5 Things I Learned at TLA

By Mandi Janikowski, Editor, School/Library Planning & Partnerships

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending my first Texas Library Association (TLA) conference in Dallas. What an amazing experience! From wandering the exhibit hall to sitting in on sessions to talking with librarians from all over the state, I learned so much in the three days I was there. It was an excellent reminder of why I wanted to get into the publishing industry in the first place.

There’s so much I could say about what I learned at this show, but I’ll keep things short and sweet and give you my five biggest takeaways:

Maker activities don’t have to be limited to “makerspace time.”

One of the most interesting discussion topics I heard throughout the week was ways to integrate maker activities and projects into literature their students are already reading and studying. A lot of times when I think makerspace, I think of a craft book or a science project.

But maker activities don’t need to be limited to a designated maker time! If students are studying fairy tales, for example, maybe a project for them involves building models of the three little pigs’ houses using materials they find around their school and testing the houses’ durability against some wind!

Tech can draw in students who are reluctant in other subjects…

…and other subjects can draw in students who don’t have an interest in learning about tech. Many speakers discussed their goals of interdisciplinary learning in their libraries and media centers. What an interesting way to draw in a student!

If a student loves coding but dislikes social studies, she may enjoy a project that involves programming a robot to follow the Oregon Trail on a map on the floor, for example. And a student who loves reading but struggles to keep up with math and coding may enjoy writing a code that changes the color of a light to represent the narrative story arc of his favorite book. The interdisciplinary possibilities are endless!

You don’t need to be an expert in coding to bring it into your school.

I think a lot of us who didn’t grow up with coding so prominent in schools or who don’t have a lot of experience with technology see this rise in coding as rather intimidating. I sure do!

But whenever I had a chance, I asked a librarian or instructor who was speaking about coding and technology if she’d had any training or education in computer sciences. Every single one of them told me she had not. Many of the librarians who seem confident and comfortable with coding taught themselves everything they know. They watched tutorials, they read books, they tinkered with the tools they had. So dive in there and learn with your students—we’ll learn with you too!

Wear comfortable shoes.

Some of the best advice someone gave me about going to a show was to pack more than one pair of shoes so you can change shoes throughout the week. I wore my usual travel shoes, and even then my feet were exhausted by the time I got back to my hotel room each night! TLA doesn’t play around. You’re certainly going to get your steps in while you’re there.

Librarians are incredibly passionate people.

Meeting and chatting with librarians is one of my favorite parts about my job. As I said, it’s an excellent reminder of why I do what I do. I like to think of us as a team, working together to bring the best possible learning experiences to your students. Librarians and instructors like you are what make my job feel not quite so much like work!

Did you attend TLA this year? Share your experience with us in the comments.

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