PORTLAND – Kelley McDaniel never saw herself overseeing a hushed repository of books.

As the librarian at King Middle School, she’s usually at the center of activity, whether students are enjoying snacks at a Thanks a Latte reader-appreciation event, playing vampire-themed games during a library sleepover for fans of the “Twilight” series or engaging in a scholarly discussion about books set in the Civil War era.

It’s a part-time job that McDaniel does with full-time vigor, largely because it allows her to learn right along with students.

“I’m interested in everything,” said McDaniel, 41. “As a school librarian, I can stay connected to everything and do projects on anything. It keeps all doors open, which is great, since being a perpetual scholar isn’t really an option for me.”

McDaniel’s innovative, all-in approach won national recognition earlier this month, when she traveled to New York City to receive a 2010 I Love My Librarian Award. Ten librarians received the annual honor, which is sponsored by the Carnegie Corp. of New York, the American Library Association and The New York Times.

McDaniel plans to use the $5,000 prize to take 12 students in her Civil War book group to Charleston, S.C., in April. She started the book group to mark the 150th anniversary of the war’s start in 1861. The students will visit various historical sites, including Fort Sumter, the Old Slave Mart and the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley.

McDaniel said she was overwhelmed during the awards ceremony, which was held Dec. 9 at The New York Times. She gave a brief acceptance speech about the meaning and value of libraries. At the reception that followed, prominent representatives of each sponsoring organization offered her congratulations.

“It was one of those experiences that, at the time, doesn’t feel real,” McDaniel recalled. “I never thought that what I do would ever be noticed by people in that world.”

King staff members and students weren’t surprised that McDaniel was singled out.

“She pours herself into her work,” said King Principal Mike McCarthy. “She brought life into the library and she works tirelessly on projects, whether they’re big or small, especially for boys, who often aren’t that interested in reading at this age.”

“She’s always doing things to build literacy,” said Steve Morgenstein, a computer teacher at King. “And she often does it on her own time and on her own dime. Kids feel very comfortable coming into this room.”

“I really like the library because it’s very welcoming,” said Sigrid Harmon, a King sixth-grader. “She’s very helpful and she loves a lot of books and she interacts with kids and sees what they like.”

McDaniel is a Maine native who lives in Portland with her partner, Dana McDaniel, a linguistics professor at the University of Southern Maine, and two children, Otrell, 14, a USM sophomore, and Aedin, 11, a sixth-grader at King.

She has been a school librarian for 15 years, including 11 at King and previous stints in Winthrop and Lisbon schools. She always wears purple clothing and accessories because someone told her when she was a teenager that it was a healing color.

McDaniel said she’s able to be the kind of librarian she is because of King’s innovative learning environment, which is based on the Expeditionary Learning model promoted by Outward Bound.

“There are thousands of librarians across the nation that are like flowers trying to grow in concrete,” she said. “King allows extraordinary people to be extraordinary. I have been given a blank check for creativity.”

While she appreciates the national award, she values the feedback she receives from current and former students even more. The girl who said the library was her favorite place in the world. The boy who told her, “You are the person who made me a reader.” Another former student who decided to become a librarian because she made it seem so fun.

“This library is a very social place,” McDaniel conceded. “It’s a place dedicated to inspiring students to become lifelong readers. You don’t inspire people by sitting at a desk.”

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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