for the DC Library Association and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (ALA), the 2020 Newbery Award Committee, and the board of directors for the EveryLibrary Institute.

“She has been the standard-bearer for the role of certified librarians in the DC School District,” EveryLibrary founder and executive director John Chrastka wrote in Boyd’s nomination letter. “In a time of truly disrupted learning, her contributions to the future of school librarianship cannot be overstated.”

Boyd’s activism began in Chicago, where budget problems had led to massive layoffs of librarians. Boyd helped start Chi School Librarians, a task force within the Chicago Teachers Union aimed at ensuring a certified librarian in every public school.

That first foray into advocacy wasn’t easy. Boyd learned a lot about how to work with a union and deal with the media, but also regrets not being aggressive enough. So, when she discovered a year after joining Jefferson that DC librarian positions were threatened by budget cuts, she sprang into action.

She rallied librarians across the district, coordinating Twitter campaigns, and helped organize a “Read In” where she and other DCPS librarians gathered outside on the steps of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office to read in silent protest. She also garnered the support of several powerful allies, including the Washington Teachers’ Union and EveryLibrary.

Two years of advocacy work paid off this past summer when the DC Council unanimously approved a $3.25 million amendment to the DC public school budget, restoring full-time librarian positions in 36 schools, many in under-served communities. For her leadership, Boyd was recognized with ALA’s Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table Distinguished Librarian Award in 2021.

At press time, Boyd and others were waiting for a March vote on the Students’ Right to Read Amendment Act of 2021, which would permanently fund a school librarian at every DC public school. In November, when the council heard testimony, Boyd spoke on behalf of librarians and students.

DCPS high school librarian and 2021 LJ Mover & Shaker Christopher Stewart says Boyd’s activism is felt far beyond DC.

“When you have someone like Kimberly-Celeste Boyd who really sees the value of the field of librarianship but then takes it a step further and understands the impact on children having a full-time librarian, it meshes into this big movement. That has been incredible for DC and empowering for the nation.”

Boyd’s only wish is that her father were alive to witness her success. “My mom and brother have picked up the mantle to say I can continue to do this despite the obstacles. I’m so grateful I’ve hung in there. It’s the greatest job on the planet, but also one of the toughest.”


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2022 School Librarian of the Year LogoAbout the Award

An annual award presented by School Library Journal (SLJ) and sponsored by Scholastic, the School Librarian of the Year Award honors a K–12 library professional for outstanding achievement and the exemplary use of 21st-century tools and services to engage children and teens toward fostering multiple literacies. Judges were: Amanda Jones 2021 School Librarian of the Year; Dr. Mike Daria, Superintendent, Tuscaloosa (AL) City Schools; SLJ editors; and a Scholastic Trade Publishing representative.

Learn more about the award and past winners at slj.com/SLOTY.


Andrew Bauld is a freelance writer covering education.

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