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This librarian’s mission: helping students find ‘the voice they need at that moment’

District library media specialist receives statewide award for excellence 

Godfrey-Lee — The Michigan Association of School Librarians presented its 2023 Ruby Brown Award for Individual Excellence to Godfrey-Lee’s very own library media specialist, Harry Coffill. 

This award is given to an individual within a school library program who has made an outstanding contribution toward, or development of, a creative or constructive program to advance school library services.

During his five years in the district, Coffill has received more than $250,000 worth of grant funding and advocated for refurbishing three district libraries to better serve students.  

Also a former English teacher and drama club director, Coffill sat down with SNN to share more about his favorite books and why school libraries are important. 

Harry Coffill advocated for libraries and librarians at the state capitol building in Lansing for Michigan Library Advocacy Day in April

What did getting this award mean to you? “The recognition for me was so important. I love working (at Godfrey-Lee) and love my colleagues, but librarians work on an island. When I’m with the Michigan School Association of Librarians, you’re in a room with people who do the job you do.”

What is your favorite thing about your job? “Helping kids find the book that has the voice they need at that moment. Sometimes it’s a book about robots and sometimes it’s a book about someone like them. You get the kid to enjoy reading because they like robots, and then you get them to want to learn about people other than themselves. We learn empathy through literature.”

What authors or books have significantly impacted your life?  “Science fiction authors Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury made me love books but Stan Lee (of Marvel Comics fame) made me love reading. Stan was writing about teenagers who didn’t fit in, different races and sexual orientations and skin colors. Stan taught me a lot, he created the enthusiasm for reading.

“Every year I re-read ‘The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at M. I. T.’ by Stewart Brand. He wrote, ‘Information wants to be free. Information also wants to be expensive,’ and I knew I wanted to make those ideas of accessing credible and valuable information the center of my teaching.”

How is your district prioritizing libraries? “Godfrey-Lee is making (the library) the heart of their new construction and we’re making it more accessible to students and their community. We’re also making it the jewel and center point for what we do in this building. How cool is that? We’re not eliminating our library space; we’re making it bigger and adding windows and couches.” 

‘You get the kid to enjoy reading because they like robots, and then you get them to want to learn about people other than themselves. We learn empathy through literature.’

— Harry Coffill, Godfrey-Lee library media specialist
The Michigan Association of School Librarians presented their 2023 Ruby Brown Award for Individual Excellence to Godfrey-Lee’s library media specialist Harry Coffill, right, alongside Lowell Area Schools library media director Christine Beachler, who was awarded District Library Director of the Year

How do you balance providing traditional literary and modern technological resources to students? “As a librarian I’ve folded back to old-school and am more interested in having books I can carry with me. The best thing I can do for my students is to have books they can carry. As an educator, I should integrate learning research and credibility into everything I teach, which includes learning what my brain can do and what a computer can do for me.” 

What kinds of books can students find in your libraries? “It’s important to be able to find windows into other people’s lives and mirrors that reflect us. You’re going to find my books are more reflective of my school’s students. … I have books that I don’t agree with. I have a whole religious shelf, with multiple copies of world religious texts, in English and Spanish, because if you’re going to have one, you have to have them all. Stories are stories but we should have everyone’s stories.” 

Related: Lowell Area Schools’ librarian and a board of education member also recently won awards from the MASL. 

How do you keep the books in your library relevant and authentic? “Librarians have a process. You look at popular authors; you read reviews. I go through pop culture and keep popular titles on the shelves. Every year, I put out a Google poll for students to tell me what books they want to see, and every year we run the list of titles and get rid of outdated books or ones that haven’t been checked out in years.”

Read more from Godfrey-Lee: 
District library furnishings to get upgrade
Grant to give library a much needed boost

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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