Reflections on the International Association of School Libraries (IASL) conference

Kay oddone, kasey garrison, krystal gagen-spriggs, monique shephard, lee fitzgerald & di ruffles

The Teacher Librarianship team along with several of our fantastic adjunct staff were thrilled to be able to engage in professional learning and networking at the recent International Association of School Libraries (IASL) conference in Rome, Italy.

Between us we presented six papers;

  • Understanding the World: How Australian teacher librarians define information literacy (Kay Oddone and Kasey Garrison);
  • “It was a real eye-opener”: Young adult literature and adolescent mental health (Monique Shepherd and Kasey Garrison);
  • Failure to flourish: Students and teacher librarians in Australia (Lee Fitzgerald, Alinda Sheerman and Kasey Garrison);
  • Transformative Learning (Di Ruffles);
  • Teacher librarians as influencers of reading cultures in schools (Krystal Gagen-Spriggs) and
  • From books to bots: Scaffolding ethical and critical use of Generative AI (Kay Oddone, Krystal Gagen-Spriggs and Kasey Garrison).

Kasey also led the Children and Young Adult Literature Special Interest Group, and Krystal and Monique presented methodology papers in the Research Special Interest Group.  In her new position as Regional Director for Oceania, Kay led the Oceania regional meeting and presented the Australian school library scene at Windows on the World.

With more than 150 global participants from nations as far ranging as Panama, Iceland, Norway, Kazakhstan, and Rwanda, there was so much to gain from meeting and talking with other passionate school library practitioners and researchers, so this post hopes to offer a glimpse into the rewards of engaging with our international association.

Kay Oddone: This was the first in person IASL conference I have been able to attend, and it was so exciting to meet people whom I have collaborated with or read the work of. We had a very busy schedule, but we were still able to fit in a little bit of sightseeing, and I have to say that fellow librarians are truly awesome travel companions.

From the very first day, it became apparent that the challenges faced by school library staff here in Australia are being felt in many places across the world. At a time when students need more guidance than ever to navigate the rapidly changing information ecosystem, and as school systems deplore the reduction in reading and accompanying drops in literacy levels, the role of the school library and of qualified school library staff remains overlooked. This is baffling to me, as the research evidence of the contributions to literacy, information literacy and wellbeing school libraries and their staff make to students is extensive, and the passion and dedication of the school library staff who gathered at the conference is so evident.

Happily the profession remains in committed and dedicated hands, with school library staff from all over the world sharing their creative, innovative and boundary breaking research and practice at this conference. Presentations that I attended included explorations into dimensions of adolescent reading motivation, evaluations of innovative implementation of robotics and makerspaces, teacher librarians leading curriculum development in inquiry learning, creative implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and insights into the ways that school and public libraries can work together to achieve synergistic goals for students.

Kasey Garrison: This was the first in-person IASL conference since 2019 so it was very exciting to see old friends and make new ones. I saw two main themes emerging from the presentations and discussions throughout the week: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Censorship. AI Literacy was the topic of the opening keynote from Dr. Gino Roncaglia, Professor of Digital Humanities at Roma Tre University. He emphasised the need to support our students in understanding when to use AI and more importantly, how to use it ethically. These ideas are actually well-aligned to the research Kay, Krystal, and I presented in investigating how teacher librarians can support students in teaching about and with AI and specifically, three tools: Quillbot, Perplexity, and Chat GPT. As this is an ever-changing and growing area of research, I look forward to seeing what everyone has to say about AI at next year’s conference.

The other theme, censorship and book banning, has also been in the headlines globally so it was fascinating to listen to the perspectives of IASL participants from their own countries and contexts. It was heartening to hear about a superintendent in the conservative state of Kansas in the USA, who decided to abolish the system’s library reconsideration policy after one member of the community protested about 12 separate books being in the school library collection. Instead, carers were asked to sign a permission form for their students to check out books and an overwhelming 99% of them did. Actions like this offer hope for giving our youth agency in making their own decisions about what they want to read. Nonetheless, these issues can look quite different in different countries, depending on the type of government and politics. The discussions and presentations around this topic reminded me about the importance of this issue and how we must stand for the Freedom to Read. Despite enduring record-breaking temperatures all week, the IASL conference in Rome was a great experience for all!.

