Wow! It’s been just about a week since my thrilling and somewhat overwhelming weekend attending ALA Annual 2013. So, after spending the last few days sleeping late, reading, and watching British suspense series on Netflix & CrashCourse episodes on YouTube, I feel recovered enough to write up my reflections from the conference. I went the route of a full, reflective recap of my conference experience–feel free to skip around and just read sections about particular sessions.
Although this was my second time attending ALA Annual, I still felt like a complete newbie–especially since this was my first time attending as a full time, working librarian. The fact that I returned from a week-long trip chaperoning 15 fifteen year old girls on an exchange trip to London, England only about 4 days before leaving for ALA also contributed to my slight sense of panic. However, thanks to social media (like Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook), I was able to pull together more tips about ALA and connect with several grad school friends (and my wonderful high school librarian and mentor) before leaving very early on Friday morning.
And while my delayed flight (and the resulting crazy rush to get on a train, to my hotel, and then to the conference center) made the beginning of my conference experience a bit stressful, everything went beautifully afterwards.
Friday: Practical Tips for Real World School Libraries
I began ALA Annual at a AASL preconference “Real World, Real Tools” run by three very awesome school librarians: Laura Pearle, Wendy Stephens and Deb Logan. And while I arrived to this session about an hour late (darn you, United!), I was still able to get a great deal out of it. Broken down into different sections such as ‘Real World Staffing,’ ‘Real World Administration,’and ‘Real World Technology,’ the session focused on practical tips, resources, and solutions to everyday issues related to school librarianship. There were so many great, useful tips shared and discussed but I wanted to share a few of my overall take-aways, which can definitely extend beyond school libraries:
- Document everything! Track what you do, how you do it, and how your students/patrons responded.
- Learn how to communicate with non-librarians, especially administrators. We don’t necessarily speak the same language so librarians need to figure out how to talk to administrators in their language–without using librarian jargon!
- When approaching administrators with issues or problems, remember to keep people (not things) as the focus and bring potential solutions with you.
- Be kind to yourself! Give yourself a break. Take time to relax. Also, remember that conflict is not always about you; other people bring motivations or issues to the table that might be completely unrelated to you.
After my preconference, I headed up to the area outside the exhibit hall to meet up with some grad school friends (who all have jobs in our preferred areas of library work! Woohoo!). I did venture into the exhibit hall during its insane, grand opening rush and spent about 20 minutes wandering around the corner containing most of the children’s and young adult publishers. There I learned that, once again, some people seem to lack manners AND it’s great to actually engage with publishing representatives. The booths where I was able to talk briefly with a representative were some of my most successful in term of ARC acquisition AND learning about upcoming titles new to me.
Saturday: Embracing Leadership Potential, Using ARCs Ethically, Building Info Lit Bridges, Laughing With Graphic Novelists, & Making New Connections
I got up very early on Saturday and headed in on the shuttle to catch Making Your Presence Know–Moving “Outwards” run by Hilda K. Weisburg. This particular session was very thought-provoking and focused on developing leadership skills. Some standout pieces of the session included a large section on good leadership qualities and another on emotional intelligence (EI or EQ). There was a lot of great ideas and research-based tips in this session but one that stood out to me was this statement: Everyone is a leader but not everyone chooses to be a leader. It’s a powerful reminder that we all have the potential to be leaders in our libraries–and communities–but that potential will be worthless if we don’t think of ourselves as leaders, no matter our title or experience level.
After a quick dash through the exhibit hall to pick up an ARC or two (and get a fresh copy of Emily M. Danforth’s brilliant debut The Miseducation of Cameron Post signed), I headed over the the awesome All About ARCs: The Ins and Outs of Requesting, Using, and Abusing Advanced Readers Copies, run by great librarians Elizabeth Burns, Kelly Jensen, and Kristi Chadwick along with publishing house reps Jen Childs (Random House) and Victoria Stapleton (Little, Brown). As a new librarian, my first experience with ARCs was the exhibit hall at my first ALA conference in New Orleans two years ago and while it was exciting, it was not very informative professionally. I’ve learned more about ARCs since and become a fairly regular user of NetGalley but this session was incredibly helpful in clarifying the real purpose of ARCs–their production and use from a publisher’s perspective and their proper use as a professional tool for librarians and educators. The session included a presentation of the results from a large online survey the librarians ran earlier this year; to see graphs and read summaries of these results, check out this great post by Kelly Jensen at Stacked. The biggest takeaway was simply that ARCs are 1.) NOT books (i.e. they are not the finished, published books) and 2.) meant to be used as professional tools (for collection development, review writing, recommendations, etc.). I was also excited to learn further about title discovery resources such as NetGalley, Edelweiss, Penguin First To Read, and Library Reads; it was especially helpful to learn the kind of information publishers are looking for in your profiles or requests on these tools. As someone who sometimes gets behind on writing up reviews but uses ARCs to inform collection development and title recommending, it was so encouraging to hear that simply writing out a comment describing my professional use of the print or digital galley was as useful and legitimate in the publishers’ eyes as a review. This session was a great example of publishers and librarians working together to maintain ethical and productive practices surrounding a shared goal: getting great books into the hands of readers.
