November 23, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

YALSA’s 2016 Young Adult Services Symposium: A Recap

yalsaSurrounded by beautiful fall foliage, this year’s Young Adult Library Services Association Symposium kicked off this past Friday, November 4, in Pittsburgh. Librarians, educators, and administrators engaged with young adult authors, colleagues, and community partners and also turned to one another for learning and inspiration.

Marketing and More

“Marketing Library Programs for Increased Impact” was a special Friday afternoon program, enthusiastically presented by Sarah Amazing, Carrie DiRisio, and Samantha Helmick. Amazing concentrated on the importance of design and creating an inviting space. DiRisio advised on social media platforms. And Helmick advocated for a detailed event checklist for marketing programs. Practical advice abounded, and all emphasized the need for disaster plans: be prepared for platforms to stop working, never use a social media platform as an archive for important content, and have a strategy in place in case one post sets off a firestorm of reaction.

(View the panel presentations here.)

Diverse voices

“Inside the Diversity Prism: Understanding Hierarchy and Erasure,” the Friday evening panel, was a thoughtful discussion among authors Jonathan Friesen, Leigh Bardugo, Zoraida Cordova, Dhonielle Clayton, and Kristin Elizabeth Clark as well as T.S. Ferguson, editor at Harlequin TEEN, and Julie Matysik, the editorial director of Running Press Kids. Moderator Amalie Howard invited the panel to dive deeply into the question of how to find and encourage diverse voices in teen literature. Clayton spoke about the erasure that came with being an upper-middle-class African American teen who loved riding horses and playing golf but who was unable to see herself in mainstream literature. Bardugo tackled the thorny problem of the lack of representation in fantasy and shared her delight that young readers tell her that they’re happy to see her recent characters include a protagonist who has a disability but hasn’t been magically healed and a young woman who is fat and undeniably sexy. Cordova admitted to feeling the pressure to consider whether a white audience would embrace a title with characters who don’t look like them and who speak a language that is perhaps unfamiliar.

On the publishing side, panelists agreed that there is still much to do. Editors Ferguson and Matysik offered hope, reporting that titles including underrepresented characters and points of view have become a selling point rather than a disadvantage. The need to avoid stereotypes and tokenism—and address each when they are critiqued in current and past titles—is a duty that falls on everyone: authors, publishers, and librarians. Librarians can advocate for diversity by shifting from looking for basic representation to actively considering and reconsidering the quality of that representation on their shelves.

Supporting LGBTQIA+ teens

At the program “The Feedback Loop,” librarians and community partners Morgan Suity, Mk Zev Davis, Rachael Bohn, and Adil Mansoor, along with a Pittsburgh teen, Oliver, presented on best practices for providing outreach and services to YAs who identify as LGBTQIA+. Davis provided straightforward ally guidelines, from asking attendees for preferred pronouns at all programs to shifting library policies to no longer require a gender marker when signing up for a new card. Other recommendations: librarians should practice using gender-neutral language; for example, rather than saying “guys,” use “folks” or “people” when addressing a group. From there, the presentation expanded into outreach examples, including partnering with a local middle school to host an LGBTQ club and bringing library services and support to where LGBTQIA+ teens already are.

Careers after high school

During “The Fast Track,” Amy Wyckoff led attendees through the ways that libraries can support teens who may thrive in a career path that doesn’t require graduation from four-year colleges. Her library began hosting individuals to speak to teens about careers, from DJs to skateboarders to vet techs to photographers. The presenters, vetted first by staff, talked through their paths to their current jobs. Then the library started a trade school fair, free and open to all, with enthusiastic local presenters providing hands-on activities and relevant takeaways for every attendee.

(“The Fast Track” panel links are here.)

Insights from authors

At the “Teens Top Ten Luncheon,” everyone took a break from strategizing to listen to authors A.G. Howard, Mary E. Pearson, and Jordan Sonnenblick share stories of teachers and librarians who sparked their own creativity. Sonnenblick won over the room with his memory of the teacher who let the three most hyperactive boys in her class write Saturday Night Live–style skits for the class. Writing, performing, and making classmates laugh cemented the idea that writing had power, and he wanted to figure out how to wield it.

At the “William C. Morris Author Forum,” moderator E.K. Johnston led a raucous discussion with Laure Eve, Roshani Chokshi, Stephanie Garber, Christine Kendall, and Meredith Russo. Witty asides kept everyone giggling as the panelists related tales of writing their first novels. The topics covered included reinventing the fish-out-of-water trope to how to best to deploy settings as characters.

Creating safe spaces

“From Socializing to Social Justice” started Sunday off with high energy, advising attendees on how to provide a safe forum for teen discussion. Gabbie Barnes and Tricia George at YouMedia at the Hartford Public Library use their production space to offer teens a place to speak and create. The activities range from hosting open mic nights to inviting teens to lead community conversations on topics such as race, sexual assault, and violence. The presentation included practical advice on how to invite teens to speak up while also giving everyone the structure and support to inform and engage without fear.

Wrap-up

The symposium closed with an author panel featuring Jesse Andrews, Siobhan Vivian, and Ellen Wittlinger. Andrews confessed that he began his career with “terribly pretentious” adult literary fiction. Vivian recalled trying to figure out where her gritty, feminist stories could fit within the world of mass media and ended up being mentored in YA by none other than editor and author David Levithan. All considered what they would tell their teenage selves.

Everyone left Pittsburgh abuzz with new ideas and new connections with colleagues.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the great recap! Save the date for November 3-5, 2017 when the next YA Services Symposium will be in Louisville, KY! The travel grants and call for program proposals opens Dec. 1, 2016, and registration opens April 1, 2017. http://www.ala.org/yalsa/yasymposium