Krystal Gagen-Spriggs: I was very excited to attend my first IASL conference. The welcome we received as first-timers was so amazing and I really enjoyed connecting with practitioners and academics in school librarianship from around the world. It was interesting to hear that the troubles we face as teacher librarians in Australia are similar to those our counterparts in other countries face as well. What I most enjoyed though was connecting with a dynamic duo of researchers from the USA and an Italian researcher who are exploring reading motivation in their own countries. I could see many crossovers with their work and my own and we had some great conversations comparing our observations and our plans for the future. I think this was the most valuable part of attending; connecting with these researchers who I can now liaise with to build a better picture of our combined areas of research. I’m excited by the possibilities and am very much looking forward to attending another IASL conference in the future.

Lee FitzGerald: The IASL conference in Rome was at least my 4th one! It was indeed interesting to listen to colleagues from other countries talking about similar challenges facing teacher librarianship, in fact, it seemed to me that Australia was in a better position than other countries, on the whole.  Our presentation was a tribute to Ross Todd, who inspired generations of at least Australian TLs, and it was about the opportunity that the Information Fluency Framework, combined with an IL model (in our case, the FOSIL model) gives TLs to demonstrate achievement of learning by their endeavours.  It was great to talk to Darryl and Jenny Toerien, the FOSIL folk, and also to go visit them later in Guernsey at their home and their school, Blancheland College, particularly to see a school entirely based on inquiry learning.

It was hot in Rome, but that didn’t prevent us going underground to some of the famous sights – Nero’s Golden House and San Clemente. Amazing!

Monique Shephard: This was also my first IASL conference and it was a delight to share this time with the TL team and so many practitioners and researchers whose work is both interesting and valuable to the future of this profession. It was great to spend time hearing about and discussing current and future research directions particularly around wellbeing in schools, and the opportunity to get real-time feedback on my own research was a great benefit. There are some interesting future collaborations to explore! We were also able to showcase some Australian children’s literature on their international display: all books donated to local schools. The tasty treats at Tiramisu just down the road were also a delight!

Fascinating research was shared not only by our own CSU team, but also by other school  library researchers. The themes of sustainability and equity of access, the impacts of generative AI, and the incredible value of a whole school reading culture both educationally and for wellbeing were strongly threaded through the many presentations and keynotes we attended.

Di Ruffles: I was thrilled to be at the IASL Conference in Rome and to share the experience with my CSU colleagues. This was my 2nd IASL Conference as I attended the Auckland IASL Conference a number of years ago and I recall meeting our dear friend, Ross Todd at that particular conference. It was energising to meet teacher librarian practitioners and educators from all over the world and to explore the challenges we are facing. Many of the issues in Australia with regard to qualified staffing and resourcing of school libraries are a familiar story the world over. A number of presentations from the conference, especially from the U.S. discussed the censorship and book banning that is rife at present in both public and school libraries. I am pleased that in school libraries in Australia our school communities are much more liberal thinking and make a stand for the Freedom to Read. Another theme from the conference was the importance of a school library as an inclusive space for students and a space to enhance wellbeing – this theme was emphasised at the conference by Professor Gabrielle Weston, Vatican School of librarianship and Pavia University. The other main theme emerging from the conference is generative AI. The opening keynote, Dr Gino Roncaglia, Professor of Digital Humanities from Roma Tre University emphasised the need to support students in understanding when to use AI and more importantly how to use it ethically. This theme was also emphasised by our team of CSU academics, Dr Kay Oddone, Dr Kasey Garrison and Krystal Gagen-Spriggs, who articulated a similar role for teacher librarians in teaching AI literacy as another aspect of information literacy, particularly in terms of teaching academic integrity. As part of the conference, on the final day, we toured a school library in a Catholic School in Rome, a University Library in Rome, a bookshop and the National Roman Museum. This was also a wonderful part of the experience and a great chance to do some further exploration and networking with our school library colleagues from all over the world. The University library even had preserved Roman ruins in the basement and relaxed outdoor seating that looked onto the wall of the Vatican.

University Library – Roman ruins in basement
University Library courtyard alongside the wall of the Vatican
Rare books – School library, Rome
School library – Rome


Our team’s participation in this conference was inspiring, reaffirming and a fantastic learning opportunity for us all. It was heartening to be approached by a number of conference participants telling us that we are doing great research in Australia and that our course is very well respected. In some countries, staff of school libraries do not require any qualifications at all, and so the work we do in advocating for qualified teacher librarians and other qualified school library staff is noted by others around the world.

We continue to work hard to lead our profession despite the challenges, as we know the value that qualified teacher librarians and their teams of school library staff contribute to the entire school community. The networks and connections we have made will continue to see us advocate for this vital role within every school.

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