AASL 2015: Spirit and Surprises

From a late night Hackathon to an on-site maker space, conversations about “ubiquitous leadership,” “digital tattoos,” best apps, and much more, the 2015 American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference had something for everyone.
aaslFrom a late night Hackathon to an on-site maker space, conversations about “ubiquitous leadership,” “digital tattoos,” best apps, and much more, the 2015 American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference had something for everyone. The mix of author star power, participatory events, and dozens of sessions at the 17th biennial conference (Nov. 5–8) in Columbus, OH, kept librarians charged during 16-hour days. With 2,658 participants on site, including librarians and exhibitors, attendance was lower than the 2013 conference, which registered 3,000 participants. Session topics ranged from blended learning to maker spaces to data-based advocacy, teaching English Language Learners (ELL) to library writing centers, math collaborations, and an initiative that delivers books on bikes. Meanwhile, members of the Lilead Project, committed to supporting school library district leaders, were on site, speaking at various sessions prior to a Lilead think tank on Sunday sponsored by Junior Library Guild (also owned by Media Source, Inc., SLJ’s parent company). Overall, ten percent of this year's attendees were school administrators. AASL15_post-it_board

How are you transforming school libraries? Attendees chimed in by writing on magnetic notes.

Things warmed up on Thursday with a hands-on, two-hour IdeaLab where librarians presented their programs and best practices, covering topics from ELA assessment to early literacy to a collaborative inquiry into the Holocaust. Thursday’s activities also included school tours and an opportunity to dine with a local librarian. The opening keynote by Heidi Hayes Jacob, executive director of the Curriculum Mapping Institute and president of Curriculum Designers, Inc., addressed curriculum mapping and future-ready strategic planning. In an evening session, storytellers Lyn Ford, Jim Flanagan, and Kevin Cordi took to the stage with traditional and modern tales and invited audience members to the mic to tell stories. Meanwhile, next door at a well-attended round-table event, the director of the Harry Potter Alliance and attendees brainstormed how librarians can turn students’ passions into civic engagement. Message to librarians and AASL: lead and change LJ Movers & Shakers and Dr. Who fans Matthew Winner and Sherry Gick show of their freshly inked tattoos, which say "Mover and Shaker" in Gallifreyean.

"Library Journal" Movers & Shakers and "Dr. Who" fans Matthew Winner and Sherry Gick show commitment to their profession with freshly inked tattoos that say "Mover and Shaker" in Gallifreyean.

AASL wants to wants to know how it can better serve school librarians and get them involved in the organization, as Rutgers professor and NeverEnding Search blogger Joyce Valenza, Rutgers professor and SLJ blogger, said during an informal “hackathon” on Friday night. “AASL Hack the Association: Talking About Our (R)Evolution” was a participatory brainstorm about how AASL can and should evolve. With a playful approach to problem-solving, questions explored how to make AASL feel more inclusive, with active engagement and response to school librarians’ needs. Valenza revved up the crowd before passing around the mic. Requests ranged from a first-time attendee’s call for more diversity at the conference, to an administrator’s challenge: librarians present had two days to show him why he should advocate for them in his district. Power lobbyist Sara Kelly Johns, a consultant and speaker on school library programs, encouraged newcomers to apply for a seat on an AASL committee, with others agreeing that it can take “one minute” to be chosen. AASL officers, including co-chairs Deb Logan and Kathy Lowe, were present. Florida school librarian Vandy Pacetti-Donelson spoke about lobbying with presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s assistant. Armed with well-organized information at her fingertips, Pacetti-Donelson provided a picture of professional advocacy in practice. Administrators encourage “revolt” xxx

Left to right: Steve Webb, Mary Reiman, and Jennifer Boudrye.

Eight hours later on Saturday morning, a group of nationally recognized administrators led the general session “Administrators Empowering School Librarian Programs.” The panelists were members of Project Connect, a Follett initiative on school libraries and student achievement. Vancouver (WA) Public Schools superintendent Steve Webb called for librarians to step forward and participate in “ubiquitous leadership” at their schools. Librarians are “service-oriented,” he said, but they need to feel empowered: “The way we inspire conversation is for you to be bolder.” He added, “lt’s a nice revolt.” Jennifer Boudrye, director of library programs for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPL), described how she has led an impressive turnaround in school librarian numbers at DCPL, a partnership with public libraries, with a new fine-free policy. Invoking his mantra “teach more, librarian less,’ Mark Ray, chief digital officer, Vancouver (WA) Public Schools, noted, “It’s not 21st-century learning as much as [training to be] future ready,” and urged librarians to take the Future Ready Pledge. Mary Reiman, director of library media services for Lincoln (NE) Public Schools, commented, “You are change agents. Go back to your schools and make some noise.” Tactics for transitional times Citing the publishing industry, collections, standards, testing, budgets, software, hardware, devices, and the way we connect with one another, Brenda Boyer, Michelle Luhtala, Shannon Miller, and Valenza asked a packed audience, “What hasn’t changed?” in a session titled, “Transforming Libraries in Transitional Times.” Valenza observed that in a world that’s undergoing radical transformation there are no textbooks for today’s librarians, “We’re making it up as we go along, getting better and better at it” and while “we pride ourselves as a profession that thinks outside the box, guess what? There is no box.” Our goal? “Learning agility and creating learner-centric environments.” Maker spaces, here to stay xxx

