March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Homecoming and a Rallying Cry for NYC School Librarians

proxyNeither driving rain nor the edge-of-the-city venue could keep more than 500 New York City school librarians from gathering on November 15 at Citi Field (home of the NY Mets) for their 27th annual fall conference. Richard L. Hasenyager, deputy executive director of library services, NYC Department of Education, welcomed his predecessor Barbara Stripling as keynote speaker to the full-day event that focused on “Leadership Through Engagement.” Stripling, past American Library Association president and currently senior associate dean and associate professor of practice, School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, is warmly remembered by NYC librarians for transitioning the system’s libraries into 21st-century learning spaces and instituting sequential standards. Stripling encouraged attendees to embrace leadership roles in their schools and outlined a path to demanding the best in themselves and others though “everyday advocacy.”

A number of concurrent information sessions followed Stripling’s inspiring keynote, including a presentation by her on teaching inquiry skills in social studies, and another, by Rosemary Wells, the author and illustrator of more than 120 books, whose work has been recognized for its humor, realism and its “gently rebellious” approach to childhood. Wells showed slides of her art workshop and the techniques she shared with children and talked about her 2016 book, Fiona’s Little Lie (Candlewick).

Dusty yearbooks and 3-D printers
Are old yearbooks collecting dust on your library shelves? Olga Nesi, librarian at the Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, discussed how she and her students mined her school’s collection of yearbooks as primary source material in a project that investigated the school’s changing demographics across 50 years. In collaboration with the Brooklyn Connections program at the Brooklyn Public Library, they also examined secondary sources to determine the changing demographics of the borough during the same period. A timeline created by the students detailed when the neighborhood demographic began to change and the school became the African American community it is today.

Maker spaces were on the minds of many of the conference attendees as the deadline approaches to apply for the next round of the NYC School Library System INNOVATION! grants. Christine Poser, Patricia Sarles, and Brianne Stewart, recipients of 2015 grants, elaborated on how they used their money to provide spaces to “invent, create, repurpose, and use STEAM skills to explore passions, and interests” in their libraries and classrooms. Successes and stumbles were shared, and all agreed that while students were excited to learn new skills and use new equipment (3-D printers, for some), the educators were thrilled to see students learning by design. Indeed, the can-do attitudes of the three librarians had attendees ready to begin creating their maker spaces, if only on a small scale, and to apply for the grants.

Libraries to learning commons
The conversation on redefining library spaces extended well into the day with an “idea fest” sparked by David Loertscher, past president of American Association of School Librarians and a professor at San Jose (CA) State University. Loertscher, the author of a number of professional resources for librarians, is also the founder, with Carol Koechlin, of the School Library Learning Commons, “a participatory learning community” that focuses on “instructional designs and use of best resources and technologies to help learners build personal expertise and collaborative knowledge.” Loertscher challenged audience members to reconsider their vision for their libraries. He urged those in attendance to design their libraries as places of “learning and creation” and explore what those places look like and what occurs in them. He noted that New York City could be the start of a revolution in library design, and asked for a “handful” volunteers to join him, warning that “our jobs won’t be here in the future” if they don’t begin this kind of envisioning now.

“Write that book!”
The day ended with a passionate keynote by the beloved author of middle grade and young adult novels, Sharon Draper. A confessed “library rat” as a child and the winner of many book awards, Draper spoke about her love of reading and books, her years teaching, and her novels, in particular, Tears of a Tiger, Out of My Mind, and Stella by Starlight (Atheneum, 1994, 2010, & 2015).

Draper also talked about the power of stories in her life and the need for educators to feed stories to kids. On one of the author’s many trips abroad, someone pointed out the amount of testing in the United States, commenting, “In my country, if we want an elephant to grow, we feed it, we don’t measure it.”

The author bemoaned a dearth of diverse titles, works that reflected children’s own lives, and encouraged attendees to tell their stories. “I’m doing my part,” she noted, “but there are so many more stories out there. Write that book!”

“They have us,” she said, continuing that it is the job of teachers and librarians to share with children “worlds that they might never see.”

Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.

Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library JournalStronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.
Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.