Motlow Librarians move State vision Forward as Literacy Advocates

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Sharon Kay Edwards and Paige Hendrickson are branch librarians at Motlow State’s McMinnville and Smyrna campuses respectively. While they provide critical service and support daily to patrons who need to access information through the library, they also have become literary advocates who are leaders in moving Tennessee forward in library awareness with elected officials and state organizations.

Working within state and federal legislative infrastructures to increase literacy awareness is a primary focus for Edwards. She currently serves as Tennessee Library Association (TLA)’s Legislative Monitor and chair of the Legislative Committee, where she has served for three years. She was also selected to attend the American Library Association (ALA) Legislative Fly-in to Washington, DC. There, she met with Senators Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn, Congressman Scott DesJarlais, and staff from Congressman Chuck Fleischmann's office.

Paige Hendrickson and Sharon Kay Edwards are forces of change at Motlow. Their commitment to Motlow is exceeded only by their passion for improving literacy, as they promote a sense of lifelong learning.
— Chris Bryant, Motlow Director of Libraries.

Edwards hard work has not gone unnoticed, as she received the TLA “Making a Difference” Award at the 2019 TLA annual conference. The award recognizes her innovative outreach ideas, such as “Breakfast Coffee with Legislators” and her work in utilizing TLA’s partnership with the ALA to create a Virtual Library Legislative Day. Most recently, Edwards was selected to join ALA's Policy Corps, a two-year program which aims to develop a team of experts with deep and sustained knowledge of national public policies in areas key to ALA’s strategic goals.

Hendrickson was a featured speaker at the 2019 TLA annual conference in Chattanooga, and at the Library Instruction Tennessee (LIT) professional conference at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville. Her presentation, “Critical Literacy: Reframing Information for the Academically Underprepared”, details how critical thinking lessons, when combined with information literacy skills, help bridge the knowledge gaps seen with the academically underprepared.

“Paige Hendrickson and Sharon Kay Edwards are forces of change at Motlow,” said Chris Bryant, Motlow director of libraries. “Their commitment to the students, faculty and staff goes beyond the standard service provided, as they consistently strive to improve services for patrons. They accomplish this though building personal relationships, advocating for an inclusive environment, and by looking to the future for Motlow libraries and the College. Their commitment to Motlow is exceeded only by their passion for improving literacy, as they promote a sense of lifelong learning.”

Their passion for improving literacy involves providing a clear pathway in gaining knowledge amidst an age of information-overload and sensory overstimulation. Both are also committed to the vision of the TLA: to help Tennessee libraries provide the best possible information resources and services; especially to Motlow students.

“I am passionate about raising library awareness in our elected officials by making sure those with the power to make funding decisions know how libraries are building strong communities in their districts,” said Edwards. “Through library advocacy efforts this year, I was able to secure an official proclamation for Library Week from Governor Bill Lee.”

Hendrickson sees and understands the challenges students have as they search for information amidst the plethora of electronic and print resources that are available. She works fervently to provide pathways for students to successfully navigate and utilize these resources, and as a result has become an authority on the subject.

“Information literacy is more than just knowing where to look for the information a person seeks,” said Hendrickson. “It is also the ability to sort, process, and evaluate the information for validity, relevance, and effectiveness. In the college library, we do our best to bridge gaps in students understanding the information around them and provide context to make it meaningful. As the primary center for information, the library strives to fulfill a vital role in connecting with the students and helping wherever they need. While we do not know everything, we will help them find the answers they seek.”

According to Hendrickson, while academic libraries are popular go-to places for students’ research questions, current community college students have informational needs beyond traditional bibliographic instruction. Her presentation shares resources for, and approaches to, mitigating student educational deficits.

“With the Drive to 55 initiative and the new age of "free college” scholarship programs (TN Promise, Reconnect), a unique breed of information seeker has been created,” added Hendrickson. “The vast array of learners now seeking higher education is motivated, but also brings acute awareness to many deficits that require additional resources and re-education for successful degree/program completion.”