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Between the Lines: January Member Spotlight

Between the Lines: Member Spotlight, TLA News

Jean Darnell
Dessau Middle School Librarian, Pflugerville ISD
Author of Awaken Librarian, a library advocacy blog

What inspired you to become a librarian?
I worked at a high school where the librarian was an ally. We would collaborate on lessons and I’d support his events, including serving as a researcher for a book he wrote. He consistently encouraged me to get my master’s degree & become a librarian. Just as persistent as he was, I said I couldn’t afford it. One day, he asked me again and before I could utter my usual reply, he told me that he recommended my name for a cohort at University of Houston – Clear Lake that would pay for my Master’s degree in Information Science. All I had to do was show up. In less than two months, I took my GRE and enrolled in graduate school.

What is an innovative practice at your library/organization (current or former) that you’d like to share with others?
I created a program last year for student mental health called the Zen Den. It served two purposes: (1) to encourage self-care for my students who suffered greatly during the pandemic, and (2) to promote acceptance for mental health in a place that welcomes all. The students embraced the space, which includes a sand garden, singing bowl, waterfall, salt lamp, yoga mat and an iPad with a curated playlist of videos ranging from anger management to overcoming self-esteem setbacks. It’s a full-fledged program heading into its second year.

If you could have dinner with three authors (living or dead), who would they be and why?
Dr. Maya Angelou
because she’s an Ancestor that changed my perspective on being vulnerable through poetic words. She could speak to me for eons and it would never be too much. I’d trade recipes, experiences & laughter with her all night long.

Edgar Allan Poe because I love the gothic imagery he created using rhyme, longing and hauntingly creepy stories. Wouldn’t it be cool if it was a murder-mystery dinner? Edgar & I had to team up to solve the mystery…and it was Edgar the whole time who committed the murder, which is supposed to be MY murder, but I “Game of Thrones” him like Arya Stark did the Night King? (Spoiler alert – Arya kills the Night King in Season 8, Episode 3 of Game of Thrones.)

Angie Thomas because On the Come Up, she represented the teen in me that wrote rap poems in the margins of her notebooks. I see versions of myself in all her books. She’s a window, mirror & reflective writer for me. It’s my dream just to have dinner with her and say thank you for writing books that validated kids like me. She’s a treasure in my heart.

What are you reading right now?
A collection of poems, Perennial, by Zetta Elliot, that she self-published and signed for me at TLA 2023. She has a gift for writing and encouraged me to write. She knew upon first glance that I am a writer and told me to “nourish [my] roots.” That moment inspires me every time I get writer’s block or discouraged.

What is your most memorable Texas Library Association Experience?
I’m stuck between 2015, when I had dinner with Michael Dahl, an overnight best friend & author of scary books, and in 2023, when I met three beloved authors simultaneously: Kwame Alexander, Jerry Craft & Don Tate. I love Jerry’s uplifting graphic novel series (New Kid) because it speaks to the innocence & joys of Black culture. Don captured my heart with his illustrations in the picture book, Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions. Kwame soothed my soul in 2020 with the book, The Undefeated. I served on the Caldecott Committee that chose the book to represent our nation. His words with Kadir Nelson’s illustrations captured my culture’s horrors, hope and happiness in a beautifully compiled experience.

Anything else you would like to share?
I love the opportunities for leadership TLA offers librarians. I recently completed the TALL Texans Leadership Institute which was a career goal. The tools and insights that experience gave me is life-changing. I recommend any librarian to apply. It’s highly coveted for a reason and I couldn’t be more proud of my TALL Texan experience.

“I am a TLA member because…”
I am a TLA member because the seed my Ancestors planted when they were denied equity in literacy, bloomed into a mighty librarian who now knows the power of unity, knowledge & embracing each other’s story as one voice.