Library Media Specialist and Director of Social Media, Wendell Phillips Academy High School, Academy for Urban School Leadership Network, Chicago
MS, Education, Library Science and Information Technology, Chicago State University, 2002; MA, Education, Administration, Governors State University, 2008; PhD in progress, Dominican University, LIS
Queen of Street Lit
Photo by Bob Stefko
Against the Odds
When fellow educators and librarians warned high school librarian K.C. Boyd against using street lit with her students, Boyd listened—to her patrons. “What kids are interested in is not what we were interested in,” she says.
Boyd has long championed urban fiction in the face of skepticism, from starting what was among the nation’s first Street Lit Nook Book Clubs for high schoolers to presenting on the genre at conferences. Her efforts have been particularly significant at Wendell Phillips Academy High School, a once failing school on Chicago’s South Side that is now—with her help—flourishing. Many of her students live in areas plagued by gang violence and have grown up without library access. Street lit speaks to them, she says. “These stories reflect what’s going on in their neighborhoods and lives.”
Boyd’s willingness to go against the grain has transformed her school’s reading culture. “When I visited…the flow of students coming in and out of the library…was astonishing,” says Chicago Public Library staffer Ryan Allen. More than 700 books were checked out in September 2014, up from 288 in September 2011, and once reluctant readers are now consuming everything from realistic fiction to manga to the classics. And it’s resonating: Boyd recalls one teen who told her that the ruthlessness of the protagonist in The Great Gatsby reminded him of a street lit character.
Though she faces daunting challenges, Boyd is relentless when it comes to empowering her students. She’s pioneered Wendell Phillips’s social media, making dynamic use of Pinterest. She has also developed Behind the Paws, a student-produced YouTube news show that has instilled a sense of pride, highlighting accomplishments such as athletic wins and talent shows.
With modest resources—the videos are filmed and produced on iPads obtained through one of Boyd’s own grant-writing efforts—she’s made a lasting impression on her students, several of whom plan to pursue careers in journalism. “Here we have these kids who are from a neighborhood that most people won’t even go into,” she says. “[But] they’re articulate, they’re funny, they’re creative, they’re talented. We wanted to show…what we have at this school.”
This is far from Boyd’s first time in the pages of the library press: she was recently featured on the cover of School Library Journal, LJ‘s sister publication. You can read the cover story here.