by Ann Vyoral
In 1998, a librarian at my former district invited me to San Antonio for a day; she thought I would enjoy the Texas Library Association Annual Conference. Enjoy was an understatement. I was amazed, I was overwhelmed, I was inspired, and I was hooked. I enrolled in library school and TLA became the high point every year of my professional development. I went with our district librarians each spring, but I never thought to share the experience with others.
All of that changed in 2008. Through a grant, librarians, teachers, a principal, and our district instructional technologist attended TLA together. Magic happened for all of us at that conference. Teachers heard their favorite authors speak and attended collaboration workshops with their librarians. Our instructional technologist declared that it was as good as TCEA. Our principal attended the Administrator’s Conference, and spent hours in the exhibits. And in the evenings, we all shared what we learned and discussed how to implement the innovative ideas presented. We realized that together we had the power to make things happen in our district. We returned energized and started putting our ideas to work - together.
Many of these participants returned to TLA, and other teachers joined us over the years. Our instructional technologist became a regular, and four more administrators attended with us, including our Assistant Superintendent. We knew we had struck a chord when a principal asked why so many teachers were listing a library conference as one of their professional goals! TLA Annual Conference became a very important advocacy tool for the librarians in our district for several reasons.
First, when educators attend TLA, they gain a greater appreciation for librarians. They see concrete examples of the incredible programs that school librarians launch, they discover all the aspects of school life and curriculum impacted by a library/media professional, and they hear famous speakers like Julie Andrews, Jamie Lee Curtis, and James Patterson talk about the positive influence librarians had on their lives. Administrators learn about best practices in school library/media centers, and leave TLA as some of our biggest advocates. A district wide media fair, one book/one school programs, and monthly library technology training were some of the proposed initiatives that resulted from our collaborative attendance at TLA. In 2011, when librarians rallied at the capitol in Austin, we marched to our local legislator’s office with a principal leading the charge. No library positions were cut that year in our district.
Taking teachers to TLA is a great way to develop classroom/library collaboration. Imagine sitting with a reading teacher as Stephen Krashen talks about the the importance of reading for pleasure to increase test scores, taking a high school teacher to a session with college librarians who are discussing the skills that our current graduates are missing, listening with a middle school teacher as Suzanne Collins explains her character’s names in The Hunger Games. The discussions triggered by experiences like these were invaluable to collaboration in our schools.
Teachers love authors and books. At TLA they meet some of their favorite writers, they are exposed to new talent, and they return and share these experiences with their students. Last year, a teacher who attended with my old district went back to the hotel, spread her books on the bed, and posted a picture on Facebook. The comments that followed, almost all from teachers, had one word in common - “jealous.” The comment with the most impact, however, was from a teacher who is now the district coordinator for multiple programs. Her post said, “TLA changed my life.” The teacher’s response, “Amazing is all I can say.” And those teachers won’t forget that a librarian introduced them to TLA.
Finally, one of the most urgent reasons to take teachers to TLA is to get energetic, new faces into our profession. If we are going to advocate for libraries, if we are going to persuade school administrators that every school should have at least one certified librarian, if we feel strongly that every child can benefit from interaction with a qualified professional, we must ensure a supply of exceptional library candidates to fill these positions. When we take experienced teachers and administrators to TLA, they become advocates. When we take creative young teachers to TLA, they often return wanting to become librarians! If we agree that it is imperative for a good school librarian to spend time first in the classroom, then our audience for university school library programs is obviously teachers. The librarian who let me tag along with her 20 years ago knew that all I needed was an experience like TLA to convince me that this was the professional move that I needed to make. How many potential candidates are out there waiting for that same push?
Sometimes we want to keep special things to ourselves. But TLA is a secret librarians should share. Reignite your own enthusiasm as you see the conference through the eyes of a first time attendee. Advocate for your profession, collaborate with your teachers, and recruit new librarians all in one place. Take your teachers to Austin this year, and that place could be TLA.
Ann Vyoral currently works at Education Service Center, Region 20 as an Educational Specialist, Digital Resources and Library Services. She was an English teacher for 14 years, and a librarian in Rockport, TX, for 14 wonderful years.