I'm writing this blog post from warm Atlanta, Georgia. It's suppose to rain but hey, it's not freezing rain so I really can't complain. I'm in Atlanta for the American Library Association's Midwinter conference. This year, they chose a warm location (unlike Boston last year and Chicago the year before). It's a smaller conference than the well known (and massive) Annual conference that happens in June. However, I had a pretty good case to attend this year's Midwinter so volia...here I am. I've always found professional conferences to be refreshing and re-energizing so I'm happy to have the opportunity to participate this year.
The reason I decided to attend Midwinter was that I was