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iSchool Student Profile: Katie Thomas


When Katie Thomas arrived for library volunteer orientation at Casis Elementary School four years ago, she struck veteran librarian Barbara Nichols as quiet and unassuming.

Nichols remembers mentioning - almost as an afterthought - that she could use some help with the Halloween display case. And suddenly, this unassuming volunteer unleashed a creative force that Nichols said transformed the library. It didn't end with Halloween. Thomas kept delivering - creating robots with the students for one author' visit; a circus theme for another.

"The bigger the idea, the more she is on board, "Nichols said. "She is a dreamer, an optimist. She has boundless energy and a great sense of humor."

The admiration is mutual. Thomas sees Nichols, a 1997 iSchool alumna and a nominee for the Austin Independent School District's librarian of the year, as the ultimate mentor - someone who continues to breathe new life into the library and talks to children as though they're fellow members of her book club.

"She has made this great library where kids own it," Thomas said. "I want to be that woman."

Naturally, Thomas decided to follow in Nichols' footsteps and enroll in the iSchool. She's now in her second semester.

The Michigan native has lived in several American cities, doing children's theater, adapting stories into plays, building a pre-school library and managing a children's bookstore. She and her husband, Rob Thomas, a writer and producer who created the "Veronica Mars" television series, have two children, ages 8 and 5.

It's no wonder she's drawn to children's literature, magical ideas and artistic expression.

"The library is how (children) grow on their own," said Thomas as she sipped a vanilla cappuccino on the deck of Mozart's Coffee Roasters. She wore a gray t-shirt with a purple dragon emblazoned with the words "What's Your Story?" - a souvenir from the Casis carnival she helped organize.

Thomas helped the school develop a storybook theme. She made wooden spinners with literary concepts such as hero and nemesis; then she hid the spinners in the woods behind the school. Students, armed with quills (feathers taped to pens) struck out in what must surely have seemed an enchanted forest to find all of the story elements. Then they wrote their own narrative and acted it out.

While theater and art and storytelling come naturally to Thomas, she said, the iSchool is also teaching her the "nuts and bolts" of running a library: how to budget, place purchase orders, build and maintain a collection.

A recent class assignment involved completing a blueprint for a new library. Thomas relished the challenge of coming up with a design that included details ranging from handicap accessibility to the placement of outlets.

She attends librarian meetings and has discovered librarians to be a "feisty and funny" bunch, passionate defenders of intellectual rights, guardians against censorship and savvy Twitter users.

These are the people, Thomas said, who shepherd students from childhood to young adulthood, teaching them how to do research papers and to discern good information from bad on the Web, to learn online safety and develop critical thinking skills.

Thomas doesn't know where she will land after she graduates. She just knows she wants to be an elementary school librarian somewhere in the Austin area. She rubs her hands together gleefully as she imagines herself surrounded by "all those books," meeting the students and inviting them into her library - their library.

Her mentor, Nichols, may be just as eager for Thomas to launch her career and become, as she put it, "a member of our tribe."

"She is exactly who I want to be a children's librarian," Nichols said. "A book dreamer."