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Media Monday - Meet Brandon Robbins, Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School

Each month, we feature a column called Media Monday, in which we highlight an NCSLMA member who is a Media Coordinator or a specific Media Center. Today, we have a guest post by Brandon Robbins, Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School. In 2015, Brandon received a grant from NCSLMA to attend the American Association of School Libraries National Conference in Columbus, Ohio. 

Brandon graduated from the University of Mount Olive in 2005 with a BA in English and then East Carolina University in 2011 with an MLS. Before moving to Goldsboro High School, he worked at Wayne County Public Library for 10 years. He is a member of the ALA Emerging Leader class of 2011 and writes "Games, Gamers, and Gaming" for Library Journal. 

Connect with Brandon on Twitter, Instagram, and Steam: level250geek

Below, you will find his guest post on his experience at the AASL Conference in Columbus. Enjoy!

After ten years of public library service, I had an opportunity to return to my high school alma mater, Goldsboro High School, as their Media Coordinator. I couldn’t let this opportunity pass me by; it would be a chance to not only take an active part in the education of the youth in my community, but it would also give me a set of new and exciting challenges.

Unfortunately, those new and exciting challenges have been a bit too difficult. The change from a public library to a school library was jarring, and after two years on the job, I still had only the slightest grasp on effective librarianship in a public school environment. I needed guidance and inspiration, and I knew that the best place to find it would be at a library conference. I had been to several before, and the opportunity to connect with fellow professionals offers more motivation and education than even the most rigorous formal training environment.

I applied for and received a grant from the North Carolina School Library Media Association to attend the American Association of School Libraries national conference in Columbus, Ohio. With great anticipation, I spent weeks planning my conference experience, using the associated app to plan which sessions I would attend. This was a series of difficult decisions, as I stood to benefit from all of them. However, wanting to introduce more guided inquiry into our education program, I decided to focus on sessions focusing on this instructional method.

I arrived in Columbus on the first day of the conference, just in time for the IdeaLab. Functioning as a sort of miniature exhibit hall, the IdeaLab kick­started the ongoing exchange of ideas in which I would participate as I visited with other school library professionals who were there to discuss initiatives and programs they had introduced. A true stand­out from this session was Elyse DeQuoy from DG Cooley Elementary in Berryville, VA. She outlined the various ways she had employed Legos in her Media Center program, integrating nearly every subject and content type into projects that strengthened her students’ problem­solving and creativity skills. I would find that “Legos in the library” would be a running theme throughout the entire conference!

After an inspiring opening session with Heidi Hayes Jacobs, which brought to our attention how vital it was for school libraries to help lead the way in contemporary educational needs, I took some time to recover from my morning travels before attending the Hack the Association session that took place that night. This was the first library conference I had been to which had a late­night session on the schedule, and it was a real highlight of my time there. Everybody was charged up on early conference enthusiasm and participating in an honest, open discussion about the AASL and what we hope to get out of it. I walked out of there feeling like I was truly part of an organization that wanted the best for its members, and that I would be an active voice in the future and not just a dues­paying cardholder.

The next day, the conference was in full swing. I started my day by attending “Be A Research Rock Star!” by Sarah Scholl and Sarah Wein. By examining an inquiry lesson they had presented to their students, Scholl and Wein showed how inquiry­based instruction can help scaffold skills and concepts while organically introducing differentiation, “soft skills,” and cross­-curricular learning. I walked away with not only a greater understanding of inquiry, but also a better understanding of why so many of our students find traditional education models frustrating and disengaging.

I spent some time in the Exhibit Hall, where I picked up some great information on afforable databases such as FactCite and Facts 4 Me, in addition to connecting with representatives from PBS and learning about great creativity software such as Storyboard That. Then, I attended the session “Makerspaces and Libraries” by Diana Rendina. Diana’s enthusiasm for makerspaces and the maker movement was tangible and infectious. Her simple, practical solutions for introducing a dynamic environment where students can build, experiment, and discover were a true inspiration. I walked away from her session with a firmer grasp on how I could implement the same fun and effective lessons that Elyse DeQuoy had launched in her library, starting with putting on a “Lego Drive” to build a base collection of our own.

