More than 2,300 attendees listened to speakers at the opening event of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians 16th National Conference and Exhibition in Hartford, Connecticut, on November 14. Themed “Rising to the Challenge,” the conference is one of the largest AASL gatherings in recent years, according to organizers.
Gail Dickinson, AASL president, said of the group’s work: “It’s not about libraries. It’s about learning. It’s about students and how strong school libraries enable students to learn.” She introduced local, state, and national librarian leaders at the opening session, including Connecticut Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra. Wyman garnered applause, telling librarians, “When we talk about the student, the teachers, we must include the librarians. We can’t get our economy back without students learning, and librarians help students learn.”
ALA President Barbara K. Stripling received a standing ovation and exhorted everyone to sign the Declaration for the Right to Libraries, noting that the exhibit hall would contain a copy of the declaration for signing. (The Hartford Public Library hosted a signing Friday morning with Stripling, ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels, Hartford Public Library CEO Matt Poland, Connecticut Library Association President Richard Conroy, AASL National Conference Committee Chair Terri Grief, and local schoolchildren in attendance.)
Librarians cheered when keynote speaker Tony Wagner, innovation education fellow at Harvard’s Technology and Innovation Center, said the country’s school systems are relying too much on multiple-choice testing. “The world no longer cares what our kids know but what they can do with what they know.” He said educators should focus students on developing teamwork with classmates, innovation, and risk-taking. When the emphasis is on getting high test scores, students shy away from risk. “We have to teach and assess the skills that matter: critical thinking, collaboration, communicating effectively.” He also suggested that students work on creating digital portfolios to show their skills.
Thousands poured into the exhibit hall, which opened after Wagner’s talk.
School librarians continued meeting well into the night, with storytelling sessions running past 10 p.m. The first morning session began Friday at 7 a.m.