Get to know Lynn Lawrence-Brown, MS/LIS student

Lynn Lawrence-Brown

When she isn't taking classes through the iSchool's Leep (online) program or working part time in the library at Hong Kong Academy, Lynn Lawrence-Brown is writing book reviews (including this review of a book by renowned children's poet Janet Wong) and blogging for We Need Diverse Books. Last month she completed a discussion guide for an upcoming middle-grade novel, The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei by Christina Matula. Lawrence-Brown, a Taiwanese American who grew up in Maine but now lives in Hong Kong, wants to continue "doing work that helps promote diverse books and writers of color and help put diverse books in the hands of readers of all ages."

Why did you decide to pursue an LIS degree?

After earning my bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies with a minor in Chinese language (Mandarin) from Colby College in Waterville, Maine, I studied at the University of Edinburgh and the International Women's College of Henan University in China. When my master's degree funding ran out, I decided to change gears to pursue a career in public relations consulting. I began my career in Beijing but then relocated to Hong Kong, where I focused on regional Asia Pacific business for over a decade. When my husband and I decided to have children, we knew that a public relations career with long hours and a lot of travel wasn't conducive to having a family, so I left my career and started volunteering in charities and at my boys' international school. One of the places where I volunteered each week was the school library. After working as an inclusion one-on-one teaching assistant and in various classroom roles for four years in two international schools, I chose to focus on school librarianship.

Although I did well in school and university, I wasn't a true “reader” until I became an adult. I didn't have reading role models around me in my primary school years, and I found reading slow and difficult. I only read and studied to complete my homework, assignments, or research in high school and university. When I became a mom, I regularly read to my boys (and still read aloud to my teenage boys when homework allows), which made me realize how much I missed as a child and in my early adulthood. I became a voracious reader and decided to help other children find that passion for reading and learning earlier in life.

Why did you choose the iSchool at Illinois?

I chose the iSchool because of its leadership in the field and flexible MS/LIS program. I wanted to focus on school librarianship, and the program allows me to pursue teacher-librarian licensure without previously studying for an education degree. Furthermore, I felt the program would be more inclusive because the application didn't require standardized test scores. (I feel that practice is elitist and outdated, and universities across the board should eliminate it.)

While starting this degree at the beginning of the pandemic has been challenging, it's been a great distraction for me, and I'm so glad I decided to do it.

What particular LIS topics interest you the most?

I've been impressed with all the classes I've taken at the iSchool and have learned so much. My favorites have been IS 510 (Libraries, Information and Society) with Kathryn La Barre and IS 563 (Social Justice in Youth Literature) with Sarah Park Dahlen because of their social justice content. These two classes have been life changing for me; they have changed the way I read and see the world. Although I have endured racism as a child in the U.S. and throughout various stages of my adult life in Greater China, these two classes helped me to realize how what we read in the pages of a book is connected to social media and our multimedia world, and how harmful misrepresentation can be for marginalized people on an institutional and personal level. In addition, the classes helped me realize some of my own internalized racism from my formative schooling and how I must strive to continually recognize these misrepresentations every day and act on correcting them.

At the moment, I'm working on a project for which I hope to get funding that will help English-speaking librarians around the world deal with books misrepresenting marginalized people. I believe that we shouldn't remove books with racism and misrepresentation from libraries, because if all of these books are removed, we won't have books to teach what these misrepresentations are and how they connect with multimedia and the world at large. However, these books shouldn't be free on the shelves without guidance either, because we don't want that content normalized or for internalized racism or marginalization to happen. I'm hoping to build a program and offer training for librarians, teachers, and parents to address these books and build this into critical information literacy in schools. I hope to test this program with ALESS (Association of Librarians of English-speaking Schools), of which I am a member in Hong Kong.

What do you do outside of class?

Besides juggling a part-time job at Hong Kong Academy and a full-time K-12 teaching practice placement with three classes this spring, my two boys (ages 15 and soon to be 13), two Labrador retrievers, and my English husband, I try to hike or run four or five times a week.  I squeeze in free reading whenever I can by listening to audiobooks while grocery shopping, driving, and doing other errands—audiobooks have been a game changer for my reading volume! I enjoy jigsaw puzzles and crafting (especially knitting) while listening to audiobooks, too. I have also started volunteering for the nonprofit Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, raising money to bring picture book libraries to underprivileged schools and organizations in Hong Kong.

What career plans or goals do you have?

I hope to either work for a nonprofit to encourage reading in underprivileged populations or in another social justice-related nonprofit or become a school librarian in a primary or secondary school setting. In addition, I am considering pursuing a PhD in LIS, although online options in social justice-related LIS fields are very limited.

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