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Reach out!: Web-Based Advice Service for School Librarians

Over a great number of years, I’ve looked to many of our profession’s leaders as friends and mentors and guiding lights. I’ve heard them speak. I’ve read their books and articles.

At a time when a professional version of a Dear Abby is most needed, our past AASL presidents offer to personalize and scale their leadership, providing timely advice and time-honored vision.

A recent press release from the National Coalition for Digital Equity shared: 

A group of fourteen past-presidents of the American Association of School Librarians has come together to pool their expertise and experience to assist school librarians with strategies and resources helpful in addressing pandemic-exacerbated challenges. 

The School Library Leaders (SLL) project, generously hosted on the site of the National Collaborative for Digital Equity (NCDE), allows practitioners to pose questions or problems they encounter to the members of this impressive team. NCDE hopes that this, and its other collaborative projects with school librarians, with help professionals build capacity as local systemic digital inclusion leaders.

SLL’s team includes the following contributors: Susan D. Ballard; Cassandra G. Barnett; Dr. Audrey P. Church; Sharon Coatney; Dr. Gail K. Dickinson; Carl A. Harvey II; Dr. M. Ellen Jay; Sara Kelly Johns; Kathryn Roots Lewis; Ann M. Martin; Leslie B. Preddy; Harriet S. Selverstone; Dr. Barbara Stripling; and Dr. E. Blanche Woolls.

A Google form on the site will collect questions, along with context relating to grade level, location, and the category of the inquiry. Questions will be reviewed and answered as quickly as possible by one or more members of the team, leveraging their various diverse backgrounds in school librarianship. 

I recently chatted with two of the members of the SLL team, Barb Stripling and Blanche Woolls. 

Barbara K. Stripling, Emerita Professor, Syracuse University and former AASL President, shared the rationale for the project:

The reason we got together to do this is that we recognized as past presidents, that we do have a body of experience that is currently untapped. We want to continue to have a positive effect on the field to mentor new librarians as well as librarians who are currently struggling. And we thought by enabling individual members to reach out with their challenges, we’ll have enough of us involved that someone on our team is likely to have experience in meeting a specific challenges.

This environment is very isolating and librarians have been especially isolated from their usual interactions with students and faculty. Many are faced with covering classes that are have nothing to do with library. In some cases, libraries are closed so that schools can space kids out. In some cases, schools are doubling down on delivering curriculum.

Under these conditions, it is especially difficult to push forward critical information skills and to engage in the kind of collaborations that enable librarians to integrate these skills.

But, I am hoping many of the questions will focus on students. Librarians may be struggling with how to support kids socially and emotionally, and with assuming that responsibility of how to get kids through this malaise that many now bring to their learning. 

I asked Barb to describe the project’s history.

It began with a partnership between past president Susan Ballard and Dr. Robert McLaughlin. Executive Director of NCDE. For years, Robert has been an advocate for scaling a systemic approach to digital equity. He understands that digital equity doesn’t simply mean access to broadband or computers. It also means access to school librarians. It means access to someone who can teach the skills that students need to be successful.

This equity of experience is our role–the power of librarians to teach the skills that kids need to have intellectual access to information, to give them agency.

In fact, Dr. McLaughlin’s recent article, co-written with NCDE President, Dr. Paul Resta On Systemic Digital Equity, Systemic Inclusion and the Teacher Librarian in the Pandemic Era, (Teacher Librarian, Oct. 2020) is available on the NCDE website.

So, what type of special powers does this group of School Library Leaders bring to the table.  Barb shared:

Well, I think we bring a diversity of focus. Some are going to be really good at the integration of technology and understanding of those skills For me, I would be more focused on thinking skills and inquiry skills and solid integration of inquiry with instruction. And, I think a lot of the of us who are doing this understand what particular kind of advocacy is critical right now–advocacy on behalf of the learner. I think everyone in the group shares a larger, systemic perspective, as well as an in-the-building perspective. And that’s really valuable because it helps individuals get over themselves a little bit, and understand that their challenge is actually a universal challenge. 

By coming together, we can address issues in more universal ways. It’s not just about what your third period is facing. We hope our responses will push and represent larger thinking.

Dr. Blanche Woolls, Director and Professor Emerita of the School of Library and Information Science at San Jose State University and former elementary school librarian and a district level coordinator, addressed the value of those multiple perspectives: 

I think the fact that maybe three people will answer the same question allows us to understand the power of examining multiple factors and that our local thinking might be broadened. I’m hoping that people will weigh in with better ways to do it beyond the first answer. To me, this will be the strength of our efforts.

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

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