Afterwards I wandered back to the exhibit hall where I met up with my high school librarian and mentor Courtney Lewis (AKA The Sassy Librarian). Together we attended a great ACRL session, Crossing The K-20 Continuum: Are Librarians Bridging Information Literacy and 21st Century Skills?. As a librarian working with high school students, this session was incredibly interesting and provided some great, concrete ideas & resources. The panelists Ken Burhanna (Kent State) and Tasha Bergson-Michelson (Search Educator at Google) made fascinating presentations focused on the realities of modern information literacy education–and on the gaps between the skills students acquire in high school and the tasks asked of them at the college level. Ken Burhanna’s entertainingly titled presentation “Battling the Unready: Zombies, Einstein, & Librarians” can be found here on Slideshare; he made excellent points about the need for strong collaboration and communication between youth services & high school librarians and academic librarians and provided examples of information literacy transition programs currently in use around the country. Tasha Bergson-Michelson shared great information about Google Search Education (which I was woefully ignorant of!) and one statement stood out to me especially: “we talk to students about advanced search but we forget that they don’t really know the basics.” It reminded me that in my quest to redesign our 7th grade library/research skills intro unit (hopefully into a game-based/gamified unit), the biggest skills to emphasize are the development of solid search terms, the analysis of a URL, and other basic transferable skills.
I closed up my day at McCormick Place by attending the packed Krosoczka, Telgemeier, and TenNapel: Graphic Novels Your Kids Love By Names You Can’t Pronounce. Moderated by the hilarious Jon Scieszcha, graphic novelists Jarret Krosoczka, Raina Telgemeier, and Doug TenNapel bantered, teased, and earnestly discussed their individual work processes, their feelings about the frequent challenges to graphic novels as a legitimate form of reading material, and their favorite graphic novels at the moment. It was an entertaining and encouraging panel by author-artists who truly love their craft–and their young audience. Since I’m working to bulk up our graphic novel collection, I gained some new title suggestions AND great ideas to draw on when asked to explain why graphic novels are important for our students’ reading lives.
I spent the evening socializing with some great librarians, first at the Independent School Section of AASL Social and later at The 8th ALA Annual Newbie/Veteran Librarian Tweet-Up and (briefly) the Librarian Wardrobe After Party. And it was especially entertaining to see that the latter party became so crowded that there was a line down the block for entry; I wonder if the bar owners were surprised that the librarians overflowed their space!
Sunday: YA Lit Love All Day Long
Even my sleepiness couldn’t stop me from getting down to the conference bright and early on Sunday morning to attend the YALSA Young Adult Authors Coffee Klatch. I thoroughly enjoy this event; it’s such a treat to meet a bunch of great YA lit authors and I really like that it’s usually a mix of well-known or recently award winning authors AND brand-new writers with their first or second books coming out in the fall. I got to hear from some great authors (including several graphic novelists this year) and jotted down several new names and titles to put on my radar. I followed this delightful kick-off to the day with a dash over to the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association President’s program, presented jointly with the GLBT round table. The program was a very thought-provoking panel of writers (including Malinda Lo!) who all spoke about the challenges involved in creating a strong range of representation of APA LGBTQ in contemporary literature. It was an interesting panel presented by passionate and thoughtful authors and I’m so glad to have found it on the Annual Scheduler–and in the labyrinthine conference center I slipped out a few minutes early to get back to the exhibit hall and get in line to meet Malinda Lo during her signing.
I spent the rest of Sunday afternoon in the exhibit hall. It was only time I waited in any substantial lines for ARCs or some specific author signings. I felt really good about this choice–and about my use of the exhibit hall’s offerings over the weekend as a whole. Since I attended the conference with two years at my current job under my belt, I had a much clearer picture of my students’ reading interests and needs; I was selective in picking up ARCs that had real potential with my population and I was able to engage with publishers’ representatives in a real and substantial way. I was very excited to get to meet a few of my favorite authors and gained some signed books and ARCS to use as give away prizes during Teen Read Week and other events this fall. I’m also excited to share all my ARCs with my Student Library Advisory Board in September as we (finally) get their book review blog kicked off.
