Every year, we are honoured to recognize members of the SMUS community as they retire and take on new adventures. Read the 2020 Retirees series to learn more about their outstanding contributions to the school. In this story, we recognize Junior School librarian Diana Nason.
The school librarian is one of the only staff members who gets to spend time getting to know each student, every teacher, and many, many parents. Throughout Diana Nason’s 27 years at the Junior School, she worked with everyone to develop a love of reading and the tools to become better “readers and skillful users of that information.” She sits forward, eyes beaming. “It’s a difficult place to leave. There’s so much to be involved in; there’s always movement and development.”
Diana started teaching high school English and history in Nanaimo, then took a position teaching Grade 4. She remembers her heart pounding the first day, nervous and uncertain whether she would connect with this younger demographic. But then kids barreled in excited and yelling, “Are they your posters? They’re so cool!” and Diana knew she would be just fine.
Her husband’s job brought them to Victoria. At the time, there were few teaching positions available for Diana. She started as part-time librarian at the Junior School, which was perfect, as they had a two-and-a-half-year-old son at home. At the time, a team of SMUS Parents’ Auxiliary members was helping the previous librarian run the library. The moms supported Diana’s work, and the collaboration was fantastic. “You can move forward quickly when you have a team that works together.” They needed an influx of books to appeal to young children and educational books to support the learning in the classroom and inquiry research. Diana started to organize and develop the collection.
Diana is passionate about connecting through books. She reflects on how lovely it is to be in a room where children are reading. “Reading is your superpower. If you read well, you write better. If you read and write better, you stay in school longer, you can learn a second language easier; you have more options. Reading is the basis of all happiness.”
Once Diana’s son was in school, she moved full-time, became a Grade 4 teacher and also taught computer studies. Over the years, she built a robust library program that included bringing in guest authors, many of whom signed the library wall. Alumnus and award-winning writer Kenneth Oppel ‘85 visited the school several times, much to everyone’s delight. “We have the book that he wrote when he was at this school. The children loved that.”
She created themed reading incentive programs to add extra excitement; it’s easier to motivate children to read when it’s turned into play, Diana says. One memorably successful incentive program allowed students who completed the reading to vote a teacher into in a witches stew, where a picture of the teacher’s face would bob in the colourful stew poster on the wall. A few teachers wondered if being tossed into the witches stew was an honour or not.
The shift to digital was significant with the introduction and integration of a new library website. It presented an exciting but steep learning curve. The website had a portal where students could access databases, which was a game-changer for research and learning. She recalls people thinking that physical books would disappear completely, but people still love having the book in their hands. “Holding the book, the size and weight of it … the smell of the pages, the ragged edges of the paper.”
Part of Diana’s work was also to find ways to make reading accessible for students with specific ways of learning; sometimes a particular colour of paper or font can connect a student to reading. Over the years, more books at various reading levels and formats were made available to support instructional reading and to enable students to self-select materials to help develop their independent reading skills. In this way students could not only learn to read, but they could become readers.
Diana spearheaded extracurricular literacy programs at the Junior School, including the Buddy Reading Club, which saw Grade 2 students bussing up to the Senior School to learn to read with an older buddy. There was also the Red Cedar Club, a reading group that discussed fiction and non-fiction books. They explored different facets of the books, including how they felt about the introduction and whether the author just cobbled together the conclusion. She would also take some of those students to the Children’s Book Festival in Nanaimo.
Outside of the library, Diana was on the Faculty Association for a decade where she enjoyed connecting with people from the Middle and Senior Schools. She was also the Junior School Green Team lead, helping guide students through sustainability to appreciate that “even the smallest thing makes a difference, and making a difference is huge.” She also enjoyed her work supporting the operas and musicals each year.
Diana will miss all her involvements with the SMUS community, be it with students, teachers, support staff, parents, volunteers and substitutes. She loved examining all the new books and finding the perfect materials for teachers and students.
The SMUS community has been her home for 27 years. She laughs, “I’ll have to retrain my car not to drive to work.” In retirement, Diana looks forward to studying Italian and giving back to the community. She’s also always wanted to take classes at the University of Victoria. Her son Joel, a SMUS alumnus, is a teacher in Delta, so she may spend some time on the Lower Mainland with him.
In her farewell speech, Diana told the students that she viewed the library as a “whispering post”. This, she said, was an exciting place where you can hear the books whispering to you. Diana captured the students’ and adults’ imaginations alike as she spoke of books she hadn’t read yet; ones she could hear beckoning to her when she was in the library. Diana invited, “Listen for it. There will be a book that wants to entertain you or one that will give you information and one that is going to inspire you – read, read, read as much as you can.”