Saturday, July 23, 2016

Takeaways from the ArASL 2016 Conference

I love attending conferences and professional development during the summer months since they really get me thinking about the upcoming school year. My wife Cindy and I just attended the Arkansas Association of School Librarians (ArASL) conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. It's also great to see librarian friends from around the state at these events. Reconnecting with old friends and making new friends are key at every conference.

I have noticed that there always seem to be a few big takeaways from all conference sessions. I want to share a few of these points with you because they are important. First, I was thrilled to meet our keynote speaker, Nikki D. Robertson, at this conference. I've been following Nikki for quite a while on social media. As I recall, I first connected with her during a #TLChat session on Twitter months ago. I have enjoyed learning from Nikki through her blog, #TLChat, TL News Night, and TL Virtual Cafe

Kaitlyn Price (my new partner LHS librarian), Nikki, and me :-)
The Importance of a PLN

A few weeks ago, I talked about the power of meeting my PLN (personal learning network) this summer while attending the Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert US Forum in Denver, Colorado. I wondered what it would be like to meet Nikki since we had only communicated through social media. It was exactly like the experience I had in Colorado and Nebraska this summer; it felt as if I had connected with a friend I had previously met face to face.

I have got to start using Snapchat!
I am grateful for this meeting! Nikki emphasized the importance of building our individual PLNs. Most school librarians work without the companionship of other librarians in their buildings. A PLN can be that network that "has our backs". Currently, I have over 4000 professionals in my Twitter PLN. To me, the number of followers a person has doesn't really matter. It's the growth of an individual PLN that is crucial. We should strive to connect with as many passionate educators as possible. I never thought that having a rapidly growing network was within reach; but if it can happen for me, it can also happen for you! These talented educators inspire me weekly, especially during Twitter education chats. If you don't know how to start a PLN through education chats on Twitter, check out this article.

Share Shamelessly

Nikki talked about many other important topics for school librarians during her sessions over the two-day conference. She talked about "Sharing Shamelessly". All too often, we tend to think that what we have to say is not important. I can't help but wonder how many wonderful ideas have gone with people to their grave because they sold themselves short for a lifetime. Perhaps, we should take risks and put our best ideas and thoughts out there. If we don't tell our stories from the library to others, how will they know what we are doing? Furthermore, how will they know our journey of learning and development as educators? Nikki is right, we must share what we are doing in the library to show the value of our programs to the world. We never know who we might impact. If it weren't for this blog, I would have never met Elizabeth Hutchinson, a librarian on the island of Guernsey. Elizabeth has connected with me, my school, our students, and our district's teacher librarians. These connections have brought change and showed the library program's value to our district's stakeholders. What might happen for you and your learning community if you share your library's stories on a blog or social media?

Libraries are about Relationships!

Nikki discussed how libraries are about relationships in her last keynote session. While books are important and we do have a literacy mission, the focus has moved to library as place. Our students deserve a sanctuary where they can feel safe... a place where they belong. They also deserve a space to collaborate and experiment with new technologies and makerspaces. Perhaps rather than worrying over getting new books processed immediately, we should be more concerned with meeting and knowing our student patrons. This point in her keynote really resonated with me. I've always thought if we take care of people, the rest will take care of itself. I think Nikki is dead on. If we want student patrons to visit our facilities, we need to build professional relationships with them. 

Who Will Advocate for Us?

The last point that stood out to me was when Nikki asked who would be our advocate if our job was on the line. She talked about a school librarian who was cut from her job in another state. The students in the school were in an uproar over this event and actually had a library "sit in". The librarian's job was saved as a result. Would something like that happen for each of us if our position was on the line? If not, what changes should we make to create strong advocates in our learning communities? 


This is just a small reflection of the ArASL 2016 conference. I learned about new YA fiction titles, tech tools, and more. While these are important, the points above resonated strongest to me. I'm going to make an effort to remember these concepts as I begin my 9th year in the school library. Join me by building your PLN, sharing shamelessly, focusing on relationships, and growing new advocates. If we make a concerted effort to do these things, 2016-2017 will be the best year ever. Let's do it, friends!

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  1. Thank you for the kind words. I am grateful to call you a true friend. I love reading your blog and connecting, sharing, learning & growing with you through social media! I can't wait to see where this new school year will take us both!

    1. So glad we connected on social media and then in person! #BetterTogether, friend!