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WLA24: Sessions and Takeaways

This weekend, I'm presenting at the Washington State Library Association conference in Spokane, WA. For my friends who aren't from Washington, Spokane is on the opposite side of the state from where I live. (I know there are faster routes between here and there, but this is the one we take). The last time I attended this event, I still lived in North Carolina and the organization was still known as WLMA (which I continue to hear like this). That said, I'm excited to reconnect with library folk from around the Evergreen State.

Rather than giving the keynote or leading multiple concurrent sessions, this time around I was asked to facilitate a 4 hour post-conference session**. I'll be honest, I like longer sessions like this, because it gives me more time to engage with participants and discuss topics in more depth. With that in mind, conference organizers asked me to lead a session I call "This Is A School Library." I'm guessing many of you will recognize the visual theme of this presentation as being based on the picture book This Is A School by John Schu and Veronica Miller Jamison. I'm so grateful to John and Veronica for giving me permission to use their beautiful book as an anchor text for this presentation. Not only do we read This Is A School together during the session, but everyone who attended also got to take home (at least!) one copy of the book thanks to John Schu's generous heart!

After we read This Is A School together, I ask participants to share words that best capture the idea of school as depicted in the book. Their responses formed this word cloud.

I love this activity, because it gives us the opportunity to think about the aspirational nature of work, while also then considering what words our students might use to describe school. The conversations that follow are sometimes hard, but they are worth having. If there's a vast difference between the word cloud above and the one we think our students' description of school might generate, (and spoiler alert: there always is), we have to reckon with both why that is and what we're going to do about it.

I'm so grateful to the librarians who attended this session at WLA. To everyone who was there: thank you for being brave enough to share some of your current practices that may not align with your goals. Thank you for asking for help. And thank you for sharing your heart with one another.

**Note: the "This Is A School Library" session is usually 7-8 hours long. However, I adapted it for this conference.


During this session, I often share this TED Talk from Shamichael Hallman. I find the idea of building libraries full of bridges to be both powerful and provocative. As part of this conversation, I love to tell the story of how my own (middle school) readers and I developed a strategy for using bookmarks as a tool for annotating a text in a way that didn't feel like traditional note-taking. The short version of this story is that this practice began as a idea for helping readers keep track of characters in a favorite series - using the back of a bookmark to jot down character names and any words that would help us remember who was who. Over time, however, it evolved into a strategy for helping kids identify and keep track of meaningful content from whatever they were reading. Eventually, we went from writing on the back of purchased bookmarks to creating our own bookmarks to use for this purpose. For the kids I served, many of whom didn't identify as readers and/or were not motivated to take notes while reading, these books marks served as a bridge. To illustrate this idea, I've created some "This Book Is Noteworthy" bookmarks that are similar to those we used back in the day. There's one for fiction and one for nonfiction. You can download them both for free here.

Another way that we talked about bridges in the library was through the building of Bookmojis.** If you are not familiar with Bookmojis, they are an AI tool, created by Bookelicious, to match kids to books based on the features and characteristics that they prioritize when building their own Bookmoji. Put another way, kids get to create an avatar, and then Bookelicious curates a custom bookshelf just for them. Creating a Bookmoji is free and so much fun, but I love the way this tool helps kids, who may not yet identify as readers, (but who do identify as athletes, skateboarders, artists, etc), discover books that are connected to other things that they love. Bridges, y'all! That said, one of my favorite moments from my session at WLA was when I told participants it was time to stop building Bookmojis, so that we could move onto the next part of the workshop. Just like kids, they grumped and complained and someone even said I was "the meanest teacher ever." #missionaccomplished And, finally, just for fun... here's my Bookmoji.

**Note: Bookelicous did not sponsor my trip to WLA. Nor was I asked to include them or the Bookmoji in any of my conference resources - which includes this blog post. Like all the resources I shared at WLA, I included Bookelicious only because they were a) relevant to the topic and b) I love what they do.


Click image to access slide deck.

This should probably without saying, but just in case... FYI: these slide decks are view only. Options for downloading your own copy have been disabled. While you're more than welcome to view them, I don't share my sessions for others to use.


As an extremely introverted person, when I'm at a conference, I often wear headphones between sessions. Not only do they cancel out the surrounding noise, but they also afford me the opportunity to wrap myself in something familiar: music. If we're ever at a conference together and you see me wandering around with headphones on, this doesn't mean you can't say hello to me. It does mean, however, that I might not hear you when you call my name, so don't be afraid to give me a wave or tap me on the shoulder, too. For anyone who might be interested, here's my current go-to playlist. 


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