Jennifer Stanbro poses in her library at Skillin Elementary School in South Portland with the plaque she received in April from the Maine Association of School Libraries. The association has named her its 2021 School Librarian of the Year. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

The Maine Association of School Libraries has honored a South Portland elementary school librarian with its 2021 Librarian of the Year award.

Jennifer Stanbro, 50, has been with Skillin Elementary School since 2004, and now serves as teacher librarian and the district’s K-12 libraries coordinator.

Stanbro’s arrival at Skillin signaled a change in how libraries would be run in the district. Before, she said, library clerks maintained the libraries’ collections, but Stanbro was the district’s first full-time librarian trained in library sciences. She has a master’s degree in library science and another in liberal studies.

“They’d never had a professional librarian,” she said.

Stanbro’s work goes well beyond helping kids check out books. She teaches classes in research and technology, focusing on skills such as how to do research online, how to use critical thinking to identify facts, proper usage of social media and even how to identify copyrighted works online.

“It’s been increasingly in demand,” she said. “The librarians have become sort of the master teachers of that.”

Skillin Principal Bethany Connolly was one of the district officials who nominated Stanbro for the award. She said this week that she had only been with the school for a few years, but she could immediately see the impact Stanbro’s approach had to making the library a more active place.

“It made our school more cohesive,” she said. “The library became the center of our school.”

Stanbro’s influence has extended beyond Skillin, too. The district now employs two other librarians with similar background and skills to Stanbro, and the school board recently approved hiring two more, ensuring that all five of the district’s elementary school libraries will now be run by librarians of Stanbro’s caliber, Connolly said. She gave Stanbro credit for lobbying for those changes, and said it will make the district’s elementary school libraries more active and productive.

“It takes it from being just a place where books are kept to a very dynamic place,” she said.

The Walter J. Taranko School Librarian Award is given annually to a school librarian “in recognition of excellence in school library work within the State of Maine.” In a statement, the association wrote: “The support and advocacy efforts made by Jen demonstrate the exemplary qualities of a School Librarian that MASL seeks to honor each year.”

Connolly said the district learned Stanbro would be this year’s recipient back in March, but spent a month planning a surprise announcement for her. In early April, Connolly said, district administrators met with Stanbro at the Skillin library, while students, staff and Stanbro’s family joined via Google Meets to congratulate her.

“I was completely bowled over,” Stanbro said.

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