This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Handhelds in School Libraries unconference sponsored by the New Jersey library cooperative, LibraryLinkNJ. This conference idea originated in the hallway of last year’s New Jersey Library Association conference as an event for school librarians who couldn’t attend the annual conference since it’s in the middle of the week. Sophie Brookover took the idea and ran with it as it morphed into an unconference that would focus on devices as well as e-content. As part of the conference committee (which is the price you pay for having the idea in the first place), I helped out where I could in pulling this event together.
I have to say that this particular conference really blew me away. As a public librarian, I am not very privy to the remarkable barriers and hurdles that school librarians have to pass through as they attempt to carry out their role in the education system. It made me feel like my own journeys through the government created work bureaucracy was set on easy mode; the education version is permanently set on nightmare. Nevermind getting buy-in from your fellow teachers, but try doing it up the school pecking order from the principal to the superintendent to the school board, all of which are subject to the imput of parents and taxpayers. Anywhere along that line an idea, concept, or approach can get taken out. Now, add in different policies (or no policy) when it comes to internet usage and filtering as well as student use of phone and devices on top of that. And that’s not the end of it when you consider the No Child Left Behind factor at the same time when school librarians are being cut from the budget. I really could go on, but I hope you get the gist of it. Our school libraries are more like islands, cut off from the same sorts of supporting entities that other library types enjoy.
For myself, it was a day of remarkable conversations, even if I was just eavesdropping on others. Bad computer infrastructure, overbearing filtering software, uncooperative colleagues and administrators, and budget cuts got their moment in the sun as people spoke plainly about their obstacles. What I found compelling was the moments of collaboration and education that appeared at different times all over the conference. I could see the light bulb moments flash into existence as people found answers or new possible ways to incorporate devices, phones, or e-content in their school libraries. The best moments for me was when it was apparent that a connection had been made; not simply between two people or an idea, but the connection that comes with being able to compare situations and derive new strategies and thinking from it.
Exhausted as I was from Computers in Libraries and getting back on a late train, it was an incredible conference for me. I’d like to thank Sophie, Dee, Alice, Janice, Joanne, and Cheryl for making this event possible. I really look forward to doing this again in the future. And if you’re a library advocate or activist, make it a point to attend conferences outside of your library type. You will learn a ton about how some of our colleagues work and live. It’s well worth it.