In the same way that no one steps into the same river twice, no two conference-goers have exactly the same American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference experience. However, there were some prevailing themes surrounding children’s and teen services programs and exhibits at this year’s conference in Las Vegas, from June 26 through July 1. They included the enthusiasm and influence of the Guerrilla Storytime blog and movement, the increased collaboration and cooperation between schools and public libraries, and an enduring affection for some favorite authors.
SERVING THE YOungest patrons
The passionate early childhood specialists behind Guerrilla Storytime (tagline: “Literacy is not a luxury”), part of the Storytime Underground blog, took over ALA’s Networking Uncommons for several energetic, inspiring sessions. The creative, exuberant participants shared, commiserated, and celebrated together, using props and demonstrating finger play, song, and dance. The techniques they suggested for wrangling young patrons and their caregivers, both one-on-one and en masse, were applicable in any setting. The “chiefs” of the grassroots Storytime Underground group—youth services professionals Cory Eckert, Kendra Jones, Amy Koester, and Brooke Rasche—distributed secret passwords to award “Storytime Guerrilla” ribbons (left) for attendees to add to their conference nametags. In engaging sessions, they brainstormed creative solutions for challenges, including dealing with disruptive children and answering sticky questions about where the last librarian went.
To serve today’s increasingly diverse communities, the group emphasized practical strategies for making stories and activities as applicable to as many families as possible. Their approach prioritizes focusing on participating children, reflecting who is important in their life, and validating their experiences, while also affirming a range of experience as normative. Active Guerilla Storytime participants shared successful inclusion strategies like leaving stories open-ended, identifying caregivers beyond parents, and switching pronouns, especially when dealing with inanimate objects.
The storytime crowd has excellent resource suggestions for popular-with-their-patrons titles, including the book Same, Same But Different (Holt, 2011) by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, emphasizing the commonalities in the lives of an American child and an Indian one, and author Rachel Isadora’s multicultural fairy tale imagery.
Angie Manfredi, head of youth services at the Los Alamos (NM) Public Library, recommended resources from Magination Press, an imprint of the American Psychological Society that deals responsibly and developmentally appropriately with what Manfredi called “sad things kids have to deal with.” One particular Magination resource recommended was the book This Day in June by Gayle E. Pitman and Kristyna Litten, in which a family attends a gay pride parade.
Another Guerilla Storytime topic was effective outreach to parents whose first language was not than English, with a caveat that many immigrant or international families have one more fluent speaker who might be the negotiator for the entire family. The talk turned serious when the discussion came around to understanding both state and local legal requirements and library policies when it comes to mandatory reporting for suspected abuse.
A few celebrity authors were targeting a younger audience at this year’s conference. Auditorium speaker and actor Jane Fonda’s nonfiction work, Being a Teen (Random House, 2014), is subtitled “everything teen girls and boys should know about relationships, sex, love, health, identity & more.” Actor B. J. Novak described his own realization that “any kid who hands you a book is essentially a two-year-old Harvey Weinstein.” With that in mind, he strove “to design a book that introduced kids to the power of the written word,” based upon “the mischief in the ridiculous words it forces kids to say.”
Novak’s resulting product, The Book Without Pictures (Dial, 2014), a text-only book in picture-book format that forces the adult reader to say increasingly ridiculous things, has much in common with Novak’s standup and television humor, touching on the ”interplay between rules and the humor that ensued when those rules were broken.” Novak shared a clip of an enchanted school group responding to The Book Without Pictures, but stressed stand-up experience was not necessary to carry off a giggle-inducing reading. “I wanted a book that worked as a reading experience for every kind of parent,” he said, “not just those who happened to be a professional comedians.”
Add in a life-size Bad Kitty (from the eponymous Roaring Brook series by Nick Bruel) roaming the halls and authors fielding teen-submitted questions at the Printz Awards Ceremony, and you had a surprisingly kid-friendly scene in Sin City. Notably, the popularity of YA literature has reached such a fever-pitch that for the first time, I saw a vendor go to the trouble to create a hand-written sign describing a book as “adult level.”
Nostalgia for older titles
Despite with the usual emphasis on upcoming releases in the exhibit hall, some of the best-attended author events had more to do with decades-old titles than anything forthcoming. Millennial and Gen-X librarians swamped appearances by author Ann M. Martin, who signed many dog-eared paperbacks from the 1990s “Babysitters’ Club” series, alongside her new “Family Tree” series (both Scholastic). The entire conference was punctuated with sightings of Judy Blume, who was spotted standing in the Newbery/Caldecott receiving line in the middle of the hoi polloi poised to congratulate the winner. Then, Lois Lowry took to the main stage with actor Jeff Bridges to promote the upcoming film adaptation of her classic novel The Giver (HMH, 1993).
Even the return of second-time Newbery Medal winner Kate DiCamillo was tinged with memories of her 2004 win for The Tale of Despereaux (Candlewick, 2003). In Novak’s Closing General Session speech on Tuesday, he cited the comfort, as a child, of knowing that a “canon” of children’s books literature existed and that parents and babysitters knew the same touchstone stories and illustrations, “creating a shared popular culture, if you will.” Many young librarians grew up with DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie (Candlewick, 2010) and the earlier works of Caldecott Honor winner David Wiesner, a 2014 Caldecott Honor winner for Mr. Wuffles! (HMH, 2014), whose own cat delivered his videotaped message à la Henri le Chat Noir. Is it a case of romanticizing the past, or of everything old being new again?
Increasing school-public library collaboration
Describing herself as a school librarian in the present tense, outgoing ALA President Barbara Stripling spoke movingly in the Closing Session about the importance of school libraries, emphasizing the same interconnected library ecosystem that has been a hallmark of her Presidential Initiative, Libraries Change Lives. She described a few of the many local signings of the Declaration for the Right to Libraries, including one celebration in Delight, Arkansas, which saw more than a quarter of the town’s residents signing the Declaration on Valentine’s Day.
An inclusive, cross-divisional tone punctuated many sessions. Alpha Delap, a librarian working at St. Thomas School in Medina, Washington, and a Bechtel Fellowship committee member, noted that the theme dominating her conference experience was an increased interest in public library and school library collaboration. During the YALSA 101 session, Delap said that she heard from school librarians who were eager to work with public library colleagues, despite some hesitance on the part of public librarians that they might “step on toes” of their school counterparts.
Another well-attended Networking Uncommons session on Friday focused on the changing nature of successful school and pubic library collaborations, including effective virtual communities for cross-agency sharing. The sentiment was that online spaces are demystifying the work of youth services specialists in different settings and making sharing easier.
Delap described using new media “to meet kids where they are” and her own successes beyond the physical library using the #instabookreview tag on Instagram. Jack Baur of the Berkeley (CA) Public Library presented a Saturday session emphasizing models of mutual support, emphasizing services to teen patrons. Anecdotally, many other presenters worked to make their talks as applicable in both settings as well.
Wendy Stephens is a librarian at Cullman High School in Cullman, Alabama.