This article you’re reading marks the first anniversary of my column “Don’t Forget to Write.” So, I’m going to take a few minutes and talk about this place and some of the things you can expect to see here. First, what is this column about, and what is its mission? To answer that, I’ll start by talking about myself and my history and how I got here.
A Little About Me
In my full-time job, I’m an educator. I started my career as a teacher of high school English and then transitioned to become a high school library media specialist. While working in the school library, I invented the School Library Writing Center (publishing two books on it), and began tutoring students in writing. As a writing tutor, my goal was never to help students “write papers”—it was to teach them how to write.
My school library writing center was an immediate success. The students learned a great deal, and I learned everything about the one-on-one writer’s conference and how to tutor students in writing. I love helping kids learn to write. They come to me with no idea how to compose an academic paper, so I teach them how to do it. I move slowly and in great simplicity, proceeding step-by-step and offering them easily digestible bits and bites of knowledge. I understand the writing process very deeply, and it’s wonderful to see the light go on and see looks of relief and enlightenment on my students’ faces. As a school librarian, teaching students to write is perhaps my favorite part of the job.
Besides being a school librarian, I work part-time in a beautiful public library on Long Island. While there, I often encounter people who want (or need) to write something. And, over my years of working in libraries scholastic and public, I have discovered a cosmic law that has been validated over and over: most people don’t know how to write. They don’t truly know how to compose a business letter, a resumé, or (especially) an academic paper. And one day, I wondered something: could I teach patrons in the public library how to write, just as I taught my students at school how to write? The answer is yes, and it has been a spectacular success.
How Did This Start?
Just a few years ago, on a Saturday afternoon, a young woman (let’s call her Alexis) came to the reference desk asking where she might find some research articles for a paper she had to write for school. While chatting with Alexis, I learned that she was in the twelfth grade and that her social studies term paper was due in just a few days. She did not know how to write a proper academic paper, and she didn’t know how to begin. And she bit her nails. I told her that I’m a writing tutor, and this is your lucky day, and I asked if I could help her, and she said yes, and I could sense immediate relief as she thought that maybe someone could help her compose this paper because she had absolutely no idea how to proceed and she was rather terrified. Yes, all of that in under a minute.
I tutored Alexis over several sessions, the same way I tutor in school. Although set in the public library, it felt very familiar. I proceeded slowly and simply and watched as Alexis began to understand the writing process. And I watched her paper develop into something terrific, and something that made her very proud. Alexis was thrilled to complete her paper and hand it in on time—and so was I. A few weeks later she came back to the library to thank me and told me that she received an “A” on the paper. She was so happy she nearly cried (which means I nearly cried, too). I congratulated her and told her I was proud of her, and to come and see me anytime she had to write a paper. But the biggest achievement (I thought silently) was giving a young woman the gift of writing.
And Now it’s Your Turn
And this brings me to the purpose of my column. I want you – and all librarians everywhere, in school and public libraries – to begin tutoring your own patrons in the gentle art of writing. Wait, I know what you’re thinking: I can’t do that! There’s no way I can tutor people in writing!
Yes, you can. Yes, there is.
In future columns, I’m going to show you how to teach your patrons how to write. I’m going to move slowly and simply, and proceed step-by-step. And how will I do this? I’m going to structure my column in an ongoing narrative strand of successive writing tutorials. What the heck does that mean? I’m going to write five (or so) columns in which I recount how I helped Alexis compose a paper and begin navigating the mysterious and beautiful world of writing. I’ll show you everything. I promise. And I’ll make it fun.
In the meantime – as you await these future articles – I urge you to locate my six earlier columns (they’re all here, on the NYLA website), to (re)read them in chronological order, to learn my methods, and to use them. (And please get back to me with questions or compliments. I really like getting compliments.) You’ll enjoy reading my columns, and – please believe me when I say this – your patrons are depending on you.
Thank you for spending this time with me, and I’ll see you in the waning glory of a beautiful winter. Until then, so long—and don’t forget to write
Dr. Timothy Horan is a full-time school librarian and part-time public librarian on Long Island (NY). He holds master’s degrees in English, library science, and education, along with an advanced graduate certificate in creative writing, and a doctorate in English literature. In 2013, The Suffolk School Library Media Association (SSLMA) awarded him the “School Librarian of the Year.” In 2019, they awarded him the “Outstanding Contribution to the School Library Profession.” He has published dozens of scholarly articles on libraries, writing, and education. He is the inventor of the School Library Writing Center, and literally wrote the book(s) on the subject: Create Your School Library Writing Center, Grades 7 - 12, and Create Your School Library Writing Center, Grades K - 6 (both from Libraries Unlimited). He is the editor of VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) Magazine and has a library in his house which he designed and built himself. This is where he does his best thinking and writing.