It takes a master’s degree to be a librarian, but Mariela Siegert knows it takes much more than that to be named School Librarian of the Year by the Association of Illinois School Library Educators.
Siegert, who is in her second year at Downers Grove North High School, is the 2021 recipient of the award and said she believes her support of future librarians may be one reason she received the award. With a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in library information sciences, Siegert is eager to share her knowledge with her students at Downers Grove North, as well as future librarians at Dominican University where she is an adjunct professor.
“Books have changed everything for me,” Siegert said. “I’m very, very proud to have won this award, and I do not think I am the only person deserving of it at all. I think I’m at my best because I surround myself with amazing librarians. I just feel the responsibility to teach and mentor other librarians and young readers.”
At Dominican, Siegert teaches a technology class and a graphic novels class, two things she said she is passionate about bringing to the library at Downer Grove North. Before becoming a librarian at North, Siegert worked for three years at Burlington Central Middle School as an eighth grade language arts teacher and then for 12 years at Westfield Middle School.
This is Siegert’s second year at North, where she often finds herself visiting classrooms and fostering – sometimes igniting – students’ passion for reading. Principal Courtney DeMent said that in general libraries have become a very different space than they once were, and Siegert manages the huge task with ease.
“Librarians now have such a huge task ahead of them, and [Siegert] does such a great job interacting and digging into what students need,” DeMent said. “The library at North is so popular, and it really is a hub more than a quiet space. [Siegert] has formed such great relationships with the kids that they gravitate to that space.”
Joey Brant, one of Siegert’s former students at Westfield, is a testament to Siegert’s ability to form relationships with students. Brant, now a senior at Lake Park High School, said he continues to reach out to Siegert to discuss books and believes she was transformative in his life.
Brant said Siegert supported him in and out of the library and helped him nurture his love of reading. He described Siegert as explorative and curious and said he owes her a thank-you for making his reading diverse.
“She made me confident in celebrating my intelligence and supported my personal life and growth,” Brant said. “She gave me a lot of opportunities and formative experiences to make me the leader and student I am today.”
Brant said Siegert encouraged him to read outside of his comfort zone, something he now sees as an experience that made him more empathetic and well-read. She opened him up to the world, he said, and he is excited to see Siegert celebrated, especially knowing how hard she works and the sacrifices she makes for students.
For Siegert, it just doesn’t feel like work, she said. Her strong connection with students and her passion for reading make it easy to be honest and form relationships, she said.
“I have a lot of fingers in the pot of librarianship, and I don’t think I could do something else and be this happy,” she said. “We all have our niche, and it’s hard to put into words. It’s like when people ask how you know you’re in love. It’s just a calling.”