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Spring 2024 BOCES Tour Reflections & Takeaways

I'm not sure when I first became aware of the BOCES system in New York state, but every year, for the last several, I've traveled to the Empire State to work with educators through these Boards of Combined Educational Services. Typically, a School Library Services director from one BOCES will contact me to inquire about partnering to offer professional development to the librarians, teachers and/or administrators in their component districts. From there, we begin the work of finding other BOCES that are interested in similar work and then we collaborate to schedule a week's worth of professional development - often stretching from one side of the state to the other. This spring, that work began in the Albany area, stretched to Rochester, The Finger Lakes and then all the way back to the NE corner of the state in Plattsburgh. These BOCES tours, as I've come to think of them, are as rewarding as they are exhausting. By the time I wrap things up at my final stop on the tour my energy reserves are empty, but my heart is always very, very full. This trip was no exception.

Developing Digital Detectives + Game Based Learning:

Two of the BOCES that I worked with this spring requested a full-day workshop focusing on digital age information literacy, with a dash of game based learning thrown in. Those of you who have been following this blog for a long time might remember a time when I was obsessed with gamification + game based learning. Truth be told, even though I don't write about it as much as I used to, I still love this way of leveling-up instruction. While, to be sure, there's no single instructional strategy that's going to excite all learners, I've found game based learning to be one that a lot of learners dig. That said, I'm always chuffed when someone asks me to incorporate GBL into my presentations. With that in mind, rather than teaching participants about ways to include gaming elements as part of their instruction, I modeled it as part of the workshop. From using AI to create avatars that would set the tone for our workshop, to including leader boards, embedding games to introduce new information and synthesize our learning, I tried to create a learning experience that was both engaging and that would make the heavy topic of information literacy a bit lighter to carry. I didnt' take nearly enough pictures, but gosh it was fun! Plus, it gave me the opportunity to break-out (no pun intended!) the board game Jeannie Timken and I created many moons ago and that continues to be a relevant and engaging way to combine learning and game play. As a fun aside, the board game itself is one of the very first things I ever created using Canva, a tool I now use, quite literally, every day of my life.

Discovering Discoverability + Navigating Book Challenges:

The other two days of this spring's BOCES tour were spent in pursuit of creating library collections, spaces and policies that both:

  • meet the needs of kids who need libraries most

  • strengthen libraries in ways that make them more likely to survive (and even thrive!) in the current climate of politically motivated book challenges.

To say that I find this to be both important and joyful work is an understatement. For a long time now, I've been researching, creating and sharing ways that librarians can create libraries that are more (what I call) discoverable than they are searchable; That is to say... spaces where kids might DISCOVER books and/or DISCOVER themselves as readers without having to search or even ask the librarian for help. In my experience, most libraries are set up very well for kids who come to the library knowing what book they want or even that they want a book at all. These are kids who already identify as readers; kids with positive reading identities that motivate them to learn how libraries are organized and to use existing search structures. However, those same libraries often aren't particularly useable for kids who come to the library having no idea what book they want or who are pretty sure they don't want a book at all; kids who only come to the library when some well meaning adult forces them to check-out a book. These are the kids who don't care how the library is organized and won't use the catalog to search because they don't identify as a reader. Most libraries, in my experience, aren't built for kids with negative reading identities. And that's a problem. What's more, it's my belief that these are the very kids that all library policies and procedures should be built for.

With that in mind, helping librarians create shelving, space design, circulation and cataloging procedures that serve as conduits between those kids and the most important resources on earth (story, information and connection) has become a point of passion for me. So... I was delighted to spend my first day with the librarians of the Wayne-Finger Lakes region taking a deep dive into how to make shelving practices, specifically, more discoverable. Not only was this day THE MOST FUN but I was so very inspired by the thoughtful way these librarians (both school and public!) approached this incredibly important topic. Again, I didn't taken enough pictures (in fact, I didn't take any! These were all taken by other folks: thanks Kate and Ryan!)

Part of this work involves thinking deeply about who libraries are really for. Yes, it's true, everyone is welcome in a library, but that's not the same as considering who needs them most and who should be our focus when we're building the policies and structures that make them usable. To facilitate this thinking, I ask participants to create a venn diagram like the one above - wherein they identified the kids who come to school with the greatest needs and those who don't participate in the library. This process allows them to consider how need and participation are a) connected and b) manifest themselves at their school. It's my belief that libraries ought to be built for the kids in the center of that venn diagram.

Coincidentally, or not, it's those very kids whose stories are most often reflected in the kinds of books that have become targets in todays politically motivated book challenges. This attack on libraries and free access to information has put our most vulnerable learners in the cross hairs, which made preparing for these challenges the perfect topic for the administrator + librarian breakfast I keynoted the next day. We followed up a discussion on how to prepare yourself for this work BEFORE a challenge lands at your door with some unconference style breakout sessions, during which participants shared what they are already doing to:

  • make their libraries more discoverable,

  • create a #teamlibrary to support that work

  • prepare for a potential book challenge

I left inspired by the work these educators are already doing, but also I found myself reflecting on the journey ahead. Libraries are one of only truly egalitarian institutions left on this planet. They are publicly funded spaces where everyone (regardless of their age, race, religion, identity or income) has FREE access to the most important resources on earth (story, information and connection). At a time when, as a species, we are facing so many daunting (and potentially devastating) challenges, AND at a time when the (idealogical and income) chasm between us continues to grow, libraries feel more important than ever. We have a lot left to do in order to ensure that these vital community resources endure. But in the meantime, I'm so grateful to the library workers and supporters I had was able to collaborate this week. Y'all make me so proud. But, more importantly, you make me hopeful! Onward!

Again, I didn't take any photos from the administrator breakfast, (which was held at the GORGEOUS Lake House at Canandaigua), but these were shared with me and I love them!

The Happiest of Coincidences:

One final story: Exactly one year ago, I was in New York for a similar BOCES Tour with John Schu. We called it our "Library Love Tour" and it remains one of my favorite professional experiences. Not only was it a joy to connect with educators from across New York to celebrate stories and libraries, it was made all the more meaningful because I got to do it with my friend. That said, imagine my delight when John and I discovered (purely by accident) that we were both in the Rochester area at the beginning of the week. Having dinner with and chatting with (my NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLING AUTHOR) friend, was just the shot in the arm I needed to refuel my energy reserves for the work ahead.

My Presentations:

Click image to access slide deck.

FYI: these slide decks are view only. While you're more than welcome to view them, and I hope you find them helpful, options for downloading your own copy have been disabled. Please don’t send share requests. :)


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