Heather Moorefield-Lang guides makers through activities.

Many attendees lit up, literally—with illuminated badges that they created in the first-ever AASL maker space, located in the exhibit hall. Self-directed librarians manipulating Plexiglas, batteries, paper clips, and LED lights on bendable pins traded encouraging words about self-directed learning and productive failure as coaches including the University of North Carolina’s Heather Moorefield-Lang lent support. Maker-oriented sessions included one by Diana Rendina, whose school library won SLJ’s 2015 Build Something Bold award, and Moorefield-Lang, whose presentation covered the spectrum of maker spaces that exist. Describing these as areas to create, think, play, and collaborate, her featured environments included a glass room where people could “beautiful mind” on the wall with markers and a pegboard made of neon golf tees to a movable, pushcart-style maker space and a Rube-Goldberg type challenge, making “going from step one to step five as difficult as possible.” Noting that music labs are hugely popular, she also presented a maker space in a box, a tactile map for the blind created with a 3-D printer, and a robotics petting zoo. Touting the importance of developing learners who can not only figure out what the problems are, but are also capable of solving them, SLJ’s 2015 School Librarian of the Year, Kristina Holzweiss, shared some of the low- and high-tech components of the Genius Hour program in her Long Island, NY middle school, from LEGO and duct tape to snap circuits and soldering tools. The school’s digital tools allow students to create everything from stories to apps. Lakisha Brinson, SLJ School Librarian of the Year Finalist, co-led a session on “The Journey of Blended Librarianship.” Data-driven advocacy “A Roadmap to Making Strategic Decisions Based on Your Library Data,” a presentation from Stacy Lickteig and Jo O’Garro of Omaha (NE) Public Schools, revealed the value of rigorous number crunching. Working in a school system where the ELL and immigrant student population has risen 400 percent in the last five years, these two determined librarians pulled circulation data and worked with their research departments to draw correlations between library services and academic success. They compared budget and population information on elementary, middle, and high school students to request budget changes. Measuring the rate of unreturned library books, they eliminated library fines, noting that literacy is their primary concern among their primarily low-income students, many of whom live transitory lives. Brainstorming

Brainstorming at "Recruiting to Mentoring."

While there’s been good news about the increased hiring of professionals in Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington, DC, there remain “critical need areas” where finding librarians to fill positions has been problematic. In “From Recruiting to Mentoring: Transforming Practices in School Librarian Preparation,” Cassandra Barnett, Public School Program Advisor (Library Specialist) for the state of Arkansas, produced a map of that state pointing out that many of the locations where librarians are most needed are rural, high-poverty areas where salaries are low and where attracting professionals is a challenge. She and her fellow panelists discussed some of the routes Arkansas and states in similar positions have taken to identify support staff and teaching colleagues that would make good library school candidates, as well as the variety of paths to alternative licensure degrees. Looking around the room at the overwhelmingly white crowd, the presenters stressed that in recruiting and training, the profession must aim to be culturally sensitive and as diverse as the people it serves. In small groups, attendees brainstormed some of the ideas and questions raised. Celebrity Sightings p moment

"Paparazzi moment" at an author session.

There was no dearth of authors in attendance at the conference. Rita Williams-Garcia, Sonia Manzano, and Matt de la Peña spoke at the Friday evening banquet on “Diverse Authors, Diverse Voices.” Among other topics, the three addressed the question of whether an author from outside a culture can tell that culture’s story. Saturday’s General Session featured the always-entertaining, award-winning author and illustrator Brian Selznick. His speech was followed by a book signing of The Marvels (Scholastic, 2015) that snaked around the convention center. In other events, Kevin Henkes, Sean Qualls, Sophie Blackall, and Steve Light discussed the power of picture books, while Don Tate, Melissa Stewart, Loree Griffin Burns, and Shana Corey considered how books can “…Motivate Kids to Solve Problems, and Make the World a Better Place.” AASL15_matt_de_la_pena_rev

Matt de la Peña signing books in the exhibit hall.

