Sue Davidson

Librarian Sue Davidson, in the center, poses with her colleagues in Hibbard Elementary's reopened library.

Hibbard Elementary School librarian Sue Davidson seemed destined to teach, but found herself in a post-Covid slump. Davidson rekindled her passion by pursuing educational justice for her students. Her ambition? To bring back the school library that a previous principal had shuttered.

Dodging her destiny

Davidson tried really hard not to become a teacher. Both her parents were CPS educators and she saw how hard they worked and how little the system appreciated their efforts. 

After earning an English degree from Carthage College in 1993, Davidson did a stint in the corporate world, working for Nightingale-Conant for a year. But her self-described Type A personality got bored with the lack of creativity and focus on the bottom line. Always on the lookout for a new challenge, she decided to give teaching a shot.

In 1996, she earned her master’s degree from National Louis University and taught at two CPS schools before landing at Hibbard Elementary School in 2001.  

Creativity of the classroom

“The creativity of the classroom is what appealed to me,” she said. “I grew up entrenched in education, hearing my parents talk about their day and their students and sometimes going to school with my mom. So, I knew what I was getting into.”

When she first entered CPS, she flourished in the job thanks to her background, she feels.

“My colleagues couldn’t believe I was just a first-year teacher,” she recalled. “Because I had spent so much time with my mom, watching her teach and talking about teaching, things just came instinctively to me.”

But over the years, as the CPS curriculum became more standardized and testing began to eat up more and more instruction time, she became frustrated. Then, the pandemic hit. 

Davidson and her colleagues fought back against then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s irresponsible and dangerous school reopening plan, choosing to work remotely outside until adequate safety measures were in place in their building.

“That was really hard for everyone,” she said. “And when I finally did come back to school post-Covid, I felt like I had lost the passion for teaching. And then, of course, the kids feel that and respond to it. So, I knew I needed to shift direction and get that inspiration back.”

The stars aligned

Fortunately, the stars aligned. The principal, who had shuttered the school’s library seven years earlier, retired at the same time Davidson was working on her librarian endorsement. The new principal supported her plan to reopen the library and become the school’s librarian. 

She worked all last summer to clean up the space, rearranging books and applying for grants to restock the shelves. Over the years, the room had been used for various random things, meetings, and storage so getting it ready for students was a monumental job.

“It was really hard to overcome the disrespect for the space,” she said. “I’d open up books that hadn’t been touched in years and a cookie or a lollipop would fall out.” 

Reading for enjoyment

Now, one of Davidson’s top priorities for the library is to encourage students to read for enjoyment.

“We were starting from a negative place of library experience. Lots of kids don’t like reading because they’ve always been told what to read,” she said. ”Now parents and teachers come and tell me how great it is that their kids love reading.”

This first year, students particularly loved the mock Caldecott awards Davidson developed, when they rated the award winners’ artwork on how well it engaged readers and illustrated the story. Her next goal is to diversify the library’s collection so that it reflects the diversity of the school. 

“The biography section has so many books about old white men and that’s not okay,” she said. “Students need to see themselves reflected in the books they read.”

Becoming delegate

Like she tried not to become a teacher, Davidson said she also tried to avoid being the school’s delegate. But after several former delegates were fired or forced into retirement, 14 years ago she stepped up. “I was watching everyone in our building walking around in fear, afraid to speak up,” she said. “I grew up with a big brother. I don’t love conflict but I’m not going to back down from a fight.”

Davidson is excited for how our next contract can transform the district and she thinks pushing for more librarians is huge.

“The first thing that goes in communities of color, in communities that have high poverty rates, is the library. And that is a social justice issue,” she said. “Our students need that extra exposure to literature, to conversation, to diversity, to representation more than they get in a typical classroom, no matter how hard we try.”

With almost 30 years in CPS, Davidson said she has no plans to retire. In fact, she recently told her principal she could be counted on for at least another 10 years. 

“I’d be delighted to retire from CPS as the old librarian pushing books on students the way your grandma pushes chicken soup,” she said.

We’re sure her students and school community would like that idea, too.