MLIS alumnus's passion and advocacy make a difference in the classroom

For 15 years, Steve Coker, MLIS ’06, was an English, Social Studies, and (occasional) Spanish teacher.

And then he discovered technology.

His tinkering became a passion, and Coker took a leadership role in bringing instructional technology to his and his colleagues’ classrooms. “I became the default ‘tech guy,’” he jokes. He really had no intention of becoming a librarian until a fellow teacher recommended the iSchool’s then-hybrid MLIS program (in-person and online). After doing a bit of research, Coker thought, “this is me.”

Coker graduated from the iSchool in 2006 with his MLIS degree, and became a teacher librarian and technology coordinator with the Rainier School District one year later. He soon began to see the limitations put on teachers and students who didn’t have access to a dynamic library and technology program, and was dismayed at the educational inequalities that void created around Washington state.

His drive to help schools level the playing field led him to begin advocating for libraries and information technology in Olympia. Working with concerned parents and other educators from the Washington Library Media Association, Coker testified before the Washington Legislature, convincing lawmakers to increase funding for school library programs and literally redefining what “basic education” means in the state.

Coker’s intensive efforts with his WLMA colleagues and iSchool Dean Emeritus Mike Eisenberg transformed the Revised Code of Washington, which now includes a provision to “integrate technology literacy and fluency” in its goal for school districts. He and his peers also urged public school systems to adopt “teacher librarian” as the moniker for the profession, as these individuals not only educate students, but also lead training for other teachers.

Once serving as a frequent adjunct professor with the iSchool, shepherding online MLIS students through the program’s School Library Management course, Coker is now in his fifth year as teacher librarian North Thurston High School (his own alma mater). In addition, WLMA recently awarded him its prestigious Teacher Librarian of the Year Award for his “tireless efforts and education of teachers, principals, and the school board.”

Lindsay Boatright, a Social Studies teacher at NTHS, states: “It's hard to quantify Steve's contribution to [our school] and the district as a whole. So much has changed in the attitude to technology at NTHS since he joined our staff as teacher librarian. We've gone from being very much behind the times with classroom technology to being one of the leaders in the district (and the state on some things). He is the driving force behind a lot of these changes. He has also made the library a very inviting place for students. They want to spend time there, and readily access him as a resource. Thanks to Steve, kids leave NTHS knowing how to use technology effectively to advance their own learning.”

“I love to work with people and solve problems,” says Coker. “Instructional technology increases opportunities for information access and allows people to approach problems in unique ways.” Laughing, Coker reflects, “as Mike Eisenberg always says, being a librarian is the best job in the school.”