Making “Good Trouble” in NYC | SLJ Summit 2018

The 2018 SLJ Leadership Summit featured two days of panels, workshops, speakers, honest conversations about the industry.

Actor and activist George Takei’s opening keynote address
discussed his childhood time at an internment camp.
Photos by Jeffery Holmes

The 2018 SLJ Leadership Summit featured two days of panels, workshops, speakers, honest conversations about the industry, and inspired, next-level networking, enabling attendees to learn as much from one another as those on stage and leading the sessions.

Held October 27–28, 2018, in Brooklyn, the Summit was bookended by an impassioned history lesson of a dark time in America’s past and a look into the future of education, engagement, and change for the better. In between, school librarians expanded on the event theme of “Own It! Making ‘Good Trouble’” as they explored topics, such as Read Woke movement, sustainability, empowering ­LGBTQ youth, use of primary sources, Drag Queen Story Hour, ­leadership, advocating for students and colleagues, and what superintendents really expect from their district’s librarians.

From top to bottom: The Read Woke panelists spoke honestly about issues of feminism, race, and being a teen girl; attendees during a Lilead activity and checking out vendor booths; Brooklyn high schools superintendent Michael Prayor and Joyce Valenza; Local Projects’ founder Jake Barton.

The underlying message in Brooklyn was taking responsibility and taking action, forcing change where needed for the good of the students, looking beyond the classroom and daily struggles to help the kids see the world beyond their communities and personal echo chambers.

SLJ ’s 2018 School Librarian of the Year, Ali Schilpp, traveled from Accident, MD, to speak to attendees about reinventing her rural school library and all of her amazing programs. (You can view Schilpp’s speech, along with other video from the Summit, at

Despite sometimes seemingly disparate topics and presenters, it all wove together into a pertinent, provocative narrative for the more than 300 in attendance.

“#SLJSummit was, by far, the most engaging, relevant and thought-provoking conference I have ever attended,” Schilpp tweeted. “I am grateful to have been included and am inspired to continue to #MakeGoodTrouble!”

The opening keynoter was certainly someone who tries to make good trouble. Actor and activist George Takei is now known as much for his political Twitter feed and activism as his run as Sulu on the original Star Trek television series. He shared a very personal history lesson—one that will be imparted to the younger generation through his graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy, releasing next summer by Top Shelf Productions. The book recounts Takei’s childhood years in an American internment camp during World War II. It is a chapter in the country’s history that still doesn’t have much representation in history books, and one that has relevance in today’s world as well, he said.

“The lessons of the past are so easily forgotten, and the mistakes of the past are repeated time and again, especially in these fraught times we live in today,” said Takei.

In at times heartbreaking detail, he told hushed attendees about the progression of his life after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor when lives of Japanese Americans changed “cataclysmically.”

Despite his family’s experience, Takei’s father had an unyielding belief in this country, and the younger Takei offered a passionate defense of American ideals and the need for people to act for the greater good of the nation and its people.

“As Americans,” he said, “we all have a responsibility to build a better America.”

Librarians, Takei said, are the keepers and disseminators of knowledge. They can be the ones to help the next generation create informed, engaged citizens who work toward that better country. SLJ organized a weekend of panels, discussions, and breakout sessions with a goal of providing librarians with the information, resources, and inspiration to do just that.

Now in its 14th year, the SLJ Summit was sponsored by Capstone (platinum sponsor); Follett (gold sponsor); and ABDO, Gale, Junior Library Guild, Lerner, Mackin, Perma-Bound, Rosen Publishing, and TLC (silver sponsors).

From top to bottom: Claudia Eliaza and Dan Zanes had everyone on their feet in separate performances. They also discussed the importance of inclusive programming; Drag Queen Story Hour’s Ona Louise; Right: Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S. teachers Eric Garner (front left) and Melissa Falkowski (front right) signed the student-authored book they co-edited.

In Saturday’s breakout sessions, librarians heard presentations on varied topics: empowering LGBT youth, creating partnerships for early literacy, collaborating for better resources and collections, the role of social media in civics, and using primary sources creatively to engage more students.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School teachers Eric Garner and Melissa Falkowski discussed the February 14 shooting that killed 17 people at their Parkland, FL, school and the journalistic efforts of their students since. They were open and honest, and left many listeners inspired—and in tears.

As part of a blockbuster author panel, school librarian Cicely Lewis from Norcross, GA, spoke about starting the Read Woke movement with her students before joining a discussion with SLJ senior editor Daryl Grabarek and authors Ibi Zoboi (Pride) and Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan (coauthors of Watch Us Rise) about their novels, main characters, and teenagers—especially girls—today.

“[Young readers] want books that push the envelope; they want to feel stuff,” Zoboi said. “They are looking for answers. They want books that ask the big questions.”

In addition to young black women who see themselves in her characters, Watson has heard from white teens, including one who thanked her and said, “I’ve been trying to figure this out with my friend.” Watson also loves to hear that boys are reading her books and talking about feminism in class. “Teachers making space for that in their classrooms means a lot,” she said.

A panel of superintendents from schools of varying sizes and demographics discussed what keeps them awake at night (safety and inequity topped the list) and what they want from their librarians (to speak up, show what they are doing, and become district leaders). Many in education consider librarians part of a school’s support structure, according to Dave Schuler, superintendent of Township High School District 214, in Arlington Heights, IL, and 2018 National Superintendent of the Year.

“Lead,” he said. “As you’re leading, think through that lens of a leader...and let us know about the leadership contributions you’re making.”

Fellows from the Lilead Project, a school library leadership program based at the University of Maryland, helped address that, running a “Leadership Secrets from the Lilead Project” session. To be leaders and agents of change, they said, librarians must align themselves with district goals and provide evidence of their work. The fellows challenged attendees to see not only their strengths but also their weaknesses, and find an ally who complements them and could help achieve their goals.

In a lively discussion with librarian and “A Fuse #8 Production” blogger Betsy Bird, author Adam Gidwitz spoke about the moment that woke him up to his white male privilege and how it changed the way he approaches the characters and narratives in his novels—and his writing process as well. He had always done research, but he now knew that was not enough. Gidwitz sought out some of his favorite authors with authentic voices and appropriate personal experience for the characters in the next books of his “Unicorn Rescue Society” series and has now coauthored those entries with them.

Drag Queen Story Hour conducted a fabulous storytime, as well as a discussion that included protests of the organization’s events and the importance of inclusion. The latter was also the heart of the presentation by Dan Zanes and Claudia Eliaza.

The event concluded with Local Projects, a New York City design firm. Founder Jake Barton explained the company’s novel approach to creating immersive museum experiences that both move and educate users.

Barton’s message to librarians: Think hard and differently before creating a program. Work backward from the goal and make sure it supports the school’s vision and mission—and that you can clearly explain how. It was the perfect end to the conference—a call for thoughtful change with a substantive plan, collaboration, and a bold goal of serving the greater good.

One returning attendee, Connecticut teacher librarian Melissa Thom, summed up the Summit impact on Twitter: “The connections I have made with dynamic librarians, caring publishers and the amazing @sljournal staff has completely altered my professional trajectory!”



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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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