My tired feet and I have found their way home, and we are all delighted to be greeted with some beautiful, mild Michigan summer weather. My hat is off to all the Southerners out there who bear the summer heat and humidity better than I do. Two summers in DC, six summers working for Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, and seven years living in Memphis, and I never get used to it. Never.
It always takes me some time to process everything that happens at a huge, diverse conference like ALA. But here are some initial thoughts …
District Librarians, Librarians of Record, Librarians Working in Multiple Schools
It would be hard to find anyone who thinks that splitting one’s time, talents, and attentions among multiple schools is best practice. However, it’s happening more and more as schools struggle to maintain as many services as possible amid pretty crushing budget reductions. (Michigan just approved a budget cut of almost $500 per student. In a school of 600, that’s a reduction in funding of almost $300,000. In a medium-sized suburban district of 8000 students, that’s a cut of nearly $4 million. Find me an administrator who can keep staffing and services steady with that kind of cut, and you’ll have found Harry Houdini reincarnated.) This was a big topic of discussion at Affiliate Assembly. SLM has heard you, and our editor Deb Levitov is going to be featuring more articles this year about how folks have dealt with increased responsibilities and a larger scope of students.
Although less prevalent on the formal agenda, there was more and more discussion of how librarians across library types can work together. For example, in my session, a community college librarian cautioned those of us in school libraries not to cut lessons about the table of contents, title page, and index, as he needs his students to have those skills to build citations and quickly search books for information. I am glad to be on the ALA Digital Literacy Task Force so I can hear the voices of many librarians so I have a greater opportunity to think about how we can work together, not just in parallel. Especially in towns and cities where a school librarian is already split among multiple buildings (see above), the role of the public library in our children’s lives becomes more prominent in our K-12 thinking.
Transliteracy — a newish term to express the idea of multiple literacies, multimedia literacies, of semiotics — is definitely a current buzzword, but in a presentation given by public librarians, it was clear that they are interpreting literacy activities in a way different from how we would in school libraries. Their focus, in the session, was much more about making technology tools available so that multimedia content creation could occur with patrons. In a school setting, this conversation would revolve more and more around instructional and assessment strategies for making sure our students know how to “read” a video or a digital text with the same level of skill that they can a traditional print text. Again, this conversation has much ahead of it, and the more we talk across the “silos” of library type, the more quickly we can make progress and unify our message.
Common Core Standards
Common Core is coming (last chance to submit to Nudging about this is tomorrow!), and K-12 librarians are in a great position to hit the ground running on this. In my presentation, a really interesting conversation meant we didn’t get to talk about this, but again, this is a great chance for us to think collaboratively across state lines.
The U.S. publishing industry must be in a stronger financial position than it has been for the past few years, because the publisher booths were quite generous with their advance reader copies and print galleys (and digital galleys are increasing in popularity). One thing that impresses me, as I quickly peruse my half-suitcase-full, is that we’re seeing more diversity of genres being published at higher quality. I saw a lot fewer imitative texts, and that bodes well for us.
Curation vs. Collection
Laura tweeted that both Buffy and I had mentioned “curation” in our presentations. I define curation as carefully choosing and culling the most relevant resource from the plethora available, and collection as more of a process of gathering as much as possible. Nascent definitions, but a starting point for me to think about how we as school librarians can be approaching digital resources. More and more, I believe that our role as curators — to providing carefully-selected small sets of tech tools and informational resources — benefits us in the digital age. I have heard from an increasing number of non-librarian educators that their well-intentioned librarian “floods” them with resources instead of helping them by culling out all but the very best. There was talk in my session about finding tools that could do a great number of tasks instead of teaching five or six tools with one specific purpose. Food for thought this summer.
Pleasurable Library Environments
Buffy and I had an amazing dinner here at Bouche on Saturday night. It had received terrific reviews on Yelp. I heard that she used it in part of her ISTE talk, and I can’t wait to hear her take on it, but in the meantime, here is mine.