At the Saturday night “Unconference,” participants determined the topics of discussion, and twice broke into groups to follow conversations that interested them. After sharing some small-group takeaways, the organizers moved quickly into the quiz show portion of evening. Librarians were encouraged to stack their tables of 10 with professionals that served in a variety of capacities with different age groups. The dozen or so teams with monikers including Top Shelf and Dewey Drink? raced to be the first to name that (library) tune, identify authors by their pictures, characters by their covers, topics by their Dewey numbers, with a bit of Ohio trivia thrown in—no devices allowed. The event, scheduled to run from 9:00 p.m. to midnight, went into overtime. Practical lessons Think your students can identify an ad on a webpage? Or know the difference between what they read on a blog vs. a website? Think again. Challenged to teach to the TEK (Texas) media literacy standards, the teachers in a school where Nancy Jo Lambert worked turned to her for help. Discovering her colleagues were teaching media skills on large paper anchor sheets, the teacher librarian designed and instituted a range of lessons for students kindergarten through grade five about the different types of visuals and the interplay of words and illustrative material in all forms of media from webpages to videos. An early starting hour—8:40 a.m. on Saturday—didn’t deter a full room from coming out for the 2015 “AASL Best Apps for Teaching and Learning” presentation, kicked off by committee chair Melissa Jacobs Israel, a regional coordinator at the Office of Library Services at the New York City Department of Education. Joining Jacobs Israel were committee members and four app developers. LJ Mover & Shaker Matthew Winner also shared his wisdom on social media and video conferencing with authors and guests in two presentations. Needed: support for teaching English Language Learners  The conversation about librarians and English Language Learners got a big boost from SLJ’s ELL survey. Sara Frey, librarian at the Plymouth Whitemarsh (PA) High School, led “ExcELLEnt School Library Services: Supporting English Language Learners and their Teachers.” With SLJ’s survey data on screen, Frey said, “We can take this back to publishers—this is what we need” to demand better materials. Breaking into groups, librarians discussed their challenges serving students of all ages—from locating age-appropriate scaffolding material to finding anything at all in Nepali or Burmese to supporting students “plunked” into situations where they are expected to master high-level material while also learning the language. Trading notes on text-to-speech and translation tools, the group lamented that in high school, ‘It’s all about the TOEFL” test—while also noting that graphic novels and poetry, with fewer words, are good formats for ELLs. One librarian described how her Follett rep put together a list of books by language. Another described her dismay on discovering that her public library stopped carrying hi-lo books, unaware what an important resource they were for ELL students. Solving sticky situations Protecting student data, student-centered social media policies that offered safeguards, and copyright issues were the discussion points in “Help Me Figure this Out! Thorny and Thought-Provoking Ethical Dilemmas for School Librarians,” consisting mostly of facilitated discussion groups. During lively round-table conversations, Alabama high school librarian Annalisa Keuler noted a growing movement in which vendors and companies that handle cloud-based student data agree not to sell it. Discussing students’ social media use, Jole Seroff, director of library and information services at the Castilleja School for girls in California, cited a 2013 study from Kaplan Test Prep that established one third of college admissions officers look at students’ social media, and 70 percent of teens use more than one form of social media. Meanwhile, a Georgia librarian reports that parents in that state have the right to view student library records. Another participant noted that the term “digital footprint” has been replaced with “digital tattoo” in her circles. The presenters supplied a list of resources on a libguide. E

Eszter Hargittai of Northwestern University.

In the closing General Session on Saturday afternoon, Eszter Hargittai, a professor at Northwestern University, shared her research on college students’ digital media use. Her studies have examined how web skills, gender, and socioeconomic background determine what individuals do online. Perhaps not surprising to the AASL audience was Hargittai’s finding that while it is true that millennials have been exposed to digital for most of their lives and spend a lot of time online, students are less savvy about navigating the Internet than most people believe, with digital naïve a better term to describe them than digital native. While everyone’s skills are improving with more exposure to the Internet, those students from less-privileged backgrounds than their peers don’t improve as quickly, widening the gap. When asked if lessons in digital use made a difference, Hargittai cited a study she conducted in which one group of students was offered one hour of instruction, while a control group had none. With only that one hour of coaching, the first group performed better. That closing note presented clear marching orders to many in attendance—who headed off for a closing party, and journeys home the next day following an author breakfast. And what impact did the Hackathon have on the organization and the conference? Find out in in 2017—registration is already open for the 18th AASL conference, taking place in Phoenix, AZ.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing