Monday, August 11, 2008

News From IASL Conference in Berkeley

Blogging IASL: Impossible

... Until Now, Given the Pace of the 8 days

Oh my! Say that very long and ever so softly with awe in your voice -- that's what they say, apparently, down South when what they mean is, ohmygawd, can you believe it! There cannot possibly be another thing to say about school libraries. I have so much to relay that I will have to do it in installments.

Day 1 of my trip to the "Lambeth for School Libraries" was long; it included two cab rides, a two-hour bus ride across the border, a less than two-hour flight from Bellingham, the airport transporter, BART with transfer, and finally an unexpected late evening 1.5 mile downhill hike from the Clark Kerr Conference Centre to the student dining hall for dinner. I had made it just by 6 pm in time for the first scheduled dinner only to find there was no dinner. Yes, there was some kind of glitch with food services for the first few days so meals -- including breakfast and coffee -- until Sunday would involve this downhill/uphill walk.

(If you want a much cheaper way to go to some American destinations, by the way, be sure to check out Allegiant Air -- and the Quick Shuttle for $25 takes you right to Bellingham Airport. Thanks for this tip, Meredyth!)

Humour -- and a sense that I was here for a reason not yet clear to me -- was going to be my salvation as I hiked downhill that late Friday only to find that the early arrivals had moved on, opting instead for something a little more upscale than the student dining hall... but as with everything this trip, I wandered off onto Telegraph Street and found them after several blocks and one corner quite by serendipity -- one man (James Henri himself) and six women stood out as different from other restaurants I perused from the street! We sauntered back, well fed and too tired to notice the terribly spartan conditions of student housing. I was alone in a huge suite in a section where no others had been boarded, seemingly with no roommate ...

Day 2 began officially after the morning hike for breakfast and coffee; 70 of us boarded a bus boarded a bus bound for the upper regions of the Napa Valley. No commercial winery tour for this group! I rode up with Ray Doiron whom I had taken my first TL course with, Marlene, as well as Diane Oberg and Jennifer Branch (now I could put faces to the names I had cited so frequently), and my new friends, Barbara McNeil, a hot new name in Canadian school libraries from the University of Regina, and Patricia Carmichael, library ambassador of extremely good humour, from Toowoomba in Queensland.

The track into the hills got narrower and narrower. There were places where I thought the headlines the next day might read, "Busload of tourists topple in bus off the mountains of the Upper Napa," but our driver was amazing, delivering us in fine form to the private O'Shaughnessy Winery on a road not even on the maps. Atop the mountain we found a fabulous Spanish style building with many patios and Blanche Woolls, with family, set to host our tour of the winery and lunch. Turns out this winery belongs to Blanche's son and his wife and is not often open for groups -- this was a very special event indeed.

Needless to say, the winery was amazing ... and so was the lunch. I ate with a lovely group from around the world in the formal dining room located in mountain tunnel where the barrels were stored, right next to the wine library (yes, that's where they store the special collection!) ... these wines were sold only to fine dining establishments and to collectors. And they were served liberally so I can assure you, despite the chilled air of the tunnel, they warmed our spirits which were already delighted with the day.

The food was also fantastic ... steak, green salad, potato salad made with olives, artisan breads, pastries... with views of the hills, vineyards, lavendar, and courtyard fountain ... and everywhere beautiful and tasteful art. Oh my!

The bus tour resumed, descended the precipitous mountain track ... but this trip seemed shorter and hotter returning than going!

Our next stop was for tea and the tour of the Bessie Chin School Library at Redwood High School in Larkspur, Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate, TL Thomas Kaun hosting, with cold drinks, iced tea and goodies. The space was spectacular, large with lots of visibility and lots of corners for reading or for assistants to work with students; floor-to-ceiling windows opened onto a lovely courtyard; student art identified the topics of Dewey and captured the essence of important authors, including Margaret Atwood.

Rumours of the demise of school libraries in California are exaggerated ... but not all counties fund libraries as substantially as this one with its collection of over 33 000 titles and over 100 magazines. Check here for more information about staffing, services, and technology and for pictures.

We were back in time to hike down for a late-ish dinner! Those of us lucky enough to go on the Napa Valley excursion decide that what they say about trips to Vegas should go for Napa; the late arrivals and the IASL Executive who attended meetings instead were clearly better off not knowing what a wonderful day they had missed.

Day 3 of the IASL Conference:
Sunday Preconference Sessions and Welcome Reception/Awards Dinner

School library research "giant" David Loertscher and California TL/PhD student Doug Achterman have considered whether or not Teacher-librarians can compete with Google and argue that indeed we can.

Two models for doing business are worthy of consideration in the educational context. The Microsoft model would suggest, "If we build it, they will come." Conversely, the Google model is grounded on the notion, "If they build it, they will use it." The first model centres on the organization itself with skills that are specific to the program while the other is client-centred and inquiry-based, requiring skills for lifelong learning.

