Librarian’s Legacy of Learning and Literacy
When Stuttgart Park Avenue Elementary library media specialist Tia Brickey ’11 started her college career, she initially wanted to be a dental hygienist. As her undergraduate years progressed, she discovered that she didn’t have a passion for it. After conferring with a couple of close friends and her academic adviser, Brickey switched her major to elementary education. This, after her adviser stated that an aptitude test indicated she was more inclined to education technology, a result that surprised her.
“I [originally] went with dental hygiene even though I had a lot of educators in my family. I grew up around teachers and have always loved school and had positive experiences,” Brickey said. “I never considered being a teacher going into college … I remember going to two close friends and some other people and told them what my interest inventory indicated, and everyone said, ‘Oh yeah, you’d be a great teacher!’ And so, I followed that path, and I haven’t regretted it.”
In 2009, Brickey earned a National Board Certification for Teachers, becoming part of the less than 10% of Arkansas teachers with this certification, the highest professional certification for teachers.
“It was blood, sweat and tears. It was a grueling process,” said Brickey. “It changed how I thought about what I was doing and its impacts on students. The program was intended to be life or career changing, and it was. It was one of the most thrilling things to pass it.”
About a year after earning the certification, Brickey received an email that highlighted shortages in Arkansas, including library media.
“They were trying to get people to go into these programs, and they would help pay for the master’s program, which was very appealing. As I read that email I thought, ‘Well, you know what? I like to read. I think I would like to be a media specialist.’”
Brickey began researching what schools offered the program, and chose the University of Central Arkansas College of Education because it was nearby, flexible and well-known for its quality and cutting-edge education technology. She says the program prepared her for great things to come.
“I don’t know if I can adequately verbalize how well that program prepared me. I came into my school’s library before completing the program, even still, I walked into the library knowing how to build a collection, knowing how to sift a collection, how to collaborate with teachers and how to build dynamic programs. The word I have for the program is ‘phenomenal’,” Brickey said.
“The instructors were very well-versed and aware of what was happening in the library media world.”
“There was this change on the horizon with Ed Tech coming and they were already preparing us for the rapid changes.”
During her orientation, Brickey learned that “being a librarian is about more than just promoting literacy. There are so many different hats that you wear. It’s also about citizenship.”
This citizenship became furthered by her community outreach via a Bookmobile, which she lovingly calls “Betty.” Brickey and her co-worker and close friend Tawnya Herring run “Betty” during the summers to help promote literacy and learning.
Brickey and Herring first came up with the idea when they attended a yearly library conference that had a session about bookmobiles. Herring brought up the idea at a dinner after the session.
“She was telling me about it and I said, ‘We have to do that. We have to make it happen.’”
The educators started their grant-funded project in 2015 using a food service van and plastic tubs filled with books. As the program grew more popular and more funding became available, they were able to purchase a custom bookmobile in 2019 which was perfect for their summer runs into the community providing books for children and their families in Stuttgart, Arkansas.
Brickey, who is an avid reader and lifelong learner, wanted to spread the joy of reading to the community and improve her students’ education.
“The ultimate goal has always been to promote literacy to combat the ‘summer slack.’ It’s well documented that kids can lose up to 20% of the literacy gains they made during the school year,” Brickey said. “That can stack up and become two to three grade levels by sixth grade, so we knew we wanted to combat that. We wanted to get out and get books in the hands of kids.”
“We have a lot of students in our community who don’t have books in their houses. We’ve seen children from the age of three and now they’re in middle school. So we’ve had that relationship we’ve built with kids and parents. Parents will come and ask for something they can read together. We’ve learned that our community does have a love for reading.”
Brickey was a semi-finalist for Arkansas Teacher of the Year in 2021. She has also initiated new technologies in her K-4 school which “let students lead the way” by learning about coding, robotics and 3-D printing.
The professional and personal legacy Brickey hopes to leave is one of building a future through literacy and learning – a field that, initially, she hadn’t thought of entering.
“I really just want my kids to be readers and understand that literacy not only helps you academically, but it [also] helps you to be a better person. It makes you a better citizen by imparting compassion and empathy.”