I recently attended the Virginia Association of School Librarians (VAASL) annual conference in Williamsburg, VA. I love attending professional conferences and VAASL is one of my favorites. I like to connect with other school librarians from around the state to talk and learn and share ideas. The biggest theme running through the conference was that truly, and perhaps more than ever, school libraries are important and valuable. They matter. What else matters in relation to libraries? That's where my five take-aways from the conference come into play.
This idea was emphasized over and over again. throughout the conference The right kind of school libraries empower our diverse learners and reflect all of our community in both our collections and in our instruction. Audrey Church, in her Tips & Trends session, shared a number of valuable resources related to this idea as she spoke about the AASL Standards Shared Foundation INCLUDE (see page 5).
Equity was also laced through Stacy Gilbert's session on collaborating with math teachers. She made the brilliant point that while we welcome ALL students into our library, we sometimes fear the content areas with which we are less comfortable instructionally (read: math). Just like every student belongs to every single one of us and has a welcome place in the library, every teacher should as well.
Conference keynote speaker and author Alan Gratz noted that he hoped his 2017 novel REFUGEE "makes something that's often invisible [the world''s refugee crisis], visible in the world." I think this powerful statement could be said about libraries in general: our role is to do just that: -- to shed light on that which is invisible -- the invisible people, the stories, the ideas.
In a session on middle school books, Jenny Ashby and Janice Raspen highlighted over 100 titles with characters with a range of abilities, reflecting a wide variety of perspectives and life experiences. The books we share with our students must offer the diversity of today's world.
I like this definition of advocacy from AASL:
"On-going process of building partnerships so that others will act for and with you, turning passive support into educated action for the library program."
It's crucial that we advocate for our programs BEYOND the library -- we often talk about the awesomeness of libraries amongst ourselves, but we need to be sending out our message to a wider audience. Or at least sharing the work of those who do. In her Topics and Trends session, Audrey Church a lot of different articles and research, but perhaps the one that held the highest impact for me was a March 2018 piece written for Phi Delta Kappan (a broad-reaching journal for educators), called Why School Librarians Matter.
We also have the really important job of connecting with local, state, and national legislators to share the day-to-day value of libraries. It is our responsibility as librarians, not just a role left to the president of VAASL or the ALA Washington Office, to advocate for our programs. Or really, to advocate for well-funded, appropriately staffed, instructionally-strong school library programs for Every. Single. Child. Linda Mitchell (2018 VAASL Legislative Chair) and Jenni Cooper offered strategies for connecting with legislators, such as:
Library makerspaces matter.
These library makerspaces can be big or small, low tech or high tech, but they need to open and accessible to all. I repeat: accessible to all. Keynote speaker Leslie Preddy emphasized that the real value of library makerspaces is that they are good home for makerspaces because "all are welcome," their spaces are "flexible and adaptable," and there is room for both "formal and informal learning."
If you don't believe me, ask Heather Moorefield-Lang, assistant professor at UNC-Greensboro. Tying makerspaces back to equity, she gave a fantastic talk about ways to ensure that all of or students can use these spaces, from open areas with reach-able shelves to mobile making with maker boxes available for checkout to makerspaces that are completely digital, places where students can go and create from anywhere. Moorefield-Lang also emphasizes that our library makerspaces must also be "safe spaces" for marginalized communities, sharing the idea that in such a space "students can actively create information that is affirmative and relevant for others."
Getting involved matters.
I've presented concurrent sessions at previous conferences, but this was the first VAASL conference for which I actually volunteered. And my volunteer efforts were incredibly minimal compared to the enormous amounts of work put in by Kendel Lively, conference coordinator and new VAASL president, and her planning committee. But my small time slot at the registration desk helped me to feel more connected to the conference as a whole. And showed me that I can do more next time. It allowed me to talk to people when I might have otherwise been grabbing a quick sandwich and catching up on work e-mails.
And I think it makes a conference experience all the better. I'm still surprised when I meet librarians who aren't regular users of Twitter because it both broadens and deepens my professional learning at an event like this. I expect that some might find it a bit crazy that I take conference notes as tweets but it keeps everything all in one place and allows me to find it again and again. It lets me to learn from sessions that I'm not attending and to collect so many new ideas at a professional conference. Plus, it offers a window into the conference for those who are unable to attend -- broadening VAASL's reach.
Did you attend VAASL's annual conference? What were your big take-aways? We'd love to hear from you.
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