Magazine article American Libraries

Learning, Literacy, and Libraries: AASL's Portland Adventure

Magazine article American Libraries

Learning, Literacy, and Libraries: AASL's Portland Adventure

Article excerpt

Although balancing their dual roles as educators and information providers is often demanding and sometimes even thrilling, school media specialists may not think of their jobs as an adventure. However, when the American Association of School Librarians held its eighth national conference in Portland, Oregon, April 2-6, the theme was "Learning: Continue the Adventure," highlighting the challenging nature of their educational mission. As AASL President Barbara Stripling put it at the opening general session, the conference was focused on learning "because libraries lead to learning."

The wide range of issues encompassed by school librarianship was demonstrated by the diverse agenda of more than 100 programs, with up to 19 different sessions held concurrently in each time slot. In addition, tabletop "Showcase of Excellence" presentations spotlighted innovative library programs, including winners of mini-grants in AASL's ICONnect technology initiative and state efforts in the division's "Count on Reading" reading-motivation project.

Upon their arrival, conferees were greeted by handwritten letters from Portland-area schoolchildren placed in the registration packets, containing such endearing messages as, "I hope you come back again some time I bet you read real good."

Literacy limelight

Appropriately for a conference where the teaching role of school librarians was stressed, literacy was one of the most prominently featured topics. At one program, Hawaii school media specialists demonstrated ways they implemented a statewide reading literacy directive called the Success Compact. In the initiative, cadre leaders - in many cases, librarians - who were trained by the state then went back and trained staff at their schools. Their methods stressed cooperation between media specialists and classroom teachers, a frequent theme at the conference.

As Claire Sato of Honolulu's Shafer Elementary School put it, "The initiative, if you think of it, is a natural for libraries." The program stressed meaning-based instruction, which libraries do already, and one element was to give students a sense of security; and the library, observed Sato, "is a safe environment in which kids feel comfortable."

Censorship challenges, another perennial concern of librarians, were also high on the conference agenda. One program reunited participants in a case involving Annie on My Mind, a young-adult novel about a lesbian romance, which was removed from libraries by the Olathe, Kansas, school board (AL, Jan. 1996, p. 26).

"We went through what you could call a war," explained Annie author Nancy Garden, who pointed out that the 1982 novel was "a breakthrough book" in that it had a happy ending. "It was seen as a threat because it gives a positive view of homosexuality," Garden explained.

Olathe media specialists Loretta Wood and Jeff Blair provided the background of the case. The title had been donated to area schools by a local gay support group. After the superintendent, with the support of the school board, removed the book, students sued to have it reinstated.

Attorney John Bullock explained that the tension in the case came from two conflicting principles: "The library has been given a special place in American jurisprudence," considered different from the classroom and other school venues; but school boards are given "not only a right but a duty to inculcate moral values."

The outcome, said Garden, was that a U.S. district judge ruled that the book had been "unconstitutionally removed from the shelves because of its ideas." She called the victory "one that I hope will encourage other libraries with similar problems."

The conference offered numerous sessions about the Internet, many of them focused on AASL's ICONnect initiative. At one program, Blythe Bennett explained ICONnect offshoot KidsConnect, an Internet-based question-and-answer service for K-12 students (AL,June/July 1996, p. …

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