Alumna Susan Pennell Takes Leadership Role in Teacher Librarian Field

Community Profile

San José State University School of Information alumna Susan Pennell manages multimedia library resources for teachers throughout Madera County, Calif., and helps teachers learn to use instructional technology. She also leads professional development initiatives for teacher librarians throughout California.

Pennell is the manager of library media services for the Madera County Office of Education, where she has worked since 2000. The library she manages includes resources such as DVDs, kits, models, books and professional journals. Teachers throughout the county use an online catalog to order materials, which are delivered to them weekly. The library also has online resources such as databases and a digital video library. Much of Pennell’s job entails showing teachers how they can use instructional technology in their classrooms.

The Madera County Office of Education belongs to the California County Educational Technology Consortium, which negotiates the purchase and licensing of digital media instructional resources for its member counties. Pennell is a past chairman of the consortium, and currently serves on its administration committee.

Her commitment to professional development extends outside of her job. Pennell has held leadership positions with the California School Library Association (CSLA) since 1999, and is currently its vice president of professional development.

The association’s activities include hosting weekend professional development workshops and afterschool webinars, such as an eight-part series on information and digital literacy that was presented in 2013. Her duties also include overseeing committees on standards integration, research, and the California Young Reader Medal.

In addition, Pennell serves as treasurer of the American Library Association’s Video Round Table.

Describing her workplace as “truly like a family and a home,” Pennell said the only thing that could possibly entice her to leave her job might be an opportunity to work in another country. Being prepared for such an opportunity was a big incentive for getting her MLIS degree, she said. “The MLIS degree is recognized internationally,” Pennell said.

Pennell was already a credentialed teacher librarian when she earned her Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree in 2008. Her coursework was geared for people interested in working as information professionals in administrative positions, similar to today’s Leadership and Management Career Pathway.

Pennell taught elementary school from 1984 until 1994, when she moved to Modesto, Calif., and found that teaching jobs there were on a year-round school calendar instead of the traditional school calendar she preferred. However, the support staff positions followed the traditional calendar, so she applied for jobs as a resource specialist and a teacher librarian even though she didn’t have a credential for either. She was offered the teacher librarian position.

“There’s a shortage of teacher librarians to this day in California,” Pennell said. “So they were looking for teachers who were willing to go back and get their teacher librarian credential. I thought I’d just do it for a year or two, but I just fell in love with it.”

Pennell earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, which is required in California to teach elementary school, and a master’s in early childhood education. She completed her teacher librarian credential at Fresno Pacific University in 2000.

From that first school library job, she became a coordinator at the school district level and eventually came to her current workplace almost 14 years ago in a library management position.

Career Tips

“Don’t just do your job, but get on committees in your school and school districts. Put yourself in leadership positions. Take the leap to provide professional development to your peers. Also, have a short meeting with your principal at least once a month, and tell him what you do. Market your library to your teachers and students with Twitter, and send emails to your peers about what’s new in your library so it’s on their radar all the time.”

Tech Tip

“Keep current on the latest trends, so you’re ahead of the game with your peers. Look at e-books and the devices your teachers and students use to access them. Teacher librarians need to be in the forefront on e-books.”

Influential Courses

“The leadership classes are influential to this day. I learned to think about your collection and the needs of your customers like someone in marketing would — are you providing the resources and services your customers need, and how are you getting information to your customers about your products and services? That was a big revolution for me, coming from the classroom, to think about things in a business sense. That was a big ‘aha’ for me.”

Professional Affiliations

CSLA; Computer Using Educators (CUE); ALA Video Round Table; American Association of School Librarians (AASL); California County Educational Technology Consortium (CCETC) board of directors; Central Valley Library Consortium (CVLC); Fresno Area Library Consortium (FALC)

Best Conference


Favorite Website

Calibk12, the official listserv for the CSLA