MSLA 2023: Gear Up: Moving Forward Together (Day 2)

See the Sunday summary (Day 1 of conference) here.

MSLA President Jen Varney introduced Monday’s keynote speaker, the Director of Amherst College Libraries, Dr. Martin Garnar, who spoke about Fighting the Good Fight: Supporting Intellectual Fredom in Your Library. He asked, “What is intellectual freedom?” It is actually three freedoms: freedom of expression, freedom of access, and freedom from surveillance (i.e., privacy). Garnar handed out scenarios on slips of paper, and each table group considered how we would respond to, for example, a parent challenging a book from the school library collection and the principal removing the book to their office; or, for another example, a parent requesting a list of every book their child has checked out from the school library. (Pro tip: remind your administrators, public or private, that if they ignore their own school’s policy, they are open to lawsuits. Pro tip #2: Make sure you have a solid, up-to-date policy! More on that soon.)

“It’s not enough to have equal access, it has to be equitable access.”

After the keynote, Garnar offered another session: The Importance of Policies: Promoting Our Principles in Practice. There are six key policies for libraries to have in place:

  • Collection development and resource reconsideration
  • Internet use (required by law if the library receives E-rate or LSTA funding; can be a district-wide policy)
  • User behavior and library use (e.g. anti-bullying)
  • Privacy and confidentiality (FERPA and state laws)
  • Social media (if the library uses it)
  • Use of meeting rooms and exhibit spaces

Garnar went in depth on each of these types of policies (I won’t do that here), and also offered solid reasoning about why are policies are important. Well-written, board approved policies and up-to-date procedures based on those policies achieve several things:

  • Encourage stability and continuity in the library’s operations while reducing ambiguity and confusion
  • Demonstrate that the library is running a businesslike operation
  • Give credence to the library’s actions
  • Inform the community about the library’s intent, goals, etc. (e.g. equity)
  • Give the public a means to evaluate library performance and show that the library is willing to be held accountable for its decisions
  • Help disarm critics
  • Serve as evidence of the library’s normal practices

Policy resources:

Best Features of the Statewide Databases for school libraries, Tressa Santillo, Massachusetts Library System (MLS)

Tressa (on behalf of MLS and also Transparent Language) and representatives from Gale, Britannica, and PebbleGo described and demonstrated some of the features and resources of their respective databases. I’m so grateful that Massachusetts libraries (public and school) work cooperatively to share print and digital resources; all school libraries with a certified librarian have access to databases for students and staff to use. I’ve been guiding patrons and students through and around these databases for years, but there are more resources than I realized – like alignments to standards and frameworks from PebbleGo, and a media literacy guide from Britannica. (Also from PebbleGo: an axolotl coloring page.)


Well, I was hooked by the axolotl coloring sheet, so I went to hear Dr. Kelli Westmoreland talk more about PebbleGo and PebbleGo Next: Databases for Elementary. (Also, the only other session was the MA Teen Choice Book Awards, and since I’m not working with a teen population right now, PebbleGo made more sense. You can see the MA Teen Choice Book Award Nominees here.) Dr. Westmoreland offered a tour of PebbleGo and PebbleGo Next, explained the importance of modeling digital literacy – especially given the increased amount of time students spend on screens – and spoke about the science of reading and the importance of nonfiction texts. She showed off some of the features of PebbleGo, like the randomizer and the question of the day, and gave examples of how it can be used to support classroom teaching (e.g. librarians can create text sets). She showed examples of simple graphic organizers for inquiry (Person/Action/Trait, It Says/I Say/And So, Somebody/Wanted/And/So).

Perhaps one of the neatest features is the correlation to standards: you can look up content by standard, or standard by content.

Screenshot of Grade 1 Reading Standards for Informational Text

My goal at every conference is to have at least one useful takeaway from each session, and that definitely happened this year! Plus, it was just lovely to see people in 3D. (Previous conference committees did an amazing job the past few years putting together virtual conferences full of engaging presentations from librarians and authors, and I definitely enjoy “attending” from home, but it was nice to mingle in person too, and even meet some people I’ve known for years now, but only via zoom!)

I’ve already put some of Liza’s ideas and resources about comics to use (is it possible to say enough good things about Liza Halley? I don’t think so), and I’m looking forward to adding some of the new books I picked up at vendor booths to my school library collection and seeing kids scoop them up off the New Books shelf. Thanks again to everyone involved in the conference – please leave a comment if I missed anything here, or if you want to share something about a different session you attended!

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