Opening General Session at AASL National Conference

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Opening Session 

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference commenced with a warm and invigorating welcome by Courtney Pentland. The atmosphere was charged with excitement as librarians from across the nation gathered to celebrate their shared profession. The event emphasized the importance of connection and relationship-building within the school librarianship community. It was truly awe-inspiring to witness so many dedicated individuals coming together, united by their passion for the profession. The collective energy in the room was palpable, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie and support.

After Pentland’s welcoming words, we received a word of support from ALA president Emily Drabinski. Drabinski affirms the need for a fully funded library and certified school librarian in every school, and she exclaimed, “You’ve got this!”

Then Kathleen Daniels, FAME president, gave an enthusiastic welcome to Florida from a Tampa native! The conference committee was recognized, and then Amanda Jones and Paige Battle, co-chairs, introduced the keynote speaker, Nikkolas Smith, the ARTivist, concept artist, children’s books author, and film illustrator.

The ARTivist

Nikkolas Smith began his presentation with a heartwarming photo of himself as a ten-year-old, accompanied by an art piece he created at that age. This introduction established a personal connection with the audience and set the tone for the following inspiring discussion. Smith discussed his background in architecture and his early career in the field. He then highlighted his time as an Imagineer with Disney until 2019.

Smith emphasized the transformative power of art in bringing attention to important social issues. By creating thought-provoking and impactful artwork, he aims to shed light on the extraordinary deeds of real-life heroes, inspiring others to act with compassion and make a positive difference in the world.  Smith mentioned that his ideas for art and activism originated around ten years ago after the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, prompting him to imagine what it would be like if Martin Luther King Jr. were wearing a hoodie. A quote moved him from Nina Simone: “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” All of these ideas come to life in Smith’s new book The Artivist

Smith confirmed that artivism in those pivotal moments was like art as therapy for him. A sampling of the issues highlighted in his art include environmentalism, mass incarceration, global peace, healthcare, immigration, and gun violence.

Most will recognize Nikkolas Smith’s artwork over the last four years, including The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson and I Am Ruby Bridges, written by Ruby Bridges.

What an exciting opening for AASL 2023!


Author: Hannah Byrd Little

Hello, I am the Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle. I use my past experience in college and university libraries to help my current students in school libraries transition into college, career, and life. I am currently the lead Senior Class Adviser for the Capstone Project. I also served at the state level with the Tennessee Association of School Librarians executive board from 2009-2013 and was the TASL president in 2012. I am certified as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, have a BS in Communications with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations, a BS in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Education and Information Systems and a Masters in Library and Information Science.

Categories: AASL National Conference, Professional Development

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.