CURRENT POSITION High School Library Department Chair, New Canaan Public Schools, CT
DEGREE MLIS, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, 2002
AWARD Technology Innovation Award, International Society for Technology in Education
Photo by Bob Stefko
“She is not about ‘business as usual,’ ” says School Library Journal Neverending Search blogger Joyce Valenza, of Michelle Luhtala. “She pulls us forward in her thought, principles, and actions. She pushes access and intellectual freedom.”
How? By propelling initiatives such as Banned Websites Awareness Day (BWAD), an annual event raising consciousness about excessive filtering in school settings that promotes activities and provides resources about the issue. Nancy Everhart, former president of the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), backed the initiative in 2011, after a discussion with Luhtala. It’s now a staple of Banned Books Week.
“I’m terribly mindful of the digital divide,” says Luhtala, now BWAD committee chair. “As educators we have a responsibility to prepare studentsfor the world they will work in and how they will negotiate that world. That includes all kinds of participatory media.”
Luhtala’s affluent school provides latitude in student Internet use. Trust is a critical ingredient in student success and responsible use, she believes. A student-narrated video she created, We Trust You, serves as a freshman introduction to the school library.
She fights for such access in all schools. “The most restrictive districts are the most challenged learning environments—underfunded and underserved,” she says. “By shutting [the Internet] down, we’re denying [students] a full education.”
Beyond access, Luhtala has partnered with faculty to embed the Common Core State Standards in the curriculum, leads free Follett edWeb seminars, maintains an instructional school library blog, and writes at bibliotech.me. She has racked up leadership posts and honors.
“In her thinking about practice, Michelle is ahead of everyone,” says Valenza.