Bouche gave us a flood of ideas about what a welcoming library space could be. First, it was divided into several specific areas: a lobby, a bar, a lounge with comfy seating, open restaurant seating with tables for four, and three curtained booths. We got a curtained booth — it was like a little cave with private walls and curtains that could be left open (as ours were) or, for more romantic interludes, closed. The lighting was lush and cozy; the booth upholstery welcoming. We were welcomed and pampered from our arrival.
Our waitress had spunk and enthusiasm, sharing what she loved most about the menu and giving us a running witty commentary throughout our visit. She didn’t do any of those “How’s everything?” driveby visits that always seem to come when your mouth is full of food (thus making you think the whole question is really meant to be moot). She wore her own clothes – no uniform – and inquired about our timeline and how she could meet it. (She even reminded us five minutes before the departure time we had mentioned to her so we wouldn’t be late and offered to get us a cab.) She was helpful, authentic, and interesting. She didn’t interrupt us when we were deep in conversation (and as we had been saving up some of our conversation for months, that was so fabulous). Our glasses were never empty, the food was delicious. Everything about the environment lifted our stress away and helped us focus on our conversation. We got so much done and had time for chat about other stuff beyond the work agenda we had set for ourselves.
Both of us had that, “We gotta blog about this” feeling. Because what the restaurant somehow managed to do was create zones. You want to have a drink and watch the bar TV? There’s a place for that. Have a big table? There’s a place for that. Chat quietly? The curtained booths make that possible. Lounge in an easy chair? Possible. There were zones for any kind of patron. And the wait staff made it possible for us to just relax. We never were looking for the waitress or impatiently waiting for the bill. And yet everything was individualized. Nothing screamed, “This is our system.”
BOY, we thought. If our libraries could feel like this — cozy, welcoming, accommodating, empowering, zoned, quiet where quiet was needed, social where social was needed — how amazing it would be for our students and teachers.
AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning
This AASL Committee was busy at ALA! They had a full-day preconference and a concurrent session. At the concurrent session, they revealed the 2011 list. You can find it here. Favorites of mine from the list include Edmodo. There are more new-to-me sites on this list than on any past list, so this is a terrific chance for us to sharpen and refine our bag of tech tricks!
The need for others to speak up about the value of libraries is a staple at library conferences. But what really hit me is the need to consider advocacy as a day-to-day activity. Advocacy is how we build those relationships from before the first day of school. I’ve heard some nasty stories from folks lately about library settings where children and/or adults don’t feel welcome. And it is the daily interactions we have with folks — not a brochure or a bookmark or a party for volunteers or a spring “save us” presentation at a Board meeting — that build the foundation for advocacy. Spring is not advocacy season in school libraries. Spring is when we may need to call in our chits. FALL is when advocacy begins.
Also, Scholastic Library Publishing is working on something that many of you have been asking for for some time. It will be revealed at AASL in Minneapolis, so stay tuned! Trust me – it will be very helpful!
I am delighted to represent AASL on the ALA Digital Literacy Task Force. Continuing with the theme of working across library types, this is a chance for me to work with colleagues from many settings to define and share digital literacy and its practices. One project we’ve been asked to contribute to is the new DigitalLiteracy.gov project from the U.S. Department of Commerce. They very much want your input of great resources, so this is a great way for you to get your good work into a public forum to institutionalize and publicize the great work happening in your library. Beyond a committee meeting, I attended the official ALA launch of the DigitalLiteracy.gov portal and moderated a panel discussion on current state and national digital literacy initiative efforts (more on that later when I download the audio of the event to share).
Well, those are my initial thoughts. I am eager to hear what those of you who attended ALA saw. Also, I highly recommend that you peruse the ALSC blog for their ALA takeaways. They had a team of folks blogging from all kinds of events relevant to those who work with youth. While they focused less on the instructional issues that AASL would, they joyfully reported from all kinds of sessions.
Remember that we’d be delighted to have your contributions to our Essential Reads column on classroom management in school libraries – deadline tomorrow!