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AASL: The unconference report

Friday night a team of teacher librarians, and a few friends, hosted AASL’s first unconference.

It all started with a conversation with Susan Ballard at a CiSSL Retreat at Rutgers this summer.

I wondered if AASL would consider the idea of a participant-driven unconference event.

Sue said, why not? and that she’d check on it with the folks in Chicago.

While she did that checking, I gathered a few talented friends, familiar with the unconference/EdCamp movements to help me scheme and organize a proof of concept.

By the time Susan got back to us with a yes–we were delighted by the support and faith of AASL leadership–our core group grew to around twenty leaders with serious momentum.  And that team went into high gear planning a three-hour, late night event, designed around informal, peer-to-peer learning, PLN building, and sharing.

Most of the Unconference team

I believe that the proof-of-concept proved the concept.

The room was packed till nearly midnight.  And it was packed with an YALSA-like mix of 20 and 30-something librarians, many of whom shared powerful, energetic voices even though they may not have had the courage to apply to present a year ago.

The event generated enormous energy, with participants engaged in productive conversation and sharing and co-learning. Our AASL and ALA leadership not only visited, they participated.  Among them were immediate Past President Susan Ballard, President Gail Dickinson, AASL Executive Director Sylvia Norton, Deputy Executive Director Allison Cline, and ALA President Barbara Stripling.

Especially lovely, was that there was room in our the traditional conference for open space, participant-driven conversations, based on the traditional unrules. Those conversations ranged from kindergartners and research, to school libraries as safe spaces, to maker spaces, to CCSS, to augmented reality applications.

Led by edcamp co-founder Dan Callahan, the Sucks/Rocks session was lively–especially the genrefication debate.  

And, after some initial shyness, Smackdown participants kept on coming up to the mic to share best discoveries.

Drs. Ross Todd and Lyn Hay (all the way from Sydney) shared a thoughtful, alphabetical reflection of the three hours.

At its essence, this was a team effort.  I am truly grateful for the hard work of the entire unconference team and those who joined in spontaneously!

Gwyneth Jones created our art/branding.  Nikki Robertson created our app.  Mark Ray DJed. Dhaivyd Hilgendorf offered original music and our closing sing-along.  Dhaivyd and Sherry Gick developed our conversation grid and the Google Docs archive.  Our vendor friends generously shared swag.

Our core team included:  Sara Kelly Johns (NYLA President),  Shannon McClintock Miller, Dhaivyd Hilgendorf, Gwyneth Jones,
Sherry Gick, Carolyn Foote, Michelle Luhtala, Matthew Winner, John Schumacher, Tiffany Whitehead, Doug Johnson, Nikki D Robertson, Dan Callahan, Mark Ray, Jennifer LaGarde, Tamara Cox, Ross Todd, Brenda L. Boyer, Elissa Malespina, and Polly Callahan, but so many others contributed.

Ross and Lyn’s notes for wrap up

In my mind, what worked best was how this event nurtured networking around shared ideas and emerging issues and observing the engagement of all participants, especially so many of our younger colleagues.

If there is a next time, and I so hope there is, we’ll need to find a strategy for physically spreading our conversations so that voices can be better heard above the din.

For more about the event, visit the Conversation Grid and its archived links to Google Docs notes and our Unconference Smackdown archive.

This Storify captures a taste of the #aasluncon buzz:

In case you blinked and couldn’t make any part of AASL Hartford, you will want to visit the Learning Commons Smackdown (moderated by Carolyn Foote) and the AASL eCollab, with its rich archive of conference presentation content (open to members with an AASL login).
Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Thank, Joycie, to you and your talented crew for putting together such an exciting and valuable event. I believe we only teach the ways we learn best, and this was a great exercise in learning how to learn in new ways. Doug

  2. What a thrill it was to attend my first AASL Conference thanks to the Bound to Stay Bound Grant and to be a part of two things I am most passionate about; libraries & EdCamps/Unconferences (check out EdCamp Atlanta:

    I am working to make the SmackDown slides “pretty”, but please keep adding your own SmackDown recommendations. That’s the beauty of Google Docs and the Unconference model; the learning continues long after the event ends.

    Thank you to everyone for attending and making this event so amazing!

  3. Oh my goodness! Who is the angel that made the SmackDown slides look so beautiful?! XOXO

  4. Don’t forget to add your photos & videos to the AASL Unconference 2013 Flickr Group:

  5. Joycie & company you guys rocked it and hard at the UnCon! Of course I was honored to lend my graphical skillz but not surprisingly couldn’t hang in there till the awesome end! (OK, I’m a wimp!)

    But when I was leaving I was floored, excited, and so jazzed that SO many people would come out on a Friday night late night to learn, share, and have fun together! W00t!
    ~Gwyneth Jones
    The Daring Librarian

  6. This experience (and those all of those who took part in the event) will surely revolutionize the future of the AASL Conference. Never before have so many voices been heard, so many barriers been broken down, and so many impassioned teacher librarians found a platform to share their knowledge while connecting so readily with others. I look forward to all that’s to come in the name of unconferences and those out-of-the-box ideas shared by so many over the course of the night.


  1. […] Another highlight, according to Valenza? The enthusiastic endorsement of the event—and participation by—AASL leadership. “Among them were immediate Past President Susan Ballard, President Gail Dickinson, AASL Executive Director Sylvia Norton, Deputy Executive Director Allison Cline, and ALA President Barbara Stripling,” Valenza notes on her blog. […]

  2. […] learning sessions throughout the weekend—and none so vocally (and boisterously) as during Joyce Valenza’s late-night “unconference.” Midway through the high-energy event, Dan Callahan, co-founder of EdCamp, presided over several […]

  3. […] and Ross J Todd’s ABC list with better pictures and descriptions, so please visit to see her post-unconference report […]

  4. […] celebration early this year. He donned Who-theme geared to help run Joyce Valenza’s late-night AASL Unconference, alongside Sherry Gick, teacher librarian at Rossville (IN) Consolidated Schools, who did the same. […]

  5. […] I was already pushing my limits with all of the presentations I was involved with presenting, when Joyce Valenza asks if you’re interested in helping with ANYTHING, you always say YES! I had a blast helping […]

  6. […] AASL Unconference – @joycevalenza NeverEndingSearch A great description of how the unconference was conducted and the best points highlighted. There are also great links to other useful resources. A very positive and thoughtful reflection. […]

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