Amid the Shifting Landscape of the School Library, a Return to Reading

April 11, 2018

Given today’s exploding information environment where students have online access to every topic and school libraries have been reimagined as spaces that invite communication and collaboration, the 8th Annual School Library Conference featured a surprising emphasis on reading.
Sue Kowalski, one of two keynote speakers at the School Library Conference cosponsored by Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES and Southern Westchester BOCES Tuesday described the shifting landscape of the “learning commons” like Erma Bombeck embedded into a school library.
Through stories as librarian at the Pine Grove Middle School in the East Syracuse Minoa School District, Kowalski acknowledged how easy it was to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of leading mindfulness, media literacy, and digital citizenship initiatives as well as running the school’s maker space while staying up-to-date on the new tech tools appearing daily.
“We have maker spaces and art labs that looks like Rachel Ray designed them, and wonderful teachers leading those initiatives. What’s the gap? I don’t want to replace what’s already there,” said Kowalski.
She knew the school’s reading scores had been declining but when a student told her she opted out of state testing in order to read for three days, Kowalski knew she found her gap.
“Let’s just read,” Kowalski said. She collaborated with teachers and reintroduced book talks, reading workshops, and book clubs.
The room full of school librarians nodded as she spoke. They also laughed along as she poked fun at situations they could all relate to.
The 8th Annual School Librarians Conference was attended by approximately 100 school librarians from 33 public school districts and one private school in Westchester County. Workshops focused on ways to enliven learning including Virtual Reality: Exploring ThingLink; Best Apps for Teaching and Learning; BreakoutEDU: Next Level of Problem Solving; and Why Make Space.
“The SLS Annual Conference is a great opportunity for Library Media Specialists to get together to network, share best practices in school librarianship, as well as learn the latest and greatest to best meet the needs of their students,” said Joe Mannozzi, Conference Coordinator from Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES School Library System.
John McCarthy, Assistant Superintendent for Administration at Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES, inducted Kelly Maloney, Principal of Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary School, in Croton-Harmon Union-Free School District, into the SLS Administrator Hall of Honor.
“Kelly is our library’s biggest cheerleader,” said Renior McManus, teacher librarian at Carrie E. Tompkins ES in Croton-Harmon who nominated Maloney. “She is why we are the forefront of coding and robotics in Westchester County.”
Jackie O’Donnell, Deputy Superintendent, Chief Operating Officer at Southern Westchester BOCES, presented Lynne Shain, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at Scarsdale Public Schools, with the Administrator of the Year Award.
“Growing up in Philadelphia many decades ago, my dad decided that I needed to go to the library every Saturday,” reflected Shain in her acceptance speech. “Now my daughter, my granddaughter, who is fourteen, and I read the same books, continuing the habit ingrained in me many years ago.”
The closing keynote address was from Annie Ward, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at Mamaroneck Public Schools. She united the room in their shared love of books and passion for nurturing confident, capable readers.
Weaving in references ranging from Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series to Will Schwalbe’s “Books for Living,” Ward spoke personally to the transformative effect of abundant daily access to wonderful reading.
“This is my tribute to librarians and what they mean,” said Ward.