Laid-off CPS librarian finds new home — and mandate — at King College Prep

“I was super, super excited and so thankful that this principal has a vision and knows his students deserve this and is making it happen with a really tight budget,” Nora Wiltse said.

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Nora Wiltse was laid off from Coonley Elementary at the end of last school year. She accepted a position this week at King College Prep.

Nora Wiltse was laid off from Coonley Elementary at the end of last school year. She accepted a position this week at King College Prep.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A longtime Chicago Public Schools librarian has been tasked with crafting a new library program at a South Side high school that hasn’t had one in years — just months after she got a pink slip from the district and was left wondering where her next job would be.

Nora Wiltse, a 19-year CPS veteran and outspoken advocate for school libraries, was among several librarians to get laid off at the end of last school year as district principals decided how to spend their new budgets.

Devastated to be laid off from Coonley Elementary on the North Side, Wiltse didn’t know if she’d land another job ahead of the fall.

But after a successful interview with King College Prep High School Principal Brian Kelly, who showed her around the Kenwood neighborhood school this week, Wiltse said she has accepted an offer to become King’s first librarian in years. The school served about 620 students last year.

“I was super, super excited and so thankful that this principal has a vision and knows his students deserve this and is making it happen with a really tight budget,” Wiltse said. “I’m hoping I can fill the role that students need and help the staff.”

School librarian positions have dwindled to a fraction of what they were a decade ago, the Sun-Times reported last month, leaving thousands of students without vital lessons on reading, information literacy, and research and computer skills. The analysis found Black students were less likely to have access to a librarian.

Wiltse said she’s looking forward to working with a nearly blank slate, but she knows there’s a difficult road ahead — especially without much funding.

She first plans to survey students and staff on their needs and sort through the school’s book collection and remove outdated options. Then, she’ll be seeking grants to build out the space with new books and resources.

“It’s an investment that takes time. ... You can’t just instantly have a library program because you have a librarian. The space and collection have not been invested in in years and years,” she said. “At the same time, I’m trying to offer as much to the students as possible because I’m also trying to keep my job for next year.”

For now, she knows she can partner with teachers to help students on their research projects and direct kids to online resources.

Wiltse was clear, too, that a new job at a new school doesn’t mean she’ll stop her advocacy for district-wide solutions.

“We still have all of this work to do with the numbers. It’s still an unequal funding system, it’s a racist funding system. All of those problems are still there.”

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