Student Journalism at San Rafael High School

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

Off the Leash

The Librarians and a Dynamic Learning Commons

Mr. Berner and Ms. Merrill meet the demands of students.

San Rafael High School has a library that fulfills the standards of the institution; checking out books and finding a quiet place to study. The two adults who work and maintain the library envision a bigger purpose.  

Rebecca Merrill, who is the library media specialist at SRHS, says, “Lunch time gets louder and we have groups of people who don’t come here to study but they come in during lunch time to play games, and it’s wonderful.” 

The library is one of the bigger social hubs at the school. During lunch, many students finish eating and head straight to the library. Friend groups rush to find available tables as they talk about the gossip of the day. Others grab a deck of UNO cards to engage in fun chaos. Some students borrow the school provided Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headsets. And others jump to claim dibs on the comfortable green and blue chairs and doze off on their phones. 

The library is much tamer during class periods. For those who choose to go to the library during their free periods, they can find a silent place to study. Students come together to do group study sessions. But for many people, it becomes a break from school during potentially stressful class periods. 

“A dynamic learning commons,” as Ms. Merrill puts it, was structured by design. Randy Berner, the teacher librarian at SRHS, and Ms. Merrill both aim to create a fun and active learning environment for all students. 

Mr. Berner was born in New York City and attended college in Connecticut. At an early age, he was already exposed to the world of literature. His mother was a preschool teacher who loved reading. Mr. Berner’s family subscribed to multiple print newspapers such as Newsweek and had access to many public libraries in Greenwich, CT. 

He grew a strong admiration for public libraries. Mr. Berner would consistently check out books and seek knowledge wherever he could. He says, “I feel like I was searching on the internet in my own way way before there was an internet.”  

Ms. Merrill had a similar upbringing. One of the first few books she read was Dr. Suess’s Green Eggs and Ham. She loved reading books and imagining scenarios being played out by words on a page. Ms. Merrill went to a women’s college in Massachusetts and during that time she excelled with working with others.

In her free time she enjoys painting and cooking. She also does a lot of creative writing.

The two both finished their education outside of California and did a fair bit of traveling throughout the country. This added to their perspective on cultural topics and knowledge. For Mr. Berner, he did a lot of traveling in the South, which further fueled his passion for history. He says, “Since I especially started to travel down South, I started reading more about the Civil War and Civil Rights era […] I majored as a graduate student in history and got my teaching credentials in social studies.” 

This ties in with the current debate in the United States whether or not certain subjects or content within books are appropriate for students at school. This has resulted in a wave of book banning across the country. This has not been a major issue at all in SRHS. Regardless, Mr. Berner and Ms. Merrill strongly agree with the American Library Association’s (ALA) stance on book banning. 

“We are against banning books in libraries […] there has to be certain parameters kept in place and we talk about that within our school and within the school district about making sure that our library collection is as diverse and as representative of our school community as it possibly can be,” says Mr. Berner. 

Both Mr. Berner and Ms. Merrill worked at different locations throughout their careers but were always connected with the library world, either through professional means or simple enjoyment. Ms. Merrill joined SRHS during the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic while Mr. Berner joined a year and a half ago. 

Mr. Berner and Ms. Merrill both understand their positions well and they assist each other in suggesting new book titles to add and how to run the library.  

They recognize the importance of keeping the library up to date with the changing reader demographics. In the right corner of the library next to the large and wide windows that point directly to the football field, there is a growing manga book collection. “They have a surprisingly good selection, not going to lie,” says Jesus Chable Ake, a student at SRHS. “I was like, WTF, they have issues dating back to volume I!”

The two librarians take pride in not having many rules in the building. The biggest and most notable ones are not being allowed to drink or eat in the library. 

You could always walk up to either Mr. Berner or Ms. Merrill to ask for help. For them, they are eager to assist whether it’s finding the location of a specific genre of book or fixing issues with the printers. If one of them is not at the library you will always encounter the other. 

 While mid-interview with Ms. Merrill, a student approached her and asked for a book from the For Dummies book series. She paused the interview abruptly and walked with the student to the front desk to locate the book. 

However, a student vents her frustration. Kelsey McNair, a senior at SRHS, wanted to borrow a charger for one of her classes. “They weren’t really helpful when I asked for a charger for my laptop.” McNair likely did not realize that this is not one of the library’s responsibilities. The school implemented a new policy in which the library would no longer lend out chargers outside of its premises. 

But the library is open to supply the many demands of the students. Mr. Berner and Ms. Merrill wants to keep the traditional system of the library while also adapting it to the wider student public.   

“A place where people can be playful, a place where people can focus and choose books. Classes get taught here as well. It’s a dynamic learning commons,” says Ms. Merrill.

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