“Upcycling the Media Center” by Vandy Pacetti­Donelson was equally inspiring. Taking a realistic look at the design and decor of school libraries, Vandy gave helpful, cost­cutting suggestions on how to bring personality and color to the school library. With smaller collection development budgets, it’s needless to say that school libraries have little money to spend on the Media Center itself, but the visual appeal of the space is a driving factor in bringing in students and teachers and making the library a place they want to be. Having some guidance in how to do so was quite helpful; our art teacher already has student work on display, so in the future I’ll be commissioning her art classes to give us even more.

The Unconference that night was a completely new experience for me. Neither a panel discussion nor a workshop, it was somewhere in between. The huge group that gathered split into several smaller groups, each one discussing a different topic from a “wishlist” that had been created earlier. These topics represented interest areas that were not addressed by sessions offered during the conference. Each group had an opportunity to share major takeaways they had from their discussions. I participated in two different groups: one on gaming, and one on digital curriculums. In the gaming group, I had an opportunity to share my experience with integrating gaming into public library services and brainstorm ways that it can be introduced to a school library environment, such as with an extracurricular club. The digital curriculum group had an intense conversation about the validity of hardcopy reference in an environment when so much reliable material is available digitally and for free. Everybody had a different opinion regarding how thorough a print reference collection needs to be developed, but we all agreed that the needs of our students come first and should be the determining factor when selecting and promoting library resources. This was one of the most productive conference events I attended, and it proved that sometimes the true value of a professional gathering is the direct interaction you have with your peers.

I started off the next day with another session on guided inquiry, this one by Carol C. Kuhlthau, Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. Their excellent visual illustrating the inquiry process helped solidify many of the concepts I had been learning, and they had so much good information that I could barely keep up with my notes. I finally decided that the best course of action would be to buy their book on guided inquiry design, which I highly recommend for all new school library media specialists. I spent more time in the Exhibit Hall, checking out a few more vendors and meeting Sabaa Tahir, my new favorite YA author, and getting my copy of An Ember in the Ashes signed. I also visited the AASL Makerspace and played around with some of the tools and activities I had been learning about, such as littleBits. These are great learning toys that let you build your own electronics device, learning about electricity and circuitry while doing so.

“Making a Change” by Maggie Crawford and Wendy Stephens not only was a chance to experience some of the creative writing exercises they’ve innovated and exploring the Newseum, an online exhibit of journalistic pieces, but also helped me understand the importance of digital tools in the classroom. I came away wanting to champion students having access to social media in the classroom; after all, part of our job is to teach them about the ethical use of technology and online safety. This is impossible without access to the very mediums in which they operate. The next session was also on guided inquiry: “Leading the Change in Student­Directed Learning” by Theresa Ciupinski. Theresa gave an exhaustive rundown of the guided inquiry project she had her students complete, giving much­needed details about each individual step. It reminded me of the project that graduating seniors had been expected to do in my district, until the requirement had been dropped. One of the things hope to accomplish over the next couple of years is to bring that project back for the students at Goldsboro High, with a more streamlined design and more direct guidance for the students. I want them to graduate with the information­seeking and analysis skills they need to succeed, and a guided inquiry project could be the answer.

The closing session by Eszter Hargittai was a humbling look at the demographics of technological access and literacy. The “digital divide” is still very real, and is actually ever widening. School librarians can’t assume that technological access is truly ubiquitous and that their students will learn technology use skills by osmosis; they need to take an active role in technological instruction, especially for low­income students, to create a more equitable learning environment and erode the unfair disadvantages that so many students face.

In typical librarian fashion, that evening there was a celebration to wrap everything up. At Columbus’ eclectic North Market, we enjoyed local fare, music, and continued conversation and idea exchange. The atmosphere may have been casual, but there was still learning and growing taking place. The enthusiasm that everyone has for their job was infectious.

I have no regrets about my time spent at the AASL National Conference. It was the most beneficial conference I have ever been to, and I have already planned to go to the next one in 2017. I highly encourage any school librarian to go, and thanks to the generosity of NCSLMA I have a better understanding of how I can be the best school librarian I can be. My students and co­workers deserve nothing less.


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