School libraries are presently based, Loertscher and Achterman contend, on the same principles as the Microsoft model of controlled learning but need to move to become places where educators and students build their own learning spaces and take responsibility for learning there, the Google model. "It is time to reinvent so that everyone wins." We would begin by having everyone create an iGoogle page!

Loertscher and Achterman presented the concept of the school library as the new "learning commons," a place that belongs to everyone and no one, that is overseen by the TL and that is the hub of the learning community. Other school specialists work there in partnerships that move good ideas to classrooms, showcase best practice, and facilitate the use of new instructional strategies. In this new learning community, the focus is on the users' needs and wants and would see flexible scheduling, just-in-time teaching, learning to learn with content, and books kids want to read.

The New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win (2008, Salt Lake City, UT: Hi Willow), co-authored by David Loertscher and Toronto educators Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan, further develops the model of the school library as learning commons. It's hot off the press and worth the investment. Five lucky TLs will get a copy in September.

So with my first session, I am already challenged to reconceptualize our school libraries as the learning commons. We are, in fact, behind the local universities where just such changes have been implemented. Excuse my big-picture thinking and perhaps heretical considerations, but could we possibly be more than we are already? Could we be more available (virtual) and accessible? Could we work collaboratively with special educators, classroom teachers, administrators, counsellors, and online learning to offer better ways to support students developing as independent learners? Do we allow students to undertake independent learning? Already I am pale and feeling the heat. Like a frail southern "magnolia," I found myself whispering, Oh my!

In the afternoon, this awe-struck conference "newbie" met Debbie Abilock (she of Noodletools, spyder, and Knowledge Quest fame) and California TL Marilyn Kimura. Their session, "Seeding the Oyster: Leadership Through Dialogue," builds in discussion as an advocacy tool that enhances the creation of learning communities that support literacy and collaboration. "As you learn discussion, reflection, and facilitation skills, you will see how nurturing inquiry and intellectual dispositions can see your leadership in the school community," they promised. Discussion group formats such as the Socratic seminar, the Literary Club, and professional book clubs -- aided by picture books and wikki stix -- gave us ample opportunity during the three-hour session to hone our leadership-through-dialogue skills. Much of what we did reinforced the kinds of things we have talked about with Lit Circles, by the way. For more information about The Literacies,these and other strategies, check out the many ideas and links on Debbie's Noodletools Literacies page.

I am thankful too for meeting the IASL Research Award winner Dr Marcia Mardis who had purchased a coffee pot which she shared as the afternoon proved challenging to those who had been up since 6 am and who weren't used to hiking for their coffee. Have I mentioned my addiction before? Yay for Marcia!

Of great significance for Canadian Teacher-librarians was the new Award given at the Sunday evening dinner to Ray Doiron and Marlene Asselin for their work in the area of Technology Innovation with the creation of a ning called iBrary. Check out the members of the ning -- you do know some of them -- just don't ask me what one is! Picture shows Ray accepting the award, Marlene and James Henri, presenter, looking on ... I am not in this picture! We newbies tended to sit further back ... "hatching" new ideas like Gigglewiki and calls to Oprah.

Here's what Marlene's PhD student and Prime Minister's Award-winning teacher Maryam Moayeri had to say on hearing about the award:

Congrats to Ray & Marlene
Congratulations to Marlene & Ray on receiving the inaugural International Association of School Librarianship Technology Innovation Award for their development of iBrary. How cool that we all had a part in it by providing the content through our blog entries, comments, videos, and photos. Yay for 2.0! Double yay for Marlene & Ray. The award will be presented in Berkeley in August and I am thrilled I will be there to see you receive it.

Too exhausted to think about the lack of comfort in my accommodations, although I briefly debated how to get some air into the overly-warm ground-level room, I wedged a chair against the door and fell soundly asleep. I awoke at 3:30 am to discover the chair had been moved ... and someone was apparently in the other room. Then I discovered I would have a roommate as out of the room came a person ... Irenya Kryzanauskiene from Lithuania, rumoured to have faced countless obstacles, including a flight cancelled in Germany and further delays in LA, had finally arrived. My little trip paled beside her journey to tell the story of a struggle for recognition of the importance of school library programs and professional qualifications where school librarians are mostly not teachers. My admiration for her courage and tenacity would grow over the next days. Every night, Irenya and her translator worked together practicing her pronunciations and presentation until well after midnight to prepare her to deliver her paper in English.

While discovering I had a roommate was something of a shock, little was going to keep me from resting ... it was, after all, Stephen Krashen in the morning. Fortunately, for the first time, I wasn't going to have to hike for that essential cup of coffee!

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