I recently had the pleasure to be a volunteer judge for our regional Spelling Bee, where the winner will go on to represent our area of New York State in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C. in May of 2016. Spelling Bees are active competitions where school-age children compete against one another, trying to correctly spell ever-increasingly difficult words. These competitions were believed to have begun in the United States in the early 20th century and have now turned into an annual event that cause a “buzz” among school children every spring.
Last spring I was an audience member and fell in love with the competition and the dedication of the students who competed in it. It spurred me to want to be a part of it, thinking that some of my library skills would make for a good fit in the competition. I reached out to the head of the program and she couldn’t have been more thrilled to have me join. In fact, her exact words were, “I’ve always wanted a librarian on our team”. I wasn’t sure if that meant we librarians are super smart when it comes to spelling words (I, personally, am very grateful for spellcheck) but I was flattered by her enthusiasm.
Our team first met in February, when we got the official WORDS. These come via special delivery and are very secretive. Each of the 3 judges received the packet of words to be used in the competition. On the day of the event, I arrived early to work with the school children in a separate room, prior to the competition, in order to help them relax, make them understand this was a fun event, and they were all winners to begin with (they had all won their school Spelling Bees to get there). Even though the ages of the children I worked with were much younger than the college age students I see daily, I found many of the skills I use when working with those in higher education transferred easily to my Spelling Bee participants. I used my knowledge of what was ahead to calm nerves. I used my intellect and skills to make the practice sessions fun and exciting, similar to the ways in which I try to make my library instruction sessions interactive and entertaining. And I focused on making sure they had a friendly face to look at during their time on stage, just as I impress on my college students that they have a welcoming librarian to come to, whenever they need assistance.
Once the competition started, my role changed. I was now on stage and as a judge, it was my responsibility to keep track of misspelled words and the students that had been eliminated. Knowing I was representing the library of the college where the competition was being held made me very aware of my presence on stage and how I acted. Additionally, I had to use my skills of organization and record-keeping to make sure the data I recorded was correct. These are all tools I utilize in my daily work, so it did not feel foreign to me. It simply felt as if the scene where my work was occurring had been altered.
The Bee was a lengthy one, with three students vying for the trophy through numerous rounds once the others had been disqualified. When a winner finally emerged, all the students were celebrated as champions. It was exciting and exhilarating to be a part of, and made me realize that the work I do in my office, at the reference desk, in the classroom, or through outreach programs indeed prepared me to take the skills from my library toolkit and transfer them to this amazing event.
–Molly Brown, ILN Content Officer