Jeff Kinney: Librarians Are the Beating Hearts of the Communities They Serve | SLJ Summit 2023

Jeff Kinney's keynote was just one memorable moment in a weekend full of panels, presentations, and breakout discussions about the important issues facing school librarians.

James Allen sketch notes for Summit
James Allen, Kentucky statewide school library lead, shared his sketch note from the weekend.


It was a weekend of learning, sharing, laughing— and even shedding some tears—as librarians and library leaders gathered at the SLJ Summit 2023: A Vision for the Future at the Loudermilk Conference Center in Atlanta from Dec. 1 to 3.

"It was pretty awesome," said James Allen, Kentucky statewide school library lead, who attended his first SLJ Summit. "I really enjoyed the format and the size. Even though I did not know everyone, it felt like such a safe space, full of support, ideas, and encouragement."

The Summit was sponsored by Mackin (platinum sponsor), Capstone (gold sponsor), ABDO, Beanstack, The Child's World, JLG, Lerner, Library Ideas, Playaway, Rosen, and TLC (silver sponsors), and Scholastic (author sponsor). 

The highlight of Sunday’s program was a keynote from “Wimpy Kid” author Jeff Kinney, who spoke about librarians's impact.

Photo by Becky Calzada

“You've made it your life's work to make sure we see the humanity in one another,” Kinney said. “Books might be empathy machines, but librarians are the beating hearts of the communities they serve.”

Kinney has spent his most recent book tour celebrating librarians across the country and around the world. He flew to Atlanta during a brief break.

“I just got back from Europe, and India is on deck,” he said. “But when I was offered a chance to speak at this weekend's Summit, I jumped at the chance.”

He told the librarians in the audience, “Putting a book in a kid’s hands is a sacred act, and that means that the very nature of your work is sacred. You’re the keepers of the flame, the torchbearers of literacy, of decency, of civility. Thank you for creating spaces for readers of every type to feel welcome. Thank you for dedicating your lives to spreading the joy of reading and amplifying the words of authors, especially those who need that amplification the most. And thank you for being the role models and, yes, the heroes our communities so desperately need.”


[READ: Jeff Kinney Discusses the Books That Shaped His Childhood and Opened His Mind | SLJ Summit 2023]


Panels, presentations, conversations

Attendees spent the weekend listening to panels and presentations, engaging in breakout session discussions, and sharing valuable resources and ideas on important topics of the day including fighting for intellectual freedom, making a case for what they do, how to use AI, collaborating with teachers, and more.

"The SLJ Leadership Summit is a special time to fill my bucket in a variety of ways," said Florida school librarian Andrea Parisi. "I get to visit with colleagues from across the nation, both old friends and new, take part in discussions on best practices, successes and failures, learn from panels on hot topics, and of course interact with the authors and vendors who support us. There were so many amazing experiences, but this year’s favorites were the Sunday Breakout Conversations Celebrating Joy of the Profession with K.C. Boyd and Donna Gray and Idea Share with Cicely Lewis and Melissa Corey. These both provided me with the opportunity to validate that I am enough, I am not alone, I am on the right track, that we are a passionate creative group, that we do make a difference, and that we are a force to be reckoned with."

An author and illustrator panel of R. Gregory Christie (Coretta's Journey: The Life and Times of Coretta Scott King), Candace Fleming (The Enigma Girls: How Ten Teenagers Broke Ciphers, Kept Secrets, and Helped Win World War), Joanna Ho (On the Tip of a Wave: How Ai Weiwei's Art Is Changing the Tide), Steve Sheinkin (Impossible Escape: A True Story of Survival and Heroism in Nazi Europe), and Lee Wind (No Way, They Were Gay?: Hidden Lives and Secret Loves) discussed research and writing nonfiction for kids. And lightning rounds offered an opportunity for school librarians to share ideas and programs with their colleagues.


[READ: Empowered in the Fight for Intellectual Freedom | SLJ Summit 2023]


“While ALA and AASL hold a special place for librarians, the [SLJ] Leadership Summit is a pared-down and close-knit weekend of learning and leadership,” said Donna Gray, library operations and instructional coordinator of the New York City School Library System, who was a presenter and attendee and also at her first SLJ Summit. “We held space for people to be brave and, at times, when sharing the wins and setbacks, allowing for the emotional impact and vulnerability that is possible in a smaller group to shine through.”

Some attendees took to social media throughout the weekend to share their experiences. (Search the hashtag #sljsummit for reflections and photos from the weekend.)

“Thank you @sljournal for another inspiring #sljsummit,” past AASL president Kathy Lester tweeted. “Great speakers, sessions, and community. As @kishizuka mentioned the #comraderie was an important and uplifting part of the summit.”


[READ: Making the Case For What You Do: How to Talk to Stakeholders | SLJ Summit 2023]


Parisi tweeted: “What a fantastic weekend attending the @sljournal #sljsummit in Atlanta! So much sharing, discussion, learning, & fun. Ready to take on whatever comes my way. School librarians are definitely a passionate group of educators! Can't wait till '24.”

SLJ is planning the 2024 event, which will be the 20th SLJ Summit. Gray has advice for anyone who will be a first-time attendee next year: “Prepare to take notes, meet exceptional leaders, and feel a celebratory and collegial wave for the entire conference.”

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (, @karayorio) is senior news editor at School Library Journal.

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