Why I Went on Cultural Tours at #AASL17

Why I Went on Cultural Tours during AASL17 | Cultural tours can be valuable learning and networking experiences during conferences.When it comes to conferences, justifying going to sessions, keynotes and workshops doesn’t seem too hard.  The learning benefits from such experiences are obvious.  But what about cultural tours, school tours and similar networking events?  These may look like simple touristy or sightseeing experiences, but there’s a lot of benefit to them.

This year, I went on two cultural tours during AASL.  They were some of my favorite experiences of the entire conference.  Here’s why.

Taliesin tour

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West

Why I Went on Cultural Tours During AASL 17

At AASL in Phoenix, I went on two cultural tours during the preconference.  For the first tour, Art and Architecture, we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West.  We learned about the architecture and history of this amazing site, which is still a functioning architecture school.  Afterwards, we visited the home of retired librarian Mary Wong.  She’s been collecting illustrations from children’s book illustrators for years and her home has become a sort of gallery.  We also got the chance to meet and greet with several authors and illustrators, including Jack Gantos!  This was a really intimate event where guests got to learn more about each illustrators craft and process.

At the Desert Botanical Garden tour, attendees got a private guided tour of the gardens. A delightful retired high school English teacher led the tour and taught us all about the flora and fauna of the garden.  We got a special private visit to the garden’s library, and then we had time to explore on our own.

Illustrator event

Viewing children’s book illustrations at Mary Wong’s home

The Importance of Cultural Learning Experiences

While the content of these cultural tours wasn’t directly related to school libraries, the learning experiences helped all of us who attended to become more well rounded as individuals.  Sure, I may not teach art and architecture as a librarian, but knowing more about these fields can help me in the future as I work with students and teachers.  Being well-rounded and familiar with all fields is essential for school librarians who have to help with research across all disciplines.  It’s also important to be balanced as an individual, and experiences like this can help us to grow.

Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden

The Value of Slow Conferencing

Conferences are busy and fast-paced, and full of constant stimulation and information.  It can be so hard to find a chance to sit down with other librarians you meet and have a real conversation.  I’ve been learning recently that it’s important for me to find a chance to slow down and really process and connect with others.

At cultural tours like these at AASL, you stay with the same group of educators for three to eight hours, depending on the tour.  You sit on the bus together.  You eat lunch together.  And it makes for a fantastic chance to get away from all the busy-ness and actually get to know people.  I met so many wonderful fellow librarians with similar interests on these tours.  I got to learn about their schools, their districts, the experiences they’ve had, etc.  We got to share with one another, offer advice and help each other out.  Something like this would be fantastic for a conference first-timer who doesn’t know very many other people attending.  I reconnected with several of the people I met at the tours throughout the conference.

So if you’re going to a big conference and you have a chance to go on a tour like this, I highly recommend it.  It can be a wonderful chance to get to learn something new, grow as a person and network and connect with others.


Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory School, an independent 6-12 in Tampa, FL. Previously, she was the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog RenovatedLearning.com & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Secondary Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace with Colleen and Aaron Graves and is also the author Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.

Leave a comment :)