Watseka school librarian helps bookmark children’s lives

April 14, 2019

Julie Dunn is a Watseka Community High School Warrior through and through.

She is a 1980 graduate of the school and now has served 24 years in the district. Much of that time has been spent in her current position, where she is the District Librarian for Unit 9 and Watseka High, helping generations of students learn the love of reading.

Children, she says, are different today, but still a good group.

She tries to move students toward top books, such as the Lincoln Award series. At the younger grades, there also are great series of award-winning books with designations by Monarch, Caldecott and Newberry.

She’s read many of those books herself, she says. One of the staples of those types of books is the idea of hope. The characters also, she says, find ways to grow beyond their limits.

Her own favorite book is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” with its theme of redemption and change, as Ebeneezer Scrooge passes from miser to philanthropist.

Her goal for her own library is to have award-winning novels on hand.

In these days of electronic reading devices, she still finds power in the idea of actually turning pages.

The Watseka High library has a longstanding collection of Time magazines. Research for papers has changed dramatically with the idea of instant electronic access. Yet, these old magazines still lend depth to a person’s understanding of an era.

“It gives you a different perspective to do research in those,” she said. “You find out the other things happening in the world. You see the ads. It is a lovely piece of history at your fingertips.”

Dunn is an advocate of the maxim that children should consume 1,000 books by kindergarten. That means not only turning the pages themselves, but also being read to by Mom and Dad, and Grandma and Grandpa.

It still counts, she says, if it’s just a picture book. It counts, too, if you read the same story over and over, getting to know the plot and characters.

She says that early reading is a marker of creating a lifelong reader and succeeding in life.

She herself came from a family of storytellers. Her grandfather would tell her a story as a little girl before she fell asleep.

Her mother and sister were both Watseka High alums, too. When Dunn was at the school, she was a member of the National Honor Society, editor of the school newspaper and a participant in the school plays.

She was manager of the volleyball team and twirled a rifle in front of the band.

“That shows how times have changed,” she said.

And she also was president of the Library Club, a volunteer group that helped the librarian.

She was inspired to take up education as a career by the late Norm Owens, “a gifted and powerful history teacher.”

She went on to earn her degree at Illinois State.

Superintendent Martin Getty encouraged her to get a library endorsement for her teaching certificate because librarians were hard to find.

She took him up on that, doing correspondence work through the University of Mississippi and earning her degree from the University of Illinois. She also earned a master’s degree from Olivet Nazarene University.

Throughout the years at Unit 9, she has been the librarian at Glenn Raymond Middle School, and taught social studies and American history, as well as freshman geography.

Today, she sees some of the students she once taught in the lower grades at the high school.

These students, she said, still have the same wants and needs as students in the past. She knows them and sometimes sits behind them at church. She drives past them as they shoot playground hoops on the weekends.

She plans to be in her job for three more years before retiring. Even then, she might be returning to help. She works with two wonderful library aides, she says, who help both her and the students.

“I have been very blessed to work in Unit 9,” she says. “I was welcomed with open arms.”

She enjoys those teachers who return each year, she says, and mourns those who have departed.