New York Library Association Section of School Librarians Annual Spring Conference 2024
Lake Placid, NY

May 2024

When I first saw the big names coming to NYLA SSL’s 2024 conference I shrieked so loudly in my library that the noise level went from the typical happy hum of high school students working and chatting, to pin-drop silence. To say that one of the highlights of attending this year’s NYLA SSL conference was the opportunity to hear and meet nationally renowned historical fiction authors Ruta Sepetys and Stacey Lee is an absolute understatement.
Years ago a fellow school librarian gave me the wisest conference attending advice. She said, “Michelle, no matter who they are, always attend the author sessions.” Getting to meet authors and hear the stories behind their stories turbocharges our ability, as school librarians, to match our student readers to the stories they need to hear when they need to hear them. Knowing that Ruta Septeys’ writer origin story involves the lead singer of a rock band and the simple words “what’s your story,” and seeing a teenaged picture of Stacey Lee having a haircut similar to the one she has now, lets me humanize authors and say to my student readers “Hey, I think you’ll like this author’s book. You and she would have probably been friends.”
At the same time, there’s impactful magic in the small moments of a conference, such as:
  • Standing in the back of the room listening to four school librarians from Central New York duke it out while sharing a curated collection of 16 immediately useful resources;
  • Admiring and being inspired by the ingenuity, innovation and student involvement described by the Troy-area school librarian who presented on book displays. I don’t have a teen advisory group, but I definitely have a group of active and involved regular library users who would love to take ownership of their own Department of Tortured Poets.
  • Being reminded that I am not alone as I sat on the floor in “Librarian Life Hacks” (aka “crowdsource the solution to your struggles”), and offering, as well as receiving empathy, support and advice, and…
  • The “oh-duh” simple solution, given by another, with the potential for powerful impact on inclusivity in my own library – add labels on my computers directing anyone looking for titles featuring LGBTQA+ characters, themes or issues in the catalog to search “pride.”

The biggest highlight, though, wasn’t the authors, the resources, or the inspiration for new programs and displays. It was, as it always is, being surrounded by community. So many of us are singletons in our buildings, or singletons in our districts. We are not only on our own, but also doing the job of teaching in a way that looks different to our students, colleagues and administrators than the job of a classroom teacher. I will be forever indebted to the woman in the room who summed up nicely what I have been trying to explain to those around me for years. That we, as school librarians, run what is essentially a public library inside of a school. The work that goes into running a public library goes into ours too, alongside classroom teaching, collaborative teaching, technology help, and student support. How powerful it was to feel connected to the greater whole, and to have our professional work’s full scope framed in a way that honors its weight and recognizes worthiness. Thank you, CLRC, for this tremendous opportunity! How many years do I have to wait before I can apply, again?

Michelle Babbie

High School Librarian, Sauquoit Valley Central School

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