The genesis of “YA Smackdown,” (YAS), a grassroots teen services meet-up project, can be traced back to “Guerrilla Storytime,” says Evan Mather, a teen advisor at the Arlington Heights (IL) Memorial Library (AHML). Mather moderated the three YAS sessions at the American Library Association’s (ALA) 2015 Midwinter Meeting in Chicago (January 30–February 3).
The smackdown sessions met in the Networking Uncommons, a dedicated space for informal meet ups, including events led by Storytime Underground’s “Guerilla Storytime” group and a session on the topic of “Special Needs and Inclusive Services for Kids, Teens, Families.”
Mather shares with SLJ that “back in August, there was a Youth Services Unconference in the Chicago area…[where]…there was going to be a Guerrilla Storytime … One of the organizers, Amber Creeger, [who is] my manager, wanted there to be a teen services equivalent to that sort of drop-in session [model] and came to…talk to me and my colleagues.” He adds, “Basically, we took that [‘Guerilla Storytime’ idea]…of passing around a bucket of challenges.”
The premise for the YAS event is that teen librarians drop by during a session and are asked to draw challenges from a bucket meant to spark a loosely structured exchange of ideas, stories, and tips. The bucket draw serves as an icebreaker among colleagues, who are often each other’s best resources. At ALA Midwinter, one of the YAS challenges asked participants to choose sides between two rival fandoms. Mather characterized the “Harry Potter” vs. “Hunger Games” conflict that ensued as sparking “a mild kerfluffle.”
“People have their opinions, and they are often strong,” he explains.
Another challenge prompted ideas about how to respond to teens using incendiary language, ranging from racist and homophobic slurs to profanity. “We talked about different things a teen might say, and why you might be hearing that, so you have to gauge all of those things in your response,” says Mather.
Other challenge questions included: What is your favorite no-cost teen program? What is your most successful school partnership? What would you do if you saw a teen on his/her own crying in the teen area?
“Anyone can make a list of challenges and put it in a bucket, whether it’s [with] a large conference or people just getting together,” according to Mather. “Sometimes it’s just sharing ideas, like ‘what was your best tech program?’”
At all of the smackdown sessions, an agent from the new teen services blog “Teen Services Underground” (TSU)—which had been unveiled during the conference—was present. The TSU blog promoted the ALA YAS events in advance of the midwinter conference and will post notes from the conversations that took place there. While TSU and YAS didn’t start out affiliated with one another, there is a clear overlap between participants of the two groups.
“[There is] clearly a need for this sort of thing in the [teen services librarian] community, because they both started at around the same time,” says Mather.
“It was a lot of fun to get everyone’s perspective,” says Angie Manfredi, youth services supervisor at the Los Alamos (NM) County Public Library, who attended one of the YAS sessions and described it as “amazing.”
Librarians involved in YAS and TSU projects welcomed anyone who wanted to be part of this new movement supporting practitioners who serve teens.
“Take your professional development into your own hands,” declares Manfredi. “It’s free or low-cost, networked across the country, for libraries of all sizes—DIY teen services that make it work no matter where you are or what you have.”
Wendy Stephens is the librarian at Cullman High School in Cullman, Alabama. She has a Ph.D. in Information Science and is the current president of the Alabama Library Association.
April Witteveen is a community and teen services librarian with Deschutes Public Library in Central Oregon. She is the upcoming chair of the Printz 2016 Committee and has served on the YALSA Board.