School Librarians Convene and Discuss Much More Than Just Books

March 29, 2019

Be legendary.
That was the advice that more than 130 school librarians heard Friday from the keynote speaker at the sixth Annual Joint School Library System Conference hosted by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES and Southern Westchester BOCES.
“It’s not so much about transforming our image,” said Susan D. Ballard, vice president of the National Collaborative for Digital Equity, “as it is about building our credibility through customer service that is legendary.”
Ballard was addressing the question of how librarians, also known as library media specialists, can re-brand in the digital age. Other topics at the conference included visual storytelling, authentic research and mindfulness, among others.
“It’s really a great opportunity for learning for school librarians. They get to work together, share best practices, network with each other, and talk about the ways in which they can really impact student learning and enable student literacy,” said Joe Mannozzi, coordinator of the School Library System and Professional Library for PNW BOCES. The conference attracted librarians from 54 school districts.
Ballard cited Nordstrom as the gold standard of branding, telling a personal story about her dramatic first interaction with the brand to much laughter.
“We should be the Nordstrom of the education world. They don’t make a sale for one time,” she explained. “They make a customer for a lifetime. And that’s what we have to think about when we are working with kids, teachers, and parents. Every time they have an experience with us, we’re making a customer for a lifetime.”
Ballard also discussed the need to be leaders, to think about how brand behaviors influence their communities, and to be proactive in showing their worth in the face of competition.
“We have to reexamine our brand behavior and make sure that, like Nordstrom, it is legendary. That every time someone comes in to our facility, has an encounter with us or the people who are working with us, it is making a memory that will last them a lifetime.”
After the keynote, the group moved on to various breakout sessions that included: Mindfulness and the School Library, Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Creating Authentic Research Projects, and Visual Literacy: Image, Sound, and Story.
“I think the most valuable part of the conference is hearing the presenters, who are fellow librarians, talk about what they are doing and hearing best practices,” said Cynthia Sandler, a librarian at North Salem Central School District. “You get a lot of inspiring ideas. I look forward to this event all year.”
Tara Phethean from Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District, who presented the breakout session that Sandler had just come from, agreed. “The whole conference is about so much exciting learning,” she said. “I always walk away with so much.”
Phethean’s session, which she presented with Ellen Elsen from Scarsdale Public Schools, was about the importance of authentic research. “Authentic research means that students understand that they need to evaluate their sources,” she explained. “They need to get sources that will provide accurate and strong information. And they also need to engage in a kind of learning that’s truly a life learning event.”
Lindsay Valentine, from Ossining Union Free School District, presented on visual storytelling. “People assume that we only work with books and interpreting books and language and looking at the words, but there’s so much more even in a picture book,” she said. “There are images that can tell a story. It’s really important to administrators and teachers and librarians in Ossining that students are able to look at an image and make meaning from it and be able to also create images that have power.”
Arianna Grassia, from Hastings-on-Hudson Union Free School District, spoke about mindfulness and the library. “It improves their happiness levels and their ability to pay attention,” she told her group. “We always tell our students ‘Pay attention to what I’m saying, this is important.’ But we never teach them how to pay attention. Mindfulness is teaching them how to be present in the moment and how to listen so that in itself is a lesson in paying attention.”
Later in the afternoon, there was a keynote from illustrator Bryan Collier and more breakout sessions on topics including bookmatching, celebrating Latinex stories, and social activism. The diverse topics covered were a testament to just how big a school librarians job is and how much more it involves than just books.
“I truly believe that school libraries are the profession of the hour,” Ballard said towards the end of her speech. “That we really help to transform learning and community. That we are the folks that who help to provide resources that level the playing field for kids and bring digital equity.”