March 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

YALSA Badges Aim to Quantify Youth Librarians’ Competencies

The next evolution in youth librarians’ professional development is upon us. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) has been working tirelessly to finalize the soft launch, now set for later this month, of its long-awaited badging program, which aims to provide a uniquely interactive opportunity for skill-building in its seven Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth.

In just a few weeks, “a small cadre” of beta testers will finally get started exploring the rich components of the program, Linda Braun, the project’s manager, tells School Library Journal.

“We’re getting closer and closer,” Braun says. “And the dream is that by ALA Midwinter [January 2014], it will be full-fledged, and we can say ‘Here, come participate!’”

For the beta stage, YALSA is using “a bit of an agile approach,” with a mix of school and public library staffers, administrators, consultants, and library school students lined up to try out the site and directly email their feedback to her project team, Braun explains. The testers hail from all over the United States and Canada, with a wide range of age groups represented, she adds.

Once the site is fully launched, librarians as well as other library staff working with teens will be able to earn the competency badges through watching, reading, and interacting with their colleagues online, Braun says. She notes, “It doesn’t have to be specifically teen staff. It could be a director; it could be a circulation person who wanted to gain more skills in teen areas.”

To earn a badge in a particular competency area, a participant—regardless of career level or library specialty—must prove his or her knowledge by creating and then posting an original “artifact” to the site, which could be anything from a Twitter professional learning network to a plan for a new program to a video, Braun says. YALSA expects that, to create most of these artifacts, a potential badge-earner will have to work directly with teens and one’s own local community.

The site will offer YALSA members an unprecedented window into what their colleagues are doing, as they will be able to review the posted artifacts, provide feedback, and assess whether a potential badge-earner has appropriately demonstrated skill in a particular competency area. Potential badge-earners will be able to edit and update their artifacts based on the feedback they receive.

“We knew we wanted to use the YALSA competencies; that was the foundation for the badging project,” Braun says, adding,“We wanted to make sure that we could have online continuing education, self-paced, that would give library staff working with teens the opportunity to participate in this format. And we loved the idea of visual credentialing.”

YALSA is counting on these visual elements—both the badges themselves and what her team hopes will be an expansive collection of artifacts from participants—to have a big impact in the wider world, not just among those in the profession, Braun says. Aiding in these efforts to achieve relevancy and recognition for the program will be the Mozilla’s Open Badges Backpack, Braun adds, because it will allow participants to post the badges they earn on their own websites and blogs, and reference them on their social media networks outside of the YALSA community.

“It’s that kind of visual that [we] hope that employers and academic institutions will start to recognize as much as they recognize grades or other kinds of systems,” Braun says. “These badges can be used by employers, potential employers, and academic institutions. That’s actually a big movement, really helping to get this idea out there that you can learn these skills online, you can gain skills and competencies, and we’re going to give you this very visual opportunity to show what you know.”

YALSA’s program got its start in April 2012 through the fourth annual Badges for Lifelong Learning competition, which is sponsored by Mozilla (developer of the Firefox Web browser) with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC (the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory). YALSA’s proposal, “Preparing Librarians to Meet the Needs of 21st Century Teens,” was one of 31 badging projects selected in the competition, Braun says.

“We were invited to submit a proposal, then that was accepted to go to the second stage where tech companies proposed to work with YALSA to build the technology,” Braun explains. “We did not have a specific tech partner so one was chosen for us, and that has since changed. Now it’s Palantir, a web development company in the Chicago area.”

Explains Braun, “One of the things we learned—and it was a great learning experience—was what we really needed on the back end:  a learning management system. And we had to have an evaluation system. So we’ve developed rubrics and all these activities; people will post their artifacts, members of the community will give them thumbs up or thumbs down and comments. Based on the rubric, once they get to a certain number, they will be awarded the badge.”

Another key finding from those early planning stages? It was important to make the program “real-life active,” Braun says. “They have to go out in the community and do things as well, and talk about it.”

In fact, early queries to the library community had most respondents urging YALSA to create a rigorous program, perhaps even more rigorous than her team might have anticipated, Braun says. “Everyone said, ‘Yes! You have to make sure we’re challenged. You have to make sure you’re asking us to do something meaningful, difficult, time consuming, and thoughtful because this is going to be a credential, and we want to make sure it means something.’ So that was a big takeaway for us.”

Adds Braun, “It’s been a long road, but it’s going to be a great project.”

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson ( is a former News Editor ofSLJ.