Monday: Tumblarians & YALSA Rockstars
For my final day at the conference, I planned a morning and early afternoon packed with exciting sessions–and happily they all turned out to be worth the price of getting up early enough to mail out a massive box of ARCs & books before heading down to the conference center. I was lucky to grab a seat at the crowded Tumblarian 101: Tumblr for Libraries and Librarians session, run by Rachel Fershleiser (of Tumblr itself), Molly McArdle, Erin Shea, & Kate Tkacik. This was a fun and practical session that offered great tips. For example, the panel shared which tags are best to use on Tumblr when talking about library work and life (#tumblarians, #librarians,#libraries,#lit,#education,#tech) and how to utilize Tumblr’s features to create an effective and exciting personal and/or library web presence. For a great summary of these tips, check out the Tumblarian 101: A Starter Kit pulled together by Molly McArdle; this post also includes a link to the recent LJ article about Tumblr & to the powerpoint used in the session. This session was a great, energizing way to start the day!
I stayed in the same room to attend an equally exciting session right afterwards: New Adult Fiction: What Is It And Is It Really Happening?, run by Elizabeth Burns, Kelly Jensen, and Sophie Brookover. Now both Liz Burns and my friend & mentor Courtney Lewis have written up great recaps of this fabulous session so I won’t try; you should just go read both of those posts! However, I will note that this session was particularly interesting–and it definitely fit into the “Conversation Starter” category wonderfully. The panelists offered smart, witty, and open-minded opinions (and questions) about this nebulous new fiction category that currently consists of contemporary romance featuring characters in the 18-24 age group. The session led to great discussions of contemporary romance (and how it is frequently looked down upon by the general public), the recent uptick in self-publishing, and the wider concept of ‘coming of age’ stories. To check out their wonderful resource collection for this session, simply go to this post on their shared blog. My thoughts on New Adult as a truly effective category of fiction are still a bit unformed but I agree that the recent trends and conversation surrounding this topic indicate that there is an audience seeking fiction that speaks to their age, experiences, and desires. So let’s keep the conversation going! It’s definitely got me thinking about crossover titles and coming of age titles–as well as the larger topic of self-published ebooks.
I finished the morning by attending Maintaining Teen E-Collections, arranged by Linda Braun and set up as a series of roundtable discussions with several experts on different topics related to teen e-collections. Attendees were able to spend about 8 minutes (or longer if they choose) at each table, moving between conversations as they wish. It was wonderful to participate in such a variety of conversations about this valuable and varied topic and I gained some great ideas and resources to use as our library continues to look into expanding our e-collections.
After a lunch break, I finished my time at ALA Annual by attending the YALSA President’s Program & Membership Meeting. I put this event on my schedule originally because Courtney Lewis was one of this year’s winners for Excellence in Library Service for Young Adults and I wanted to see her poster session 🙂 However, the program turned out to be even more meaningful to me personally. Although I’ve been a member of YALSA (as well as ALA & AASL) since I began my graduate program a few years, I’ve never attended a membership meeting. While I’ve used and promoted YALSA’s wonderful resources on a weekly basis, I’ve been shy about becoming more actively involved. I’ve assumed that my youth and inexperience barred me from taking a more active role in the association but attending the membership meeting reminded me that there is only one thing preventing me from giving back to a community that has already given me so much: my own fears of rejection or inadequacy. So this session proved the ideal way to conclude the conference: it pulled together all the picture book takeaways from the weekend and clarified them for me.
Closing Thoughts: Librarians Thrive When We Work Together!
Even when we are the only librarians at our schools or we feel like the embattled minority in our library, our professional life cannot be a solitary one. No matter our differences of workplace, position, or focus, we hold certain goals and values in common and we will have to collaborate in order for those goals to be accomplished. I think this is especially true among librarians working in the varied areas of youth services. Whether we work at an independent, urban school or a rural public library, we are all serving children and teens; we are all passionate youth advocates.
Personally, I’m hoping to use the next year to find multiple ways to become more involved in YALSA and to find or create a group of librarians serving teens in the DC Metro area. I would really like to connect with other librarians (from public libraries, public schools, charter schools, independent schools, etc.) serving youth in our area. If you have any suggestions or you are such a librarian, comment here or connect with me on Twitter or Tumblr!
I look forward to continue reading the many great recaps of ALA 2013–and to keep the conversations going in the community, including all our members (especially those who weren’t able to join us at ALA this year!).