Kim Johnson stood among shelves and shelves of books and rows of laptops on a Thursday in May, pointing out possible sources for research, and explaining MLA format for citations.
She explained how to use the index of a book, something that in this day and age of technology, isn't done nearly as much. People are more used to just scrolling through things until they find what they're looking for, she said.
For South Carroll High School's media specialist, her job is about melding those two worlds together — the traditional library and the technology that now fills it.
And, having been named the Maryland School Librarian of the Year, it's clear Johnson has a handle on the gig.
It's the first year this award has existed, Johnson said. She was encouraged to throw her name in the hat and went through the application process over winter break, she said. She found out she was a nominee, then a finalist and, ultimately, the winner.
"I was surprised. I was really surprised," she said.
Johnson said she knew some of the other finalists and the "amazing" work that they do.
"To feel like I was running with these people that I admired was pretty humbling and exciting at the same time," she said.
As the Maryland School Librarian of the Year, Johnson said she she'll be the keynote speaker for the Maryland Association of School Librarians conference.
Applying for the award was partially because she was encouraged, but also a chance for Johnson to share the message of what media specialists do in their schools, she said. School media centers are places of community and collaboration, Johnson said.
"By having this award and being somebody who is an advocate for the profession and an advocate for the award … I can spread the message of what librarians really do," she added.
Prior to this, Johnson was a teacher at Susquehanna High School in Pennsylvania, where she taught social studies. She taught for eight years, and worked toward getting her media specialist degree.
"I just knew it would be, kind of a better fit for me," she said.
A big difference between a school librarian or media specialist — Johnson said she uses the two titles interchangeably — and a public librarian, is how much she interacts with students and teachers. This position at South Carroll High allows her to work with nearly everyone in the school, Johnson added.
She doesn't have her own curriculum, but rather adopts that of every teacher or student she's working with, and uses her resources to help them succeed.
"I think my previous teaching experience really was important. It still is really important to me in my current job. I try to stay in touch as much as possible with what classroom teachers are going through, having been one," she said. "[Media Specialists] are serving teachers and students at their moment in need. What we do is based on what teachers and students need us to do."
On that Thursday in May, Johnson was helping an advanced placement class work on position papers. Students were each researching their own topics for the paper, she said.
This position has helped her learn to go with the flow and switch gears when needed, she said.
"I've learned to be really spontaneous and I've learned to be really flexible," Johnson added.
It's not just the Maryland School Librarians Association taking notice of Johnson.
Max Rouchard, 17, has Johnson in advisory period, and was working in the library as a part of the AP class. Johnson is "super passionate," Rouchard, a junior from Mount Airy, said.
"She's one of the more relaxed … staff members," he added.
Johnson cares about getting people into reading, and always explains things well when helping with research and sources, Rouchard said.
For Johnson, libraries and media centers aren't just about the research and technology tools. They should be the "touchstone of connection" in a building, she said.
And, they have the ability to help students deal with emotions and encourage empathy, she said.
"We can use literature as a way to help students find themselves, help students find empathy with each other," Johnson said.