Connected to Libraries

Here at the Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association’s Spring Conference. Blogging while my dear library media specialist (and their kin) slumber away.  Ready for them to give me all kinds of hassle about it in a few hours. 

So I should say some things about them. (Mostly so they’ll feel really bad about giving me a hard time.)

Getting together at conferences is really special for educators. It’s often questioned by folks from both outside and inside the field as frivolous wastes of time, where teachers go, come back with all kinds of fresh ideas and then burn themselves and their co-workers out talking about them and attempting to awkwardly implement them in an attempt to “stay relevant.”

I’ve been that gal.

She quickly left the building, thankfully early in my career.

My adventure into the world of library media science in shifted the tide.

Our former librarian Kris Kreuzer brought a UWSSLEC WISE Scholarship Program flyer to a lunch meeting, with someone else in mind for it. That person didn’t eat lunch that day. Kris mentioned that she might be retiring in a few years, so the district would need another LMS, and it might be interesting to see what it was all about. “Plus,” she added, “you get a free laptop.”

I had recently been in conversation with someone who was saying that I “better get my Master’s or you’ll never move on the pay schedule and your retirement is going to be way lower than it should be.” (I’ve always loved that reason folks often cite in our field for pursuing more education. Loans bother me. I prefer to go to school when I have questions and interests calling me into missing great swaths of time with loved ones.)

I was pulled in a little closer when I read on the flyer about developing rural educators in Wisconsin to be 21st century leaders in their schools and communities. 

I loved my little rural middle school. It was challenging interesting work on a daily basis with students and families who taught me so much about living and growing up in a country setting.

I was already and advocate for the transformative use of technology in learning. I was provided with some very important training when I working in the Chicago Public Schools with the amazing teacher-admin-professor, Heather Smith Yutzy, with whom I had studied middle school teaching methods at DePaul University. Heather had approached me and my colleague Michael to attend a series of sessions about using the Internet to impact instruction. I think it ended up being about building webquests. It was 1999.

I had been introduced to methods to use technology not as a replacement tool for learning, but as an invitation to learn more and interact differently with the world. I was hooked.

Heather and others who supported my decisions to integrate technology into my middle school classrooms helped pave the way for my decision to apply for the scholarship.

So back to this group of connected educators with whom I’m attending this week’s conference:

We were an awkward group four years ago, brought together by a team of professors of library media science who had studied the gaps and needs in our state and worked tirelessly to apply for grant funding to slow the loss of transformative library spaces in Wisconsin. Dr. Eileen Schroeder and Dr. Anne Zarinnia, together with their consortium colleague leaders, were welcoming us to the field in the basement lab classroom one sunny weekend on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

They were sharing a map of Wisconsin with marks for each UWSSLEC WISE scholar around the state. We had already done some awkward getting-to-know-you interview activities. They began handing out technology, including an iPad for each of us that they had purchased with extra grant money. “Use it. Bring it into your classrooms. See what you can do with it.” We were having our Oprah moment in that dingy little lab, pinching ourselves that we had really been chosen for this scholarship out of hundreds of applicants.

And then they introduced us to Buffy.

“She’s from Georgia, and she has these little dogs. What do you call them? Dahx-hundz?” Dr. Zarinnia explained, her Welsh accent wrapping itself around the memory. “Our Skype connection may be troubled by all that barking. Just so you are aware. And that accent…”

Before we knew it, we were in conversation with one of the leading minds in what would soon become our passion and true calling in education: finding the power to create an “unquiet” and user-focused library media space in our schools. Of embracing multiple literacies. Of bringing democracy into the library space and turning the tide against old, warn models of librarianship.

Ms. Hamilton was phenomenal at engaging us by painting a picture of her work in Georgia to develop the library as a place of dialog over what was meaningful and important to its users. I remember her showing us photos of kids gaming in the morning with Pokemon or Yu-Gi-Oh cards, podcasting about their favorite books, blogging and Tweeting. Her fierce love of traditional literacy and books was an important piece of the puzzle but, she cautioned us, just one piece of what we need to value in our library spaces.

I remember asking Ms. Hamilton if this kind of transformative, student-centered space could coexist within the growing confines of the standardization movement; if testing was keeping up with the transformative style of twenty-first century librarianship that she was developing. What restrictions would these tests impose on her kind of work? 

Because I should say at this point that I was hooked on this direction for my career in education. 

A lifelong lover of libraries, but the very opposite of quiet, I felt I was meant to help carve out a space for my students like the one at Creekview High School in Georgia. I could not wait to get started.

Buffy was considerate of the question as she is with just about any question hurled her way, and the woman is a force of nature at fielding questions from anyone on the planet about the things she cares about: literacies, voices, transformative directions in learning.

She said that it was a good one to consider given the high-stakes piece of the puzzle. She did say that testing was perhaps trying to go in a different direction, and that she had hopes that assessments one day would truly reflect what her learners knew and could do outside of content recall. 

I was convinced.

My new WISE buddies and I started packing up after our first day. Lots of sighs of hope and promise and many ‘thank you’s’ for the tech were exchanged with the professors. 

But we were beginning a journey together that holds fast to this day. 

Our teacher hearts were changing and have changed, but I come to a conference in the middle of our state to reconnect in person with the people I have been online with every single day since Buffy sparked our learning four years ago. These are some of the most fantastic library media-minded folks in our state. Look for their work. Visit their libraries. Find them on Twitter. Even those among the group (ahem!) who are not at the helm of transformative library media centers in Wisconsin are interested in this work and carrying the torch for the kinds of learning that Buffy shared with us.

Laura Effinger

Ellie Rumney

Polly LaMontagne

Susan Queiser

Tiffany Braunel

Mike Slowinski

Brandon Berrey

Julie Weideman

Jessica Schmitz

Lorisa Harvey

Leslie Hermann

Abbie Thill

Joe Diefenthaler

Laura Wipperman

Janet Sager

Lisa Sorlie

Arlette Leyva

Stephanie Kilger-Karker

Trisha Sabel