Spotlight on Media Literacy & Advocacy at AASL '19

Several panels at the 2019 Association of American Librarians National Conference focused on the urgent need for better information literacy and advocating on behalf of school libraries. 

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Several panels at the 2019 Association of American Librarians National Conference focused on the urgent need for better information literacy and advocating on behalf of school libraries. Coincidentally, a Stanford University report released on the opening day of the 2019 AASL National Conference showed that, despite  efforts to improve students’ news literacy since 2016, high schoolers’ “civic online reasoning” remains poor. The new report follows up on a 2016 study from Stanford that galvanized librarians’ efforts toward news and media literacy, which was tackled in many sessions at the 2017 conference. The current data underscores the ongoing need to educate students as strategies of media manipulation evolve.

Detecting Propaganda, Defeating Emotional Manipulation, a presentation by the Newseum’s outreach coordinator and education speaker, Barbara Pearson, included strategies developed by the Newseum staff for students.  After showing propaganda made by people with different political beliefs, Pearson pointed to common strategies used by all of the creators: Simplification of information, exploitation, exaggeration, and division. Tips to help students suspect and detect propaganda included pausing with a “gut check” of unusual news content; “like and share with care;” harness the power of doubt; step back if one has an immediate emotional reaction to news; and if unsure, don’t click and pass along. Pearson recommended the movie The Great Hack, about the 2016 Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal. She also pointed to news literacy resources including the Newseum’s Disinformation Nation, as well as other materials and online classes available through NewseumED.

School librarians Donna Mignardi, Marianne Fitzgerald, and Jennifer Sturge tackled the topic and cited Newseum lessons in Literacy: Information, Digital, News, Media….Same S$#T, Different Day! The three maintained that information literacy is an umbrella under which other literacies fall, including news, media, digital, voter, civic, math, and science literacy. They also demonstrated? how the AASL standards support multiple literacies. The presenters shared resources including those from Common Sense Media and News Literacy Project’s Checkology. Joyce Valenza and Rachael Elrod of the University of Florida College of Education also presented on their research in From Research to Action: Kids and Google: What We Learned and How To Respond with Our Shared Foundations.


Strategic advocacy was the name of the game in some panels, including Taking Our Case to Decision Makers: Effective State- and District Level Advocacy. Power advocacy was also the focus during a luncheon event that convened participants in the AASL School Leader Collaborative, a two-year initiative launched with support from OverDrive Education. In August, AASL identified seven school administrators—from small, large, urban, and rural districts—to serve on the collaborative, which champions school librarians’ role in teaching and learning. These administrators are providing advice and strategies on school library advocacy to AASL leadership, with the goal that the dialogue expands understanding of both librarians’ and administrators’ roles in learning and school culture. Rakuten OverDrive spotlighted its Sora reading app at the AASL conference as well.

Planning Your Library: Creating School and District Advocacy and Strategic Plans focused on the high school library in the Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools, showing the impact of this kind of librarian-administrator dialogue, with librarians Mimi Marquet and Lisa Koch, principal Deirdre Lavery, and library coordinator Priscille Dando on the panel. 

Marquet and Koch, at Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield, VA—named ALA’s 2018 National School Library Program of the Year—discussed how investing in planning for the library program is key to their ability to partner with their principal and teachers. Beyond goal setting, this process involves reflection, identifying strengths and areas for improvement, and aligning with the principal’s vision. Lavery connected with the librarians’ vision when they presented evidence of their impact, she said, and prioritized supporting them through financial and human resources. Her declaration, “As principal, I’ll never ask you to do something without giving you the resources and support to do it,” drew applause.

Lilead fellows, library leaders, and vendor partners met at a lively session focused on collecting evidence for measuring transformational change at the school and district levels. Ann Carlson Weeks, co-founder of the Lilead Project, encouraged everyone in the room to "learn from each other, think about hard things, and engage with us to answer and raise questions." After exploring concepts of evidence-based practice and identifying essential questions, attendees deconstructed scenario-based problems. Participants then applied this method to their local issues creating plans for capturing evidence to measure the impact of their change ideas.

Marquet and Koch focused on Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment from the Future Ready Librarians framework to demonstrate impact in ways that connect with administrators and teachers. They used the Engage Shared Foundation strand from the AASL School Library Evaluation Checklist as a guide for their reflection helped their process.

Six of the top 10 challenged books last year were LGBTQIA+-related titles. In her presentation Inclusive LGBTQIA+ Education: Why It’s Important and How To Be an Advocate for Change, presenter Amanda Melilli, head of TDRL at the  University of Nevada, Las Vegas, referred to novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2009 TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” That talk, viewed over 20 million times, cautioned against believing a “single story” that LGBTQIA+ materials are dangerous—instead, pay attention to the large body of information showing that schools use these materials successfully.

Young people can’t reach their full potential if they don’t feel safe, Melilli continued. School communities must ensure that they do by moving toward inclusive libraries. For those who might struggle with an environment of acceptance, she suggests starting by curating monthly, inclusive displays. Regarding claims of “appropriate” material in books, Melilli reminded the audience that a character’s behaviors, not their identity, measure appropriateness—and LGBTQIA+ books can be for everyone.

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