Fiery futures: Reflections on the SLANZA 2017 conference

The 2017 SLANZA conference, themed 'Fiery futures', was a great opportunity for New Zealand school librarians to gather together and learn from each other, from colleagues in the wider library landscape, and from some wonderful international speakers.

All sorts of topics were addressed — developing new and exciting library spaces, advocacy for your library, leadership in school libraries, great digital resources, how to make your library a place that will attract and motivate students to pick up books, just to cover the ones that I attended.

To judge by the buzz around the King’s College conference venue and the copious amounts of tweeting #SLANZA17, everyone was really engaged and enjoying themselves. I came away with all sorts of handy hints and a healthy respect for the work that my school library colleagues are doing.

SLANZA 2017 conference logo

Read slides from the conference

As you read through this blog, you might want to view the presentations on the SLANZA 2017 website.

The SLANZA conference programme web page has the presentations for a number of the sessions — look in the tab for the day that they were delivered on.

National Library sessions

Our National Library team weighed in with these sessions:


As well as the usual sessions, this year the conference committee introduced an 'Unconference' on the Sunday night before the proceedings started. The evening started with a Smackdown', an informal opportunity for anyone keen to give a short (i.e. one minute) presentation on tools, processes or developments that had been successful in their library. It was a great way to kick-start proceedings and, for those new to presenting at a conference, to have a go in a relaxed setting.

All sorts of practical ideas were shared:

  • The Rasterbator (enlarges images with minimal pixelation) was a tool that can be used to quickly and easily change library displays and provide a real ‘wow’ factor by creating amazing posters.
  • Chrome extension The Great Suspender automatically suspends any tabs you haven’t been using to free up your computer.
  • Promoting specific areas of the collection by creating a Māori section or a high-interest, non-fiction area.
  • Making reading visible by reading your height in books, sharing the fun in reading, reading to SPCA cats (for unconfident readers who won’t feel judged who, in turn, help animals with socialisation).
  • Shelving ideas including making face-out shelves on a budget, brightening up a dull reference area with Lundia boxes, temporary shelving solutions.
  • Display ideas — using the windows if you don’t have enough wall space.
  • Activities in the library for book week, lunchtime showing off your students’ talents, interactive spaces that include blackout poetry, lunchtime chess games where students only get 3 moves before it’s someone else’s turn.

Following the Smackdown, there were also some interesting and thought-provoking discussions on challenging topics that participants had proposed earlier, such as using Māori resources, e-books, appropriate books, our future role, collaboration with public libraries, and helping senior students find time to read for pleasure.

Keynote speakers held the audience spellbound

  • Rachel van RielEngender delight in reading first and worry about instructing students once you have them hooked into the library.
  • Hamish Curry — Our mindset, skill set and tool set play a key role in the way we think about and make our libraries work for the school community. Create a ‘bunker room’, accessible to everyone, allowing input, feedback and buy-in from interested parties (students included). Monitor your library space over a number of times/days to ‘see’ where the actual usage in the library is. You may be quite surprised to see that what you think are optimal areas for students’ use are actually not what they prefer. Change the space around to suit the students’ needs. Don’t forget to take into account the draw of natural light and a view to the outside world!
  • Adele Walsh — Work with your teenage users to find out what they really want. For them, there is no divide between the 'real' work and the digital world — they are not separate. Digital is more than just ebooks and we need to recognise that creating and story making is happening everywhere, such as The Lizzie Bennet diaries.

Some great topics from school library colleagues

We heard from Jody Hayes about the lovely new Whare Ahuru Mowai at Bailey Rd School. This vibrant and exciting space is designed to tell its own story and has great initiatives designed to create an inclusive space for its community, including tea making facilities and book packs for students to take home.

Anne-Marie from Somerville Intermediate took her inspiration from the turtle “which makes progress only when he sticks his neck out”, encouraging us to seek opportunities to collaborate with teachers and students so that they, in turn, will become active and enthusiastic advocates for the library.

The advocacy theme continued with Bonnie Barr from Accessit, suggesting ways we can upsell what we do. She emphasized the need for us to get out in front of people through:

  • giving library orientations
  • holding events in the library
  • teaching classes
  • speaking at assemblies and in the staffroom
  • having a presence on the school website
  • offering professional development, and
  • knowing topics and assignments before they begin so you can offer your expertise at the outset.

Paula Banks took us through the latest developments with EPIC, which continues to expand and offer schools free access to a wonderful range of online resources. Paula gave us all sorts of useful tips on providing easy online access to great content such as:

  • sources of important New Zealand material— the Bridget Williams Books, Treaty of Waitangi collection, New Zealand Geographic
  • international databases — such as Britannica Online, Science in Context and Global Issues in Context.

Finally, Esther Casey from Sylvia Park School took us through the development of their online library, sharing handy resources (the ways that other schools are choosing to have an online presence using Instagram, Twitter and Weebly) and gave us the opportunity to have a go building a Weebly website ourselves.

Professional development — an investment in ourselves and our profession

It connects us to others working in the school library world, strengthens our voices and visibility within our organisations and increases our confidence to support our students.

The next time you hear about a conference or professional development opportunity remember Anne-Marie’s turtle — you have to stick your head out to make progress — and ask for the support to attend. The investment in you will be worth more than just your own development.

By Lisa Allcott

Lisa Allcott is a Facilitator in the National Capability Services team with Services to Schools.

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Chris Taylor August 24th at 9:32AM

Agree Lisa - the conference offers so many opportunities for us to develop and improve services to our students. You can do this by being involved with the organisation, attending, presenting and of course continued learning - then the fun of change happens, not overnight, but it does happen.