Report on ALA Conference 2013: American Association of School Librarians @ ALA

American Association of School Librarians @ ALA 2013

Held on a Saturday morning, the AASL President’s Program saw a modest attendance but the main speaker, Dr. Mark Edwards, was dynamic. A North Carolina superintendent—of all things (go NC!)—for the Mooresville school district since 2007, Dr. Edwards has initiated programs to improve test scores, access to technology, and graduation rates in the Mooresville district—which is immediately north of Charlotte, for those who may not know. His presentation on strategies for K-12 student success in the 21st century reinforced AASL president-elect Gail Dickinson’s prefatory remarks on school librarianship—that it’s “all about COLLABORATION & SERVICE”—in the broader context of education in general.

Central to Dr. Edwards’ philosophy of education is the idea of keeping up with the educational needs of the times, which in the case of the 21st century means the full integration of computers and related technology into the learning process and the school environment. As educators, we “must prepare our children for their future, not our past.”

Many activities, whether social or professional in nature, now require the use of computers in some capacity. However, not every child has consistent access to computers or the internet (except through libraries, which Dr. Edwards applauded), thus leaving some students at a disadvantage. The divide between those students who have regular computer access and those who don’t is known as the Digital Divide. In the Mooresville school district since 2007 a “digital conversion” has started to take place, in which the schools provide laptops for every student. They can even take the laptops home at the end of the day. This attempt to close the Digital Divide is succeeding in the Mooresville area and, according to Dr. Edwards, the laptops in nearly every case are returned in as good a condition as when they are loaned. Students take the privilege of a free laptop seriously.

Such a risk, first paying for computers and then trusting students to treat them well, has proved worthwhile so far, and that such a risk was argued as worth it in the first place by Dr. Edwards illustrates his enthusiasm for his job. The superintendent’s phrase of choice throughout his career has been “Every child, every day.”

What can we, as school librarians, do to foster a forward-looking and all-student-inclusive school environment? Several things. School librarians should engage in continuing professional development programs, such as the ALA and AASL annual conferences. States have their own statewide associations too, membership in which keeps the librarian connected to current best practices and technological innovations. Also, all a school’s staff, librarians included, should seek leadership roles to develop their management and decision-making abilities. Thirdly, keep an open mind and be willing to learn from your colleagues, including the principal, teachers, administrative staff, and other support staff.

Finally, connect your library resources with the future of the students. Connect with their interests, especially those interests that can be developed into skills for particular careers. Paleontology books for the dinosaur lover, programming books for the computer geek, algebra books for the math whiz, novels for the literary reader, music books for the young pianist, and so on. It all ties back to the old adage of librarianship: “Serve the needs of your users.”

That means the current needs of your particular community of users. To repeat an earlier keyword, COLLABORATION is necessary to the task. In other words, you should keep up to date on who you’re serving and what they need through constant connection with your school’s faculty, staff, and students. Simple as that. Following that precept has worked wonders for Dr. Edwards and the Mooresville school district as a whole, not just their library & media centers.


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