By LAUREL BUSBY
Special to Circling the News
Until last year, many LAUSD middle schools and high schools lacked librarians. Paul Revere Middle School was no exception.
At Revere, volunteers and teachers tried to fill in the gap, but without a librarian, the school’s book collection aged, and the students lacked a steady guide to its resources and research capabilities.
All that changed last year when the settlement of the teachers’ strike required the district to hire 41 additional school librarians, and Gabriela Gualano became Revere’s first librarian since 2015.
For Gualano, the chance to step into the position at Revere was ideal.
“Revere was the dream job,” Gualano, 30, said. “It has a reputation of being a really great school, and I wanted to work with middle school students,” who she finds have more maturity than younger kids, but still have the young child’s sense of fun.
Since taking charge of Revere’s library in September, Gualano has begun a variety of projects to both increase its services and upgrade the collection.
“I’ve been getting rid of books that are outdated and getting new books that kids can use for research,” said Gualano, who received a grant for purchases from the school’s parent booster club, PRIDE.
In addition, “so much young adult literature has been written in the last decade, especially with diverse characters…. At Revere, kids come from all over—60-to-70 different zip codes, and even kids who live nearby are diverse, so these newer books allow them to read about kids like themselves.”
Gualano has also been bringing in authors to speak to the students. Bree Barton, who writes young adult fantasy, spoke to the seventh and eighth graders a few weeks ago, while Cathleen Young spoke to the 6th graders last Friday and also gave each student a copy of her book, “The Pumpkin War.”
Author appearances are just one way that Gualano strives to better connect kids with books. Another method is uncovering kids’ interests and finding books that might intrigue them. For example, graphic novels can be enticing reading material that provide a steppingstone to a traditional novel or series.
Or perhaps, if students like a Netflix show like “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” or “The Last Kids on Earth,” they might enjoy the original novels from which the shows were adapted.
“It’s a fun challenge to have a kid say, ‘I hate reading,’” Gualano said. “It’s a puzzle, and I’m trying to solve it by finding a book that they’re going to like.”
Several students shared that they had found appealing books with Gualano’s help, and in the process, they had broadened their enjoyment of reading.
For example, one seventh grader said, “Ms. Gualano just gives the best books for you to read when you don’t know what books to get.” While an eighth grader added, Gualano “recommends books to us from huge books to graphic novels. I wasn’t really a book worm, but now I think I am.”
In fact, books that students select themselves are the most powerful tool for improving reading and literacy, according to research. In addition, both access to books and the presence of a librarian contribute significantly to reading achievement and general student knowledge.
Gualano noted, “Librarians don’t need to worry about reading levels, meeting a certain standard, or if the book is a graphic novel. Instead, I can just recommend books I think a student will enjoy.”
One common request she receives is for “funny books,” but libraries don’t traditionally organize books that way. However, Gualano plans to change that next year by shifting the books so they aren’t organized not only by the author’s last name, but also by genre.
“This year, it’s getting everything in order,” she said. “Next year will be changing the order.”
One part of organizing the library space has been enhancing its offerings, so she added a play table with kinetic sand and a puzzle table. Next year, more flexible and lighter furniture is desired to make the space more moldable to students’ needs.
Another project that Gualano has begun provides specialized lessons to which teachers can bring an entire class. For example, to aid students in research, Gualano provides a class on how to differentiate credible websites from non-credible ones.
The kids analyze a website about the Pacific Northwest tree octopus, a fake animal featured in a seemingly credible website, which inevitably “fools the kids.” She also offers a second course on identifying bias using entertaining material, such as comparing articles on how Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle are described in similar situations.
In addition, Gualano teaches a class on citations and another on finding and searching through databases of academic journals and encyclopedias that are part of LAUSD’s subscription services.
In general, “librarians are able to teach digital literacy skills that teachers may not have the time to teach or may not know about,” Gualano said. “I have taught ‘how to use the databases’ to several classrooms that would not have otherwise used them.”
Delving into all these aspects of life as a full-time school librarian has been a delight for Gualano, who comes from a family of librarians. Her mother, aunt and sister are all librarians.
Before the Revere position opened, Gualano, who lives in Culver City and grew up in Gardena, had been teaching transitional kindergarten at St. Martin of Tours in Brentwood for eight years while earning her master’s degree in library science via San Jose State’s online program, from which she graduated in 2013.
For more than a decade, she had also worked part-time at the Torrance Public Library, including during her school years at Loyola Marymount, where she earned her degree in education in 2010.
Throughout these years, she also spent time traveling, which included adventures on every continent, including Antarctica. Revere’s library has become its own travel destination for students in part because it allows them to venture via books into other places and times.
But perhaps just as importantly, the library gives students “a safe place to come to during nutrition and lunch,” Gualano said. “They can read, do homework, talk with friends, or be anonymous if they wish.”
If you would like to donate to the library, books can be dropped off at Paul Revere, or monetary donations can be sent to PRIDE Booster Club, Attn: Lori Vogel, 1450 Allenford Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90049.