ALA International Sharjah, UAE 2018 Reflection

Last November I had the honor to be part of the American Library Association’s International Conference in Sharjah, UAE. This conference ran concurrently with the Sharjah International Book Fair. Over one hundred countries were represented at the book fair and the ALA International Conference brought regional librarians together for several days of professional development and discovery.

Wendy Garland, an elementary librarian from Dedham, Massachusetts and I collaborated for many months prior to the conference to plan and organize a variety of workshops and experiences for our colleagues in the region. A highlight of this planning was connecting our students prior to our trip to the UAE.

We both explored books about the region and had our students come up with ‘homework’ for us to do while we were in the UAE. We even read a book together about the ‘story’ of the UAE formation called Our Unity is Our Strength. We skyped together and took turns reading aloud and learning about one another. Two of Wendy’s students even taught us a few words in Arabic!

We collaborated on a pre-conference session for regional librarians that was one of the highlights of my professional career.

Our day-long pre-conference consisted of several sections. All with the main goal of connecting and networking this group of dedicated professionals. After getting to know one another, we celebrated the collective knowledge of the group. This quote reminded me of one I use to describe our library all the time: “The library is the living room of the school.” After having spent some time in the UAE, I now understand a bit more, the importance of the kitchen in the culture. It makes perfect sense to me now.

We wanted to introduce Twitter and the power it has to develop a Professional Learning Network for our colleagues in the UAE region. Wendy and I shared how it has connected us and has played such a powerful role in our own professional development. In fact, we hadn’t met until we came together in the UAE, but we had been collaborating for months prior to our meeting!

We began with some ‘analog’ tweets to get the ‘juices’ flowing.

I LOVE seeing the variety in these analog tweets. It warmed us up to explore the power of Twitter. Many had not set up accounts, but others were active and learned about tools like TweetDeck to help manage chats and explore hashtags.

We introduced to our friends and had them complete a simple game to show them the possibilities. We were even able to leave a kit with one lucky winner!

There was time at the end of our day for a ‘playground’ where we had a variety of tools and experiences for all to explore. The greenscreen center got a lot of laughs and ignited some interesting ideas for integration into learning spaces.

Wendy and I taught several other sessions during the general conference as well. One highlighted and we had our attendees complete a game based on The Dot by Peter Reynolds.     It was a big hit!

Another session was about how we each work to engage and excite readers in our libraries. I learned so much from listening to Wendy and from what our attendees share as well.

Our last session was about using literacy to help develop empathy All of these workshop sessions are available through the QR code or links above.

My colleague @AliSchilpp shared a Lego Travel Buddy with me prior to the trip. I decided that I would use him to help share the trip with my students and colleagues in IL when I returned and while it was happening via Twitter. The name badge we wore at the conference was a perfect spot to keep my Lego Travel Buddy!

We didn’t have a lot of free time, but when we did, we jammed as much into it as we could. We visited Mosques, ate authentic cuisine and learned about the UAE culture through several tours and lectures.

What do two librarians do when in a new city? Of course, they go to the library! We wanted to show our kiddos that the Dewey system works all over the world.

My biggest take away from the trip to the UAE was that librarians around the world struggle with the same challenges: schedule, budget, ‘that’ kid. We are a solitary and profession; often the only librarians in our buildings. We are thirsty for collaboration and for collegiality.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

I am proud to see that the hashtag #UAELibrarians continues to be used and shared. It makes me proud to see librarians of the region and the world connecting in ways they had not before. Every day I see and learn things from my new colleagues on the other side of the world. I am eager to continue to learn and grow with them.

I am immensely grateful to the librarians in the UAE, the American Library Association and my school district for helping me make this experience a reality! I not only grew as a professional, but I also gained dozens of more friends and colleagues. I’m also grateful to my incredibly talented colleague, Wendy Garland. She is such an inspiration.

If you want to take a look at the trip to the UAE through Lego Travel Buddy’s eyes, I created a book to share the experience that you can download here: Lego Travel Buddy visits the UAE