District News


A Conversation with Lara Walker: "You create a community of readers."

Posted on: March 3, 2016

Lara Walker is Secondary Campus librarian and marketer extroardinaire. She orchestrates Speed Dating with Books for Valentine's Day. She holds periodic book talks. She convenes the civil, thoughtful Book Club every month. Her goal: make busy, tech-savvy adolescents fall in love with reading.

It appears to be working. As of March 1, the 640 students on the secondary campus have checked out 6,339 books this school year. They flock to fiction, vastly prefer real books over audiobooks and -- no surprise to Mom and Dad -- seriously forget to return materials on time (current overdue items: 748).

Mrs. Walker is the calm, literarily minded center of the reading, discussing, researching, perusing that goes on in the popular Media Center -- and she's convinced she's got the best job in her school.

Tell us about the state of reading at Finneytown Secondary School.

We have readers here! The English teachers are a part of the reason why because they push independent reading. I have one student who comes in and checks out four or five books every day. We have some students who are in every couple of days, and some come in before school, during lunch and after school – basically every free chance they get. The media center is basically their place. I was probably that kid in high school.

There is one boy – a football player – and pretty much every day he’ll come in early in the morning and he’ll tell me the book he’s reading – in great detail! He asks me for advice when he finishes a book, and we walk over to the fantasy section. He’s not picky, which I love. Some kids will say, ‘I only read romance and vampires.”

It’s an obvious question, but why should students read?

Oh, gosh, I think it sort of opens your mind to other worlds, to possibilities. It helps develop your vocabulary. The more you read, the more words you’re exposed to. When I was growing up, I read a lot of books and I learned a lot of words but I didn’t necessarily know how to pronounce them. After I was married, I used the word cacophony, which I pronounced CACK-ah-phony. My husband laughed and said, “It’s cah-COFF-ahny.

One of the benefits is that you create a community of readers. One student told me, “So many kids want to read Pretty Girl 13 because I talked about it in class.” It was cool because she can kind of do my job for me. The word of a fellow student can do more than the word of a teacher or librarian.

Students seem to love to come to the Media Center. Do you think it's kind of a sanctuary for them?

I do. Especially for the kids who are here a lot, it’s a place to go and feel comfortable. Generally if you’re a reader, you’re kind of setting yourself up with a target on your back as a nerd or a geek. But in here – in theory – you’re surrounded by like-minded people who aren’t afraid to let that fly.

I have a homeroom and some students will go to the shelves and check out the books, and other students will say, “Oh my gosh, are you really going to read that?” In here, they’re not afraid to say, ‘Yeah, I like to read.’

Talk about the impact of technology on reading.

I don’t have any data to back it up, but I feel that for a while there was a trend toward eBooks and a few of our kids jumped on board. I bought some eBooks, but I think now the pendulum has swung back. Kids have so much screen time that reading is almost a respite – to have that tactile connection of having a book in their hands. I think it’s almost comforting to get away from the technology and immerse yourself in a book.

So how do you yourself make time for reading? It’s not always easy. . .

What I hear from a lot of juniors is, ‘I don’t have time to read any more, and it’s so depressing.” And I feel for them, even in my own life. I’m in a book review group -- Readers of Young Adult Literature -– through the Consortium of Southwest Ohio Libraries. We meet every two months. I go to the meetings and we sit around and take turns talking about books we’ve read and if we’d recommend them. I take notes on what would be good for Finneytown. At the end we get to choose seven books we want to take for our own library. That’s really motivating! It’s a good way to keep up with things, but I feel pressured to read those books before anything I’m reading for pleasure. I also listen to Books on Tape in my car – I have a 35-minute ride to and from school.

What was your favorite book as a teenager?

It might have been something by Judy Blume or Paul Zindel. I still remember, Pardon Me, You’re Stepping on my Eyeball!

I read a lot of adult books when I was a teenager. I remember going to stay with my aunt in Utah one summer. My brothers and my boy cousins were there. I was the only girl and the oldest so I immersed myself in books. While the boys were fishing, I was in the boat with my head in a book. I read Gone with the Wind that summer.

Is there a book you currently recommend?

One of my all-time favorites is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It’s narrated by Death -- he cries for all the Holocaust victims he’s carrying away. It’s beautiful. I’ve recently been recommending Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt to teachers for literature circles or read-alouds and Don’t Get Caught by Kurt Dinan, Dr. Dinan’s husband. It’s a really fun pranking extravaganza.

So what’s it like to be a media specialist here at Finneytown?

I love my job. I think I have the best job in the school. You get to see kids in a different light. I don’t have to deal with grades. Every day for me is different. I’ll help kids looking for a book or working on research. Other days I just get to catalogue books. Another day I’ll be off helping a teacher trouble-shoot technology. Every year you get a new batch of students and it’s a new dynamic.

It’s great that you run Book Club for both high-school students and middle-school students. So who comes to Book Club?

The students in the high school book club are probably the kids you’d expect – they take it very seriously, they want to read a classic every so often. My middle school kids are more of a surprise. They don’t seem to be the most avid readers. At the last Book Club meeting, a girl who has never come before was there, and she had a lot to say!

Those are the cool moments – where it’s like, wow, I got one!