Tell Me Something, Robbie Reasoner
Robbie Reasoner grew up in Indianapolis, the fourth of five children with a single mom who worked hard to provide for her children. They lived in a tiny house and didn’t own a car, so Reasoner says she often walked or rode her bike the mile to her local library. She would snatch up as many books as they’d let her check out—she thinks it was 10 at a time—and rush home to relish the time just sitting and reading.
“I could escape into different worlds,” she said. “I have a distinct memory of sitting in the backyard in a glider with an apple, just reading.” She says she was influenced by the children’s librarian, Mrs. Brown, and her second grade teacher, Mrs. Applegate. “They never told me I couldn’t read something.”
A Childhood Love of Reading
As a child, Reasoner thought she would grow up to become an elementary school teacher. Her mother worked full-time for the Indiana Department of Social Security, but all Reasoner’s siblings started out as educators. “Mom read to us all the time when we were kids,” she said. “She had the best voices of anyone for the Dr. Seuss books.”
“As a junior in college, I was doing an internship which called on me to help students learn to read. And I realized then that what I wanted was to share my love of reading with kids.”
She graduated from Purdue University with a degree in elementary education, before moving on to graduate school at Indiana University, earning a master’s in library science. She later received a second master’s in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Reasoner’s career trajectory has moved her around the country serving in a variety of positions.
Her first job out of graduate school was as a K–12 librarian for a Tlinglit Native American tribe in Kake, Alaska. They had two schools. She moved on after just one year.
“I had always wanted to live in Alaska; Kake is on the inside passage, so it was not particularly cold,” Reasoner said. “But it was too far away. This was before the internet, so talking to people on the phone meant a $400 phone bill.” She moved to Galesburg, Ill., and became head of the children’s department at a public library. She later became a librarian at Brooklyn Center High School in Brooklyn Center, Minn., where she spent 20 years. The school had students in 7th through 12th grades.
“It was fabulous,” Reasoner said. “Then, the only computers in the school were in the library. We had Apple microcomputers. I introduced the kids to online databases.”
Soon, her wife Cynthia Bauerle received a job offer in Atlanta, so the couple moved and Reasoner found a job with the Georgia State Department of Education managing the educational technology grants. After four years, she spent three years as the library media coordinator for the Juvenile Services Education Department for the Maryland State Department of Education.
It was then she landed at MCPS, where she’s been for a little more than six years. “On the plus side, I was able to bring all that experience to the position,” she said. “On the negative side, I had no history with MCPS. I was constantly learning how to do things.”
Her title is coordinator of evaluation and selection of instructional materials and library books, a multi-faceted job which Reasoner says she loves. “Everything that is used with students in libraries and classrooms—books, videos, digital resources—has to be evaluated and approved for use,” Reasoner says. “We get books that have just been published; we keep them here in a reading room and media specialists come in and evaluate them. They can check them out and read them, or now, we can do it virtually. They can search an online catalog, see what’s available and we Pony the books to them.” Media specialists meet four times a year to discuss materials they’ve reviewed and other concerns.
She recently returned from the American Library Association’s winter conference in Denver. “I shipped back more than 100 pounds of books that have not been published yet; they’re called advance reader copies,” Reasoner said. “These books are from Scholastic, Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, HarperCollins, all the big publishers. Media specialists use them to evaluate the books. I coordinate the paperwork process.
“We have 200 media specialists and they collaborate so fabulously amongt themselves,” Reasoner adds. “We bring vendors in all throughout the year and they present to the media specialists. Then, the media specialists will fill out a Google form and talk about the strengths of certain products, whether it matches the needs of the curriculum, is it supportive of UDL principles, is it going to be used in a way that’s effective for most students. We take a holistic approach of what would be best for most people.” Many products are purchased centrally for all the schools, but media specialists also have their own budgets for other products they wish to buy.
MCPS also made the decision to purchase a shared digital collection from OverDrive, a product that allows people to borrow and enjoy free eBooks, audiobooks and more from the public library or a school’s digital collection. “For our OverDrive collection, students can access it through the Destiny catalog. They look it up just like they would a print book, they click on a button that says ‘open’ and they can borrow it. They can get it on their phones, Chromebooks, tablets. For many of our OverDrive books, students can all read a book in class at the same time.”
Though there has been a surge in e-books, Reasoner says she does not see the end for hardcover and paperback books. “Statistically and anecdotally, kids still want to have a book in their hand,” she says. “While we did the OverDrive initiative to expand access, we’re not seeing it as a replacement for print.”
Reasoner’s office also helps media specialists weed their collections and redesign learning spaces, and handles the reconsideration of library books and instructional materials.
“We want our students to have experiences that reflect not only who they are, but also reflects the world around them,” Reasoner says. “We support giving students the opportunity to be challenged in what they read but also to be comfortable with what they’re reading and learning about.
“Montgomery County is a wonderfully diverse community with all kinds of families, students and parents; the opportunities and the makeup of our county is so diverse. One of my jobs is to help parents understand that when they have a concern, we treat it with the respect it deserves, but at the same time, we are serving all 161,000 students.”
Music Energizes Me
When she’s not at work, Reasoner is active in two choirs—the Vienna Choral Society, an 80-member group that performs four concerts a year, and the choir at her church. “Music transports me,” she said. It energizes me but is also lets me expend energy in a way that I feel I’m sharing with others. It was a big part of my growing up. We had a piano and even though I hated piano lessons, I learned to read music.” She also loves to garden and travel.
For 33 years, she has also been involved in Destination Imagination, a problem-solving competition for students in kindergarten through college. “I like it because it is student-driven creativity at its best.”
Tell Me More
Family: Wife Cynthia Bauerle, Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at James Madison University; daughter Mahlet, a sophomore studying chemistry at UMBC
What is one thing you couldn’t live without: Music
If you could do another job for just one day, what would it be: Arrange flowers in a flower shop. Be an Uber driver.
If you could learn to do anything, what would it be: Fly a plane
What is your favorite place to be: Near water, a beach or a lake
Three traits that define you: Good listener, nurturing, passionate about my work
Book that influenced your life the most: A Wrinkle in Time. Fantasy is my favorite genre.
Favorite Broadway show: Hamilton, Into the Woods
Favorite flower: Lilac
First job: Babysitting for a summer camp
If you could meet anyone, living or dead, who would it be: Amelia Earhart. She flew around the world! She was a woman who didn’t let anything stop her.