School librarian leaders from across the country made their way to the Austin, TX, aka the “Live Music Capital of the World,” on September 28–29 to attend School Library Journal’s annual Leadership Summit, where they discussed the future of libraries and how partnership is a necessary ingredient for stakeholder success. Throughout the weekend, participants—speakers, sponsors, panelists, and attendees—focused their conversations around the transformative power of collaboration.

Leadership Exchange breakout session. Photos by Jack Plunkett/AP Images for SLJ.

“[Our] Summit is designed to bring together key collaborators in the industry,” stated Rebecca T. Miller, SLJ’s editorial director, in her opening remarks. She also stressed her hope that the weekend’s conversation would be ongoing, and its takeaways (for attendees and non-attendees alike) can be gleaned via social media (#sljsummit) and backchanneling resources.

Keynote speaker Annie Murphy Paul at the SLJ Summit 2013.

Evokers of interest

To start off the day’s smorgasbord of learning, executive editor Kathy Ishizuka introduced journalist Annie Murphy Paul and her work on cognitive science and the concept of “interest.”

Author of the upcoming book Brilliant: The New Science of Smart (Crown, 2014), and creator of The Brilliant Report newsletter, Murphy Paul tailored her message for the audience, calling librarians “The most glorious and sublime creatures in the world.” Arguing that librarians are more important now than ever in a world of scripted lessons and tests, shel added that they have “a special role” as “cultivators of interest” and “knowledge builders.”

Quoting from John Dewey,  Murphy Paul  detailed how focusing students’ learning on a subject of interest will influence them to excel in other subjects and become autonomous thinkers and lifelong learners. Her presentation was followed by an interactive question and answer period, covering topics ranging from library space design to gaming in the classroom.

Teach more. Librarian less.
The importance and applicability of collaboration was most evident in the keynote panel, “Allies In Leadership: Pivot Points and Opportunities for Teacher Librarians” lead by the Vancouver (WA) Public School’s administrative team. Mark Ray, former teacher librarian and SLJ columnist; Kym Tyelyn-Carlson, high school principal; Layne Curtis, curriculum director; and Lisa Greseth, chief information officer, shared insights on how librarians and school district leaders could work together to better serve students and parents.

Vancouver (WA) Public School’s administrators: (l. to r.) Kym Tyelyn-Carlson, Layne Curtis, Lisa Greseth, Mark Ray.

Dispelling the belief that “administrators don’t get it,” Ray assured attendees that the leaders on the panel understand the role that teacher librarians play in 21st century schools. He also stressed the importance of connecting with teachers, principals, parents, and students by stepping out of the library space, owning your role as a teacher, and collaborating on district leadership teams.

Greseth explained that an integral part of an organization’s success depends on a clear and well-communicated vision, purpose, open and true information, and strong relationships. When a conflict arises, every key player has to “decide if your goal is to be right or to be an instrument of change,” she noted, adding that a difficult situation should be viewed as a “chopportunity”—challenge + opportunity—to use your strengths and skills as a leader

After the rousing discussion, attendees were tasked to tackle two questions in a leadership exchange: What will the library look like in 5–10 years? And what will the role of the librarian be in 5–10 years?

Storytelling in Transition panel: (l. to r.) Becky Herr-Stephenson, Limbert Fabian, Brandon Oldenburg, Ben Schrank, and Jessica Anthony.

“Transmedia is not the monster at the end of the book.”

The afternoon’s program concluded with an inspirational and illuminating session on “Storytelling in Transition,” moderated by SLJ editor Daryl Grabarek. Across platforms, genres, and mediums, the panelists spoke about the innovative ways they approached the timeless task of telling a story.

Ben Schrank, publisher and editor at Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers, approached renowned book designer Rodrigo Corral to create an image-only narrative. Author Jessica Anthony joined the team, and together the three engineered the multimedia young adult novel, Chopsticks (2013). “One of our biggest questions while working on the book was whether the story was driving the medium, or the medium was driving the story,”Anthony said. “We wanted to infuse the work with all the subtext that you would find any good novel.  It had to have dialogue and moments of ‘in-between-ness.’” Each image in the graphic novel is original artwork, created specifically for the book and app.

Moonbot Studios creative directors Limbert Fabian and Brandon Oldenburg, the creators of the Oscar-winning adaptation of William Joyce’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, shared with the audience how years of collaboration has allowed them to do what they love: create stories.

“Story is the core of everything we create. We have a found a way to dabble in all of the mediums to tell them,” Libert said. “We don’t have a mission statement; we just like to make cool stuff. And we believe that a sense of play should be included in everything that we do.” Their latest project, Numberlys app—what they’re calling “Metropolis for kids”—will get the same treatment as Fantastic Flying Books: a book companion app with IMAG-N-O-TRON technology , plus a  print book.

In her presentation, Becky Herr-Stephenson, coauthor of the “T is for Transmedia” study, focused on the research on transmedia play. Kids are natural tinkerers and information seekers, and libraries are in a prime position to teacher them how to play with information better, she noted.

Herr-Stephenson highlighted five key characteristics of transmedia play: mobile (devices, and moving across physical space); accessible (featuring multiple access and exit points); replayable (being able to go back to see what you missed); resourceful (using information to solving a mystery); and social (so that parents, children, teachers can have joint experiences). Transmedia can be as complicated and detailed as Minecraft, or as simple as reading The Monster at the End of This Book or singing along to Cookie Monster’s Me Want It (But Me Wait).

Keynote speaker Antero Garcia in his presentation on “Participation and collaboration as Critical Transformation.”

Informer, perform, transform

The Summit’s second day began with a rousing keynote address by Antero Garcia, former English teacher at South Central Los Angeles and current assistant professor of education at Colorado State University. His presentation, “Participation and Collaboration as Critical Transformation,” emphasized the importance of building relationships with students, and understanding the context that they live and thrive in. Using examples as far-reaching as Kanye West and John Green’s nerdfighters, Garcia shared how teachers and librarians should inform and empower students to transform their communities through participatory culture.

Teaching kids the skills they need to be civic scientists, to discover the literacies that are necessary to change the world, can be folded into the role of the school librarian, Garcia noted.

Garcia also addressed the growing diversity of our culture, and the growing need to address the miscast roles that students have already internalized. He shared one anecdote about a group of students that at first was overjoyed to think of a world without “white people,” but then dismayed when it began to wonder: “Who would be the doctors? Who would keep the city clean?” These students didn’t think people of color could take on those roles.

Attendee signing the Declaration for the Right to Libraries.

Declaration for the Right to Libraries

American Library Association (ALA) President Barbra Stripling presented her platform on the importance of school libraries and how “libraries have that transformative place that classrooms don’t have,” which was followed by an opportunity for attendees to sign a copy of the ALA’s Declaration for the Right to Libraries.

Stripling also emphasized several aspects of a school librarian’s role in schools: they are teachers at the core; they are responsible for maintaining the balance between digital and print resources; and they empower students to tell their stories.

“Our schools are becoming more diverse,” she says. “The cultural backgrounds in many of our students are ignored, disrespected, and not promoted. What we can we do to make our libraries safe places for parents, where they can get books in their own home language?”

Collaboration. Collaboration. Collaboration
Several speakers shared resources for empowering attendees to approach teamwork and partnering from different perspectives.  Beth Yoke, the executive director of the ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), shared preliminary findings from a yearlong initiative to pinpoint the current status and future of library services for young adults.

Yoke’s final report on this ongoing conversation between youth advocates, teens, librarians, and researchers will be available January 6, 2014. Yoke concluded her talk with a call to action to participants with the following tasks: address the digital divide, create purposeful programming, revisit professional preparation,  engage teens, and reach out to your community to address its needs.

SLJ columnist Carolyn Foote, a public high school teacher librarian and Texas-native,  challenged participants to put their sacred cows out to pasture in order to better connect with their school community. For example, such sacred cows include the notions: “Teachers should just want to collaborate with me. The library should be a quiet place. The librarians know the best about research.”

Carolyn Foote asks a question from the audience.

Foote also encouraged attendees to be connectors first, and content experts second. She gave several suggestions inspired by the field, such as creating a collaboration space in the library for teachers and students, and placing library newsletters in the bathroom to capture interest.

Stephanie Ham, one of the library leaders involved in Nashville’s Limitless Libraries program, spearheaded by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in 2008, presented the preliminary results of the final report of the advances made by the innovative program. The initiative allows students access to the collections in both the school and public library via a single library card.

Ham revealed that test scores of students who used both the school and public library collections were significantly higher in not only reading tests, but also math and science. Students who used both print and digital resources also scored higher. Students’ views of the library also changed since the start of the program, with many of them now finding that the library is essential to school success. This was especially evident in minds of kids with disabilities, and English language learners, Ham says.

Deborah Jones, librarian in the Mansfield School District, Texas, shared how—with the help of an early literacy grant from Target and a partnership with the public library—participation by students and parents has greatly improved. Jones also organized field trips to community centers and animal shelters to raise awareness about the importance of the library.

Jennifer D. LaBoon, manager of library technology in the Fort Worth (TX) Library and Media Services, and Cindy Buchanan, information literacy specialist from Johnson Elementary in Aldine, Texas, discussed how a meeting with the Texas Parent Teacher Association (PTA) launched a partnership

between the 267,000-member organization and the Texas Library Association. A scholarship was created, rent-free booths in each other’s conferences were established, and announcements in each other’s newsletters have become a staple, all due to the collaborative effort that they’ve continued for the last five years.

Joel Castro, associate superintendent of the Lubbock, Texas, school district concluded the fast-learning portion of the program with insights from an administrator’s point of view. Married to a librarian, he’s often been part of conversations with clashes in “librarianese” and “princpalese.”

Castro stressed that librarians and principals should find common ground, and that the two have a shared role in student achievement. Unfortunately, with schools in low-income and high-income losing their library programs, each library has to prove their worth. He suggests that librarians become indispensable as instructional leaders and part of the campus improvement teams because, “The library is center of vibrant community; it is the center of the culture of the school.”

Vendors = partners
In SLJ Summit’s concluding panel, the vendors had their say. Also valued partners in the work that librarians do, the event’s sponsors shared with the audience—in a session moderated by teacher librarian and SLJ blogger Joyce Valenza—how they hope to continue collaborating with educators to make students lifelong learners.

Each vendor emphasized the importance of customer feedback. Eric Fitzgerald of Capstone admitted, “We have never had our own ‘great idea.’ We get all of our ideas from all of you.” Randal Heise of Mackin added, “We went from book publishing to apps because you asked for it, and so we built it.”

Terri Soutor from Brain Hive shared that they continuously gauge reactions and needs via social media, an advisory team of librarians, and through focus groups. Miriam Gilbert of Rosen Publishing said her company strives to make products flexible enough to tweak them to your community’s need.

In the face of Common Core (CC) and the continuing decline or support for school libraries, the partners reminded attendees that collaboration is key for ongoing success.

Dave Schroeter of Gale/Cengage talked about his company’s pilot program at McKinley High School in Washington, D.C., which is studying the effectiveness of teaching with library resources, to prove the library’s role in student achievement. Junior Library Guild’s Deborah Ford added that the CC has changed the standards by which the company addresses nonfiction. Brad Richason also addressed CC, sharing that content is still the most important aspect of what Lerner is striving to create and provide.

Joyce Valenza encouraged participants to continue the conversation with the vendors via social media, partnering with the stakeholders to insure the future of libraries. Attendees also received a PDF of leadership takeaways from SLJ‘s Be the Change webcast hosted by teacher librarian Shannon Miller.

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