At the heart of their schools, school librarians display the power to change communities at 2021 AASL National Conference
For Immediate Release
Communications and Marketing Office
American Library Association
SALT LAKE CITY – School librarians are educators at the heart of their schools, promoting literacy, equity, diversity, and inclusion; enhancing learning; and ensuring access to information for all. They work collaboratively with administrators, fellow educators, public libraries, and community service organizations to transform teaching and learning and empower their students.
More than 1,500 school librarians, administrators, authors, and exhibitors shared ideas, held conversations, engaged in sessions and programs, and reaffirmed their commitment to their profession at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City Oct. 21-23 for the 2021 American Association of School Librarians (AASL) National Conference.
Even before the in-person conference got under way, attendees participated in preconference workshops that introduced concepts for student assessment, explored such topics as STEAM activities for elementary school learners, and provided resources and action steps to support equity, diversity, and inclusion. School librarians had the opportunity to exchange ideas and share a meal from one of Salt Lake City’s fine restaurants during Dinner with a Local Librarian.
On Oct. 21, the Opening General Session featured a keynote by Dr. Omékongo Dibinga, author of “The UPstander’s Guide to an Outstanding Life,” who said, “AASL? That stands for Activists, Advocates, and School Leaders.”
He said, “We must always make sure libraries are seen as the sacred spaces they are,” adding, “The two things I had growing up; I had my parents and family and I had a school library.”
Dibinga introduced the term “agnotology,” which he defined as “the willful act of spreading deceit and confusion. Librarians and libraries are the antithesis of agnotology.”
The Oct. 22 General Session featured an intimate conversation among four school superintendents and principals who spoke about how administrators can empower a school librarian’s leadership role to impact all learners as well as what administrators need and expect from their school librarians and school libraries.
Featured were Sean Doherty, retired superintendent from the school district of Clayton, Missouri, April Grace, superintendent of Shawnee (Oklahoma) public schools, Kelly Gustafson, principal of Wexford (Pennsylvania) Elementary School, and Joel Hoag, principal of Freedom (Tennessee) Intermediate School. AASL Immediate Past President Kathy Carroll and Past President Kathryn Roots Lewis guided the discussion.
The administrators characterized the school library as the heart of the school building, with an impact on every class.
Gustafson said, “Embrace the influencer. Librarians are influencers.”
They reminded the audience that school librarians are problem-solvers, co-teachers, and co-researchers.
Doherty said, “It’s bigger than kids just coming to the library to get books.” He described a space where “people can see there is so much more that you do, help with critical skills, what to do with information. Give the why I need this resource. This is a need, not a want.”
School librarians are powerful connectors, Hoag said. “You know what is going on curriculum wise and want kids to read for fun.”
Throughout the conference, attendees delved into a wide range of topics – including collaboration, collection development, design and creation, digital tools, leadership and advocacy, literacy, and teaching and learning -- during more than 100 concurrent sessions on best practices.
On the evening of Oct. 22, there was an advance screening of the award-winning documentary “TRUST ME,” a collaboration between AASL and the Getting Better Foundation (GBF) that shows how an avalanche of biased news and misinformation is undermining trust in society. This distrust drives fear, which promotes racism, political polarization, and mental health disorders. After the screening, attendees had the opportunity to discuss this critical issue during an intimate conversation with Rosemary Smith, the impact producer of “Trust Me” and GBF managing director. ALA and AASL members can view the film at a 50 percent discount by visiting www.ala.org/aasl/trust-me.
On Oct. 23, Kekla Magoon, the 2021 Margaret A. Edwards award-winning author of more than a dozen novels and nonfiction books for young readers, including “The Season of Styx Malone,” “The Rock and the River,” and the upcoming “Revolution in Our Time: The Black Panther Party’s Promise to the People,” as well as a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, delivered the author keynote.
Magoon drew applause when she said, “In this country right now, there is a movement seeking to erase the telling of Black history. But this is not just Black history. This is American history. It is all of our history.”
She continued, “We can have pride in our history, writ large, without erasure of the things we’re not proud of.”
“I challenge you to be brave, to stand up for the needs of your young patrons and not shy away from shelving the books that feel important to you and to them.
“The power of libraries comes from offering a multitude of voices. It comes from carrying a collection that speaks truth in a chorus of perspectives and a range of genres across diverse formats and media. We cannot allow that diversity and complexity to be taken from us by the powers that be.”
Prior to the author general session, Sylvia Knight Norton, executive of director of AASL, reminded attendees, “Our AASL community, as a division of the American Library Association, is part of the ecosystem of all types of libraries, librarians, and library workers. Together, we can be a stronger voice for what we hold dear and for our learners.”
At the same session, ALA Executive Director Tracie Hall reminded the audience, to wild applause, “This AASL conference is the first time that the American Library Association has met in almost two years.”
Hall said she is the product of a proactive and innovative school librarian in South Central Los Angeles and spoke of the importance of a well-supported and centered school library program.
“A well-funded and well-staffed school library is the relationship hub and the switching station of the school,” she said, adding that well-funded and well-staffed school libraries are also “the disrupters of low levels of literacy.”
The closing session on Oct. 23 sent conference attendees home with a look at how school librarians will continue to adapt to meet the current realities in an interactive session with Dr. Joe Sanchez, professor of library and information studies at Queens (N.Y.) College, and Dr. Jennifer Moore, professor in the College of Information at the University of North Texas.
For more information on the conference, visit national.aasl.org.
About the American Association of School Librarians
The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) is the only national professional membership organization focused on school librarians and the school library community. AASL serves school librarians in the United States, Canada, and around the world.