New York Library Association. - The eBulletin

Experiencing NYLA-SSL Conference

Submitted by Dara Berkwits, Teacher-Librarian P.S. 36x

When I think about my first time attendance at an annual NYLA-SSL conference I consider myself to have been pretty lucky.  I heard about a grant opportunity offered by the New York City Department of Education’s Offices of Library Services and decided to apply. To apply for this competitive grant I completed a grant application, wrote a narrative about how and why the conference would benefit me, and obtained a letter from an administrator in support of my attendance.  When the news came that I would be one of the ten lucky grant winners, I was thrilled about the win and a bit nervous all at the same time. I was about to attend my very first professional conference (I did attend a NYC DOE conference earlier in the year, but this felt different) and I WAS ABOUT TO ATTEND MY VERY FIRST PROFESSIONAL CONFERENCE!  Who would I meet?  What would I learn? What would I actually bring back to my school as I had suggested in my grant application?  Would the membership to NYLA and NYLA-SSL truly benefit me?  As it turns out, I would walk away with so much more than I could have expected.

To start conference off with a bang, the winners of this grant were invited to a reception to welcome us to the conference, introduce us to notable leaders in the field, and encourage us to become active in the profession.  During this time I had an opportunity to connect with the nine other grant winners, most of whom I had never met.  I had a chance to mingle with my colleagues, learn a bit about their schools, and discuss successes and challenges of being a school teacher-librarian in today’s educational system.  While this alone would have been enough, there was much more in store for this short reception.  Other reception invitees included leaders in the field such as Sara Kelly Johns, Sue Kowalski, Jill Leinung, Michelle Miller, Susan Polos, and Leslie Preddy, all of whom spoke quite passionately about their experiences and the reasons they became involved in the professional organizations.  But best of all, I met Dr. Barbara Stripling, THE Barbara Stripling.  The one I had learned about in my studies at the University at Buffalo.  The one I had heard so much about from other teacher-librarians.  Really?  I was meeting Barbara Stripling?  Serious fan girl moment!  But what did meeting these amazing women do for me?  It really opened my eyes to the need for me to step outside of my position, outside of my building, and even outside of my district to look at the greater picture.  I became very much aware of some of the key issues facing professionals in our field and that there is a great emphasis on the need for more support from those in our field.

Throughout the conference I listened to many speakers who spoke about their experiences as librarians and even as students, describing the ways in which we help shape and change the lives of those who walk through our doors.   I, of course, began thinking about the ways I could make changes in my own school and how I could impact the wider community on a more significant basis.  My first attempt, on day two of the conference, was to offer to become a member of the New York City School Librarians’ Association, which up until that very moment I did not know existed.  I offered to join, be on the board (if needed), and was eventually asked to maintain the group’s website.  Furthermore, one of the grant requirements was that I share my experience with either (my choice) my school or present at a conference for NYC DOE teacher-librarians.  I considered which would have the greater impact and quickly agreed to present at the Bronx Professional Learning Community meeting hosted by the NYC DOE Office of Library Services.  My reason?  Purely selfish, actually.  I hope to inspire others to think outside of their library and building walls.  I hope to empower other teacher-librarians to become members of the professional organizations which support us in our roles.  Finally, I want to become connected with as many teacher-librarians in the field as possible to continue building the professional network.  These connections are crucial to our survival.

As a new member of NYLA and NYLA-SSL I have become committed to the profession in a different way.  Yes, I am still a teacher-librarian working with students as they progress through their educational careers.  I still collaborate with all stakeholders to ensure optimum success through supporting and enhancing the curriculum, teaching information literacy skills, and creating a culture of reading.  But adding to the validity of all that I do in our school is the connection I now have to the professional community.  At the conference I made connections with other New York City teacher-librarians who have similar and varying experiences, all of which can be helpful in my own professional growth.  I also made strong connections with educators outside of New York City whom I now follow on social media and have connected with via email, all of whom have suggested that the new connection is not just a quick, one-time thing.  Through membership of NYLA and NYLA-SSL I am connected to an infinite array of resources and professionals to support my ongoing success.

I think it is extremely important to recognize the professional development value that the NYLA-SSL conference holds as well.  Remember, teacher-librarians are usually alone in their buildings.  We generally collaborate with other teachers, mostly those in the classroom, but rarely have in-building opportunities to connect with others who do exactly what we do on a daily basis.  Along those lines, there is a great deal of professional development, but it is mostly geared toward classroom teachers.  For these reasons, attending conferences such as ones organized by our professional organizations specifically for teacher-librarians is a terrific way for us to connect with school library peers and experience relevant professional development that only a conference geared specifically toward my teaching can provide. On the very first day of attendance it became crystal clear that this conference would become a catalyst, bridging a strong connection between me and the professional organizations to which I now belong.

I want to thank Melissa Jacobs New York City School Library System’s Office of Library Services coordinator for having the strength and courage to persevere, obtain the funding for this grant, and coordinate all aspects of it to make it an exceptionally unforgettable experience for the ten winners.  I’d also like to thank Deputy Executive Director of Library Services for the NYC School Library System, Richard Hasenyager, who found the funds for Melissa, so that she could support these ten teacher-librarians as they continue to improve their professional practice.  Conferences such as this provide incredible opportunities for teacher-librarians to connect with others in their field, become involved in the greater professional community, and make a stronger impact.


Dara Berkwits
Dara Berkwits is a teacher-librarian at P.S. 36x in the Bronx and is a NYS certified School Library Media Specialist.  She has been working as the school’s teacher-librarian for two years.  Prior to the school librarian, Mrs. Bookwits, as her students fondly call her, was a third grade special education teacher for four years.  Mrs. Berkwits is a recent graduate of the University at Buffalo with her MLS in School Library Media Specialist. She has plans to continue her professional growth through formal classes and professional development.