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Difference Maker

'Super-librarian' figures out secret to getting kids to read

Librarian Cynthia Dobrez uses e-readers, bibliotherapy, and her own intuition in her middle school library in Michigan.

By Yvonne Zipp/ Correspondent / December 6, 2010

Cynthia Dobrez says she’s never lost a game of ‘Stump the Librarian,’ in which she finds books for reluctant readers. She’s the director of two public middle-school libraries in Michigan, which has seen a reduction of its teacher-librarian corps from 2,000 in 2000 to just 500 today.

Katy Batdorff/Special to the Christian Science Monitor

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Holland, Mich.

When Angela Craft was a teen, she fell in love with a book, "Empress of the World," by Sara Ryan.

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Her middle-school librarian, Cynthia Dobrez, told Angela that, if she could get herself to the American Library Association (ALA) meeting in Atlanta, Ms. Dobrez would arrange for her to meet Ms. Ryan.

One road trip with Mom later, Angela was having coffee with her idol. "I actually almost fainted," says Ms. Craft, now a young-adult book blogger in New York.

Related: Report: Reading skills in early grades are crucial to success

That's how Dobrez does her job. She's about as far from an old-fashioned Marian the Librarian as a Kindle e-reader is from a parchment scroll.

"I love working with [early teens] – I just love it. The kids are at such a vulnerable time. The middle-school years can be so traumatic," says Dobrez, whose license plate is "R3AD." She loves to "connect them with a book that helps make those years a little bit easier."

A handbag in her office features the cover of a Three Dog Night album, "It's Not Easy." That sums up the state of affairs for school librarians across the United States.

Michigan has fewer than 500 teacher­-librarians, a loss of 1,500 in the past decade, according to the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME).

Dobrez's impeccable credentials have kept her in her beloved profession. In 1996, she was named the state's top school librarian by MAME. In 1997, her library was named one of two finalists for the best school library program in the US.

She has chaired the committee for the ALA's Printz Award, recognizing the best in young-adult literature. This year she also sits on the Los Angeles Times book award committee. She reviews young adult books for the ALA's influential Booklist and co-writes a blog, Bookends, with her colibrarian of many years, Lynn Rutan.

"We are so fortunate to host Cindy Dobrez's young-adult blog," says Laura Tillotson, editorial director of Booklist Books for Youth, in an e-mail.

As a result of budget cuts that cost Ms. Rutan her job in 2007, Dobrez now splits her time between Harbor Lights Middle School and Macatawa Bay Middle School in Holland, Mich. She's responsible for 1,800 students and 60,000 books and runs an after-school book club for students.

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