In November, we journeyed over 7,000 miles across the globe on a non-stop 15-hour flight all the way to the United Arab Emirates. Why? We traveled to share the power of libraries with fellow librarians at the Sharjah International Book Fair-ALA Library Conference. We documented our journey every step of the way on Instagram and Twitter using the hashtag #ASKinUAE (Andy, Sherry, & Kathy in United Arab Emirates): https://storify.com/SherryGick/askinuae.
We had the opportunity to present five different sessions with our new friends in Sharjah. From trends in US libraries to a roundtable session, we found participants eager to connect, learn, talk, and share with us.
In “Welcome to Makerspaces,” librarians explored the many ways that makerspaces can take root in a school library. From mobile makerspaces to dedicated spaces in the library, UAE librarians saw that makerspaces can take many forms to allow students opportunities to tinker, create, and share. The message of “starting where you are” helped librarians see that you don’t have to start with a makerspace that is fully stocked with technology tools in order to give students the chance to create.
Our second session, “How to Be a Creator,” allowed participants to put themselves into students’ shoes and explore how it feels to create and be a creator (aka a “maker”). Eight hands-on maker stations were set up around the room, including Spheros, Ozobots, coding, Post-It Note art, kazoo construction, Makey Makey, littleBits, Strawbees, and paper circuits with Chibitronics. After an introduction about a maker’s mindset, participants were able to explore four stations of their choice. The idea of addressing challenges and how to handle “failures” as learning opportunities was a hot topic for discussion while making and during our wrap-up.
Literacy is still the heart of the library. During “Literacy in the School Library” we explored ways to empower student voices with library programming. With the participants we discussed how we could adapt successful programs for use in UAE school libraries. We looked at bringing students together using one book or one theme, creating teams to read and join in a battle of the books, using alternative shelving arrangements to increase students’ ability to find books quickly, having students help develop the collection, and collaborating within and outside of our school library walls. We considered the pros and cons of each program through the lens of increased student engagement with books and reading.
So often in conferences, you spend time with people hearing about topics that matter, but you don’t have time to reflect, plan, and share your own experiences. During the final session, UAE librarians had a chance to share successful projects, reading promotions, and collaborations from their own libraries and schools. All of those ideas were captured on Google documents where the conversation could continue beyond the conference. Even though the librarians weren’t all on social media, they had a space to include their contact information so they could continue to connect beyond the conference. This sharing time was a meaningful wrap-up to our three days of sessions together.
Our sessions are available online at http://bit.ly/SIBFALA16.
What We Learned
President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has declared 2016 the year of reading in the UAE. The UAE recognizes reading as a basic skill that fosters success in an ever-changing world. They support reading through book fairs, cultural events, awards, and funding for education. Seeing this focus allowed us to step back and consider our own programs in the United States, where we often juggle numerous initiatives at once. What is our focus? Have we gotten distracted from our mission of fostering a love of reading? Even though we shared ways we are promoting reading in our library, being in the UAE made us reflect on what more we could do to energize the reading culture in our schools.
When you travel to another country, you might expect that things will look and feel different. However, we were each struck by how connected and similar we all really are. We saw librarians doing everything in their power to do what was in the best interest of students. They were inspiring readers and exploring new technologies. With today’s technology tools, we don’t have to physically travel to another country to experience this. Now more than ever, we need to be connecting our students with voices from around the world to realize that we are all humans doing our best to figure out the world around us.
Sherry Gick is an Associate Director of Innovative Learning for Five-Star Technology. As a former teacher-librarian, she remains an advocate for school libraries. Follow her on Twitter at @SherryGick and sporadically at www.sherrygick.com.
Andy Plemmons is a PreK-5th grade school librarian at David C. Barrow Elementary in Athens, GA. You can follow his work on his blog http://expectmiraculous.com or on Twitter @plemmonsa.