The Conference Experience
In November of 2019, I attended my very first AASL National Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, and it did not disappoint. I met so many incredible school librarians from across the United States, learned a plethora of ideas in the sessions for taking my school library to the next level, and relished meeting some of my favorite authors. It was my first time not only attending, but also presenting for AASL. I spent 3 whirlwind days soaking in as much as I could and taking notes. I was able to meet two of my librarian idols, Joyce Valenza and Hilda Weisburg, had a chance encounter with author Alan Gratz on the exhibit floor, and was able to meet some of the school librarians I follow on Twitter. Having never previously visited Kentucky, I went sight-seeing in the evenings and tried the local cuisine. The experience was one of the best of my life. From the moment the conference ended, I was already thinking of attending in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2021.
Making the Most of It
To make the most of my conference experience, I joined the Social Media Squad to post my experience on various social media platforms, signed up to interview author Heather L Montgomery during the author expo, and attended all of the general sessions. I traveled with two friends from my district, but we also planned a meet-up with other librarians from across our state who we never get a chance to see in person. Between every session I made sure to stop by the exhibit hall to meet authors and network with other librarians. I made some great connections at AASL19 and cannot wait to see them again at AASL21. I realized that the conference, which is specifically for school librarians, is something I want to be more involved in, so I applied for the AASL21 National Conference Committee and am a social media co-chair with Shannon Giles. I’m looking forward to not only attending AASL21, but helping to plan this special event.
Share Your Ideas
When planning for the AASL21 conference, consider presenting. Do you have an idea you’d like to share? Is there a program in your library that you are proud of hosting? Consider submitting a proposal for a concurrent session and/or the IdeaLab to share your ideas with school librarians from across the country. I was fortunate to present several sessions at AASL19. I was incredibly nervous to present on such a large scale, but overcoming my fear of presenting at the national level gave me the courage to submit proposals for other national conferences. Sharing about your library programming that you are proud of is a great way to advocate for your school library. Be sure to submit your session proposal at https://national.aasl.org/proposals/ by February 1, 2021.
Paying for the Conference
Finding the funding for attending a national conference can keep some librarians from attending. I’ve found that administrators and donors are more inclined to help with funding when librarians are prepared to share the information gained with the district, post on the library’s social media platforms, submit to present at the conference, and have the experience covered by a local newspaper. However, if you’re still looking for funding, you might consider creating a Donors Choose professional development project. Donors Choose has currently suspended projects involving travel, but you can still create a project to cover conference registration.
There are also quite a few grant opportunities available. For school librarians with five years or less experience, AASL offers the Frances Henne Award, which awards the recipient a $1250 travel stipend to for a first-time attendee of the national conference. You can also apply for a local Walmart grant, look into small grants from your state organizations, and contemplate writing a travel grant with Fund For Teachers. Check out my Wakelet board of grant resources for more grant opportunities.
It’s Never Too Early to Plan
AASL21 is a year away, but it is never too early to start planning for the conference! Gather a group of friends, create a budget, look into grants and funding, submit a proposal (or two!), and get ready for an experience of a lifetime. I look forward to meeting many of you in Salt Lake City, Utah, in October 2021 at the AASL National Conference.
Author: Amanda Jones
Amanda is the 2021 School Library Journal Co-Librarian of the Year, the 2020 Louisiana School Librarian of the Year and a 20 year educator from Watson, LA. She’s a teacher-librarian and reading specialist at a 5-6 grade middle school. She co-hosts the My Two Cents edtech webinar series and is the 2019 AASL Social Media Superstar Program Pioneer. Amanda is an active member of several committees for both AASL and the Louisiana Association of School Librarians. She loves connecting students with “homerun” books and loves networking with librarians from around the world. Visit her library website at lomlibrary.org and/or find out more about her at http://librarianjones.com/.