Portraits of a Division

Portrait of an ACPS Staff Member: Cary Shaffer

When Cary Shaffer first began volunteering at the Meriwether Lewis Elementary School library about fifteen years ago to help out her children’s school, she didn’t yet know that her time there would prompt her to make a career change.

For the first two decades of her career, Cary was in technology management. But as she spent more and more time in Meriwether Lewis’ library and saw technology start to make its way into schools, she realized that the library was where she wanted to be.

“When I was volunteering, I was seeing the library go from the traditionally quiet, book-focus area to a place that could really open up the world to kids,” she said, “and I wanted to be a part of that.”

So, that’s what she did.

She returned to school to complete a Masters in Information Science and, eight years ago, joined ACPS as an official school librarian with Agnor-Hurt Elementary School.

“I consider myself a lifelong learner, so I was drawn to the fact that as a librarian, I could be right there learning with the students,” she said.

And that’s exactly what she started doing. Cary says she takes suggestions from students about what they’d like to learn about and develops lesson plans around that for when their class visits the library. It’s important to her that the students become engaged and enthralled with the world around them.

“When I worked in a corporate setting, it just wasn’t fulfilling,” Cary said. “You could never really see any impact you were having. But here, I have the potential to make a really personal impact on someone’s life.”

Agnor-Hurt’s library is somewhat of a revolving door, with each class coming into the library once a week to either read a book or work on some kind of lesson that focuses on literacy or technology. Even still, Cary makes sure to take the time to get to know each and every student that comes through her library.

“At that age, having a strong relationship with adults in the school makes a big difference,” Cary said. “It’s incredibly important to foster that and help them grow.”

That relationship was something that Cary really missed when schools closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. She worked each day to try to keep physical books in the hands of students, but with the mitigation strategies in place to slow the spread of the pandemic, it was difficult to coordinate and sanitize with physical books and ended up having to transition to more digital resources.

“Nothing can ever really replace the relationship between a physical book and the experience of a story,” Cary said.

And there was one more problem: When schools closed, many families found it difficult to return books that students had checked out. This caused a massive book loss for the school -- and many around the nation.

When the PTO caught wind of this problem, they stepped in. They created a fundraiser for the library to replace lost books and hit their goal in only a few days with donations from not only the local community, but from people as far away as Richmond.

“It was such a great success story of a community coming together,” Cary said. “And now we have all these new books and it makes the kids doubly excited to get back into the library.”

And if Cary were to turn this story into a lesson, the lesson would be this: “Support your local library, school and public!”