NYLA Day #1 – Sonia Manzano, Dave Lankes, and Great Food!

So with the help of an amazing professor and the accompaniment of two new fantastic librarians-in-training like myself, I’ve made it to my first conference. AND IT’S AWESOME!

So, today, woke up at 5:15am, showered and picked up my two fellow librarians-in-training. We proceeded to drive the 2 1/2 hours (give or take 1/2 an hour) to Saratoga Springs, NY to the 2011 NYLA Conference.

We were able to check-in, orient ourselves a bit, and then I got to go see Sonia Manzano (Maria from Sesame Street) talk at the Keynote Luncheon. It was very empowering and moving to hear her talk about early childhood education. It really reinforced my love of children and my passion to be a children’s librarian.

Sonia’s main message (at least to me) is that kids are resilient and adaptable and that they want to learn. That’s what makes them so fantastic! Their curiosity and compulsion of “why? why? why?” may be annoying to parents, but to an educator this is music to our ears. As people who often help shape young lives, it is up to us to not push these questions off and to not blow these kids aside. We shouldn’t pigeon-hole or label kids just because it is easy. We should always test ourselves to show them the world in new ways.

Sonia also talked about testing and how this creates problems for educators. As someone who does not deal with testing from an educator stand point but who hates tests vehemently (ADHD sufferers please stand up!) I could have stood up and applauded when she brought this up. Sonia said “testing is putting teachers in a bad position because they cannot see children as individuals.” HOW TRUE! Teachers care more about the tests than they do about the knowledge. It shouldn’t matter whether or not a child can take a test. It should only matter that this child has LEARNED something. The take away and life long knowledge is what is important. Not what they can spew out in thirty-five minutes on a sheet of multiple choice questions. Numbers are not knowledge, conversation and debate and critical thinking are.

The other great point that Sonia disscussed was the joy of children first learning to read. What I loved was that she highlighted not the struggle to read; the sounding out of letters and words, understanding the combinations. She highlighted that moment when it all “clicks.” When a child understands there is INFORMATION behind the words. Sonia said “learning to read is like when a string of Christmas tree lights turns on when you finally find the bulb that was burnt out.” I loved how she put this. How absolutely positively true. I don’t know if we are all blessed with remembrance of that moment when our string of Christmas lights turned on (mine was “Beauty and the Beast,” it suddenly all clicked one night when I was reading to my mom). But most of us either yearn for that moment with children or have had the joy of experiencing it with children. As someone who strives to be an innovative children’s librarian this is definitely a speech I will carry with me for a long time.

After Sonia I was able to hang out in the Trade Show. With my minor connections to the Manlius Library (particularly the children’s room) I really felt more comfortable at the Trade Show than I thought I would. First off, I only felt the need to approach vendors that I may be able to take information back to the children’s library with. Second off, many of the vendors knew of the Manlius Library and/or Kori and were happy to talk to me about pretty much anything I wanted to talk about. It was easier to converse with them by having some background and some grounds on which to talk. If I was just coming at them as a student who didn’t really want anything other than to chat about them because that I was supposed to do, I don’t feel my time spent at the Trade Show would have been as useful. I took much “swag” away with me after having many fun conversations and learning lots of new things about fun innovations that I could implement in a children’s library some day. Oh to dream big on that one!

After checking in to our hotel down the street, thinking we had time to get settled, and realizing it was 3:45pm and we needed to be back at the Conference if we wanted to hear Dave Lanke’s awesome speech (we already knew it would be awesome) we quickly headed back down the street.

Dave Lankes, as always, was Daveheart. I haven’t had the privilege of one of his talks in a long time, and as always, I left feeling empowered and that I have picked the proper profession.

Dave’s message, at least I felt, was some of his “same old” in that we are not in the “stuff” business but in the knowledge business. However, even though I’ve heard him talk on this before, his emphasis on community involvement really hit a chord with me, perhaps it’s because I’ve become more involved since the last I heard him talk. “You must work with your community in transformative social engagement” Dave implored us. Even though I haven’t thought about what I’m doing as that, HOW TRUE! One of the goals of librarianship is to make our communities better places, but how do we do that without involving our communities more? Librarians, in the past, have always decided what their communities needed. Slowly we have turned our backs to the crowd (loved that metaphor, stealing it from Dave) and not realizing that what we need is not in front of us (the “stuff”) but behind us (the “community.”) We need to turn back around and not only take from the community, but give back based on what we are taking from that community. We need to help give them what they are giving us. Even though it may not be what the library is “supposed” to be, doesn’t necessarily mean that the community isn’t craving this escape from the norm. In other words, rethinking the library should start with the community it is aimed at, not at what we think it should be.

Quite possibly my greatest take away from Dave’s speech was “…we don’t need collection development, we need connection development.” We need to stop thinking of our collection’s as our life source, as our means for existence. We need to think of the people and the space and atmosphere we provide to our people, our communities, as our top priority. Coming from a children’s library this is harder for me to wrap my mind around. Mostly because, the “stuff” is what the kids crave. But, I feel that at the Manlius Children’s Library, we have also been able to take the pulse of our kids and find out what they are craving. Is it picture books? Graphic novels? Computers? A coloring table? That, I believe, is why I love the Manlius Library. They are constantly taking the pulse of their community and trying to make the smallest improvements to make their space better for what their community wants.

To end our busy day me and my two fellow librarians-in-training went to this fabulous restaurant called Olde Bryan Inn. It was terrific food! Anyone looking for somewhere to eat, I highly recommend it. I had the Chicken Cordon Bleu, and it wasn’t at all like I expected and it was fantastic!

Now, exhausted, we all sit with our faces in our laptops, waiting for the appropriate time to go to bed. Tomorrow is another busy day. Going to another speech, working at the iSchool SU Booth (come visit), and then 2 1/2 hours to home! I do miss my Megan (who now has a signed copy of “Maria’s” picture book for Christmas) and Mom right now! But I’m so happy I came. I’m learning and gaining so much out of this experience.

One more thing, school and getting ready for NYLA have completely swamped me. I will be putting my last Halloween Countdown book up this weekend, I absolutely promise! I hope you all enjoyed your Halloween and are getting ready for Thanksgiving (not yet Christmas, no matter how much music they’ve started to play on the radio!).

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