It’s October of 2021 and I am in my 17th year as an educator, 12th year as a school librarian, and this was my 4th AASL National Conference. I find that right now I am more reflective than I have been in my career.
As we continue to collectively survive and look for ways to thrive in the midst of a global pandemic, I was especially thankful that AASL held an in-person conference.
American Libraries published “School Librarians, Together Again: AASL conference opens in Salt Lake City” by Phil Morehart published on October 22, 2021. The together again part summed up what many school librarians expressed to me at the conference: I didn’t know how much I needed this until I got here. The ability for us to be together was the thing that resonated the most with those of us that attended AASL21 in Salt Lake City.
As I sat in the airport waiting to fly home from and leave #aasl21 in the immediate past, I reflected on the act and purpose of conferences. As an educator and member of several different professional organizations and a conference attendee, I pondered the why of attending these conferences.
After all, attending conferences means I give up time and important events with my family at home. I miss them terribly and my heart aches for the moments that I miss with them when I’m gone. I know people ask themselves is it worth it to use my own money oftentimes and sacrifice this family time for a professional endeavor that is optional?
For me, the why is about the sharing and learning I do with my colleagues, and AASL is extra special because it is the only national conference just for school librarians. This sharing and learning together also creates unique connections. These connections are forged in a different fire, and they endure long after my flight takes off to return home and to my library.
I make conferences a priority because I believe in the power of education. I will never arrive at my destination. I am a lifelong learner. I recognize the life-altering influence knowledge has on my professional life, my career, and my personal life and being. The impact education has on our collective humanity and individual humans is immeasurable and compounds exponentially over time and space.
- Knowledge is power.
- Education breeds opportunity.
My professional responsibility is to be the driver of my own learning and personally I am a seeker of learning opportunities. Gathering at conferences with other librarians and educators from outside my school community affords me so many opportunities. I learn more from the shared knowledge and experiences of others than I could ever learn alone. When I am at a conference, the networking and engagement with other professionals just hits different. Being with other passionate practitioners pushes my thinking and helps me grow my professional capacity. It gives me the opportunity to grow by sharing my knowledge and experiences. Helping others learn and think differently makes me a better librarian.
One of the things I have taken to doing for AASL National Conferences is creating a collaborative notes document. I make it editable by anyone during the conference, share it out, and allow all attendees to add their notes, ideas, wonderings, and learning to the document. If you attended the conference and have anything to add, let me know and I will make you a temporary editor. With my whole being I know we are better together.
Relationships drive the interpersonal work of being a school librarian. At conferences, our human connections are nurtured in the small and big moments of learning exchanges. This learning creates empathy and it affirms our shared humanity and experience as learners and educators. We can’t help but bring this back to our libraries and weave it into all our other relationships and practices.
Each of us craves affirmation, albeit in different forms. What I know is that being seen and valued for our full and authentic selves by others who do what we do and are passionate about education and the library profession nurtures my soul and fortifies me for the days and weeks ahead at school. These connections and the shared aspects of librarianship propels me forward in my daily practice and in our larger collective work. There has never been a more necessary time for this fortification.
Plan to Attend in 2023
If you have never been to an AASL National Conference, I encourage you to seek out opportunities to make this learning experience happen. There are travel grants you can apply for. I am a Bound To Stay Bound travel grant past recipient. There are likely untapped funds in your district or school system. Plan ahead and make the case this school year so funds could be allocated during the 2022-2023 school year. Also, show your administrator or coordinator the collaborative notes from previous years. This will give them a quick visual that will help them understand what a valuable learning experience this could be for you.
Submit a session, or five, to present when the call for proposals is sent out. Often having submitted a session to present and represent your school is a great way to entice administrators to support your attendance. I would be willing to mentor anyone who has never submitted a proposal and so would many of our other experienced presenters and colleagues. It’s not as daunting as you may think it is, and we are here to support you!
Moving Forward, Together
Whether #aasl21 was your first or your fortieth conference, we move forward with intention, together. We hold tight to our core values and the work of being educators and learners. In this moment, I send with you the comfort that we are not alone and that this meeting at AASL21 is part of a larger journey we take, together. Light and love friends!
Author: Nancy Jo Lambert
Nancy Jo Lambert is a Google Certified Trainer and high school teacher librarian in Frisco Independent School District at Reedy High School. She is a presenter advocating for libraries by telling the story of the learning happening in her library. She holds positions in the Texas Library Association, Texas Computer Education Association, American Library Association, American Association of School Librarians, and the Texas Association of School Librarians. She has been published in professional journals and won numerous awards and grants and was named TCEA Library Media Specialist of the Year and the American Association of School Librarians Social Media Superstar Curriculum Champion in 2019. She is co-founder of EduPrideAlliance.org and she is known for sharing her professional work on Twitter @NancyJoLambert and her website reedylibrary.com.