by Sarah Kresberg

Every day of the week preceding this year’s NEIT conference (April 4-6), Peter, my colleague in the tech department here at A-S, checked in with me to exchange thoughts about the upcoming experience and just generally share how excited we both were. More than a chance to have our thinking pushed and gather ideas in a gorgeous setting, I realized that our excitement was anchored in our need to connect with others beyond the four walls of our school. More than two years had passed since we had engaged in sustained conversations with our counterparts elsewhere and we had missed it! To further stoke our anticipation, NEIT was postponed this year from the usual January date, but this very much worked in our favor since the weather, for the most part, was just lovely.

As always, the conversation at NEIT, was on exactly the topics that we wanted and needed it to be. Such is the value of the unconference model. This year, the committee member who facilitated the set up of the first unconference session encouraged librarians and technologists to cross over to the other department for at least one of our sessions. I loved this idea and chose to attend a session called ‘Toward a New Tech Integration’. The premise was that with teachers ‘leveling up’ their tech skills during the pandemic, what should the value proposition be for tech integrators? In fact, is ‘technology integrator’ even the correct title for the role anymore? In that session I mostly listened, and what I heard were many parallels with my own situation as a librarian. For example, we both share challenges in creating or sustaining collaborative partnerships, and wanting to be valued for what we can teach as much or more than what we can provide or fix. The technologists in the room were educators, wanting to be seen as instructional partners and planners. It struck me as I listened that here was the reason for librarians and technologists to hold a conference together. We share so many challenges, but our approach to solving them are sometimes different, and we have much to learn from each other.

There was much to learn from the keynote speakers as well. The person who really struck a chord for me was Ken Shelton. Here was a man who broke the rules as a student, broke the rules as a teacher, and now gets paid to encourage others to break the rules; all in the service of making sure that students thrive through being seen, heard and valued. Afterwards, attendees flocked to talk with Shelton over cocktails and dinner, one of the perks of attending such an intimate conference.

It’s always fun to go to a session thinking you know everything and then being enlightened. Such was the case with Sora for me. I have been a Sora subscriber for years. I thought I had it down, but then I gained some wonderful tips about Sora read aloud Zoom projects, how to manage the badge program, and the easiest ways to connect students to various public libraries.

One thing I love about NEIT is that the conference doesn’t end when you leave Mohonk. For one, we have the Padlet full of notes from every single session convened. We also have our action items. Following up on a session called ‘Dear Follett’, HVLA librarians are going to be working on the Follett censorship issue under the leadership of B Mann, Karen Grenke and Rebecca Duvall. As a follow up to our session on anime and manga clubs, I will be starting a spreadsheet of popular age-appropriate manga with the help of my seventh grade students, and I hope others will contribute after I share it.

Of course, it’s cringe (as my students would say) to share this, but the best takeaway of all is the new and strengthened relationships I developed at NEIT! I’m so grateful to my school for the opportunity to attend, and even more so to my librarian colleagues on the organizing committee: Maria Falgoust, Karen Grenke, Stacy Dillon, Gwen Kaplan and Dacel Casey. Thanks so much for the opportunity to come back to my school refreshed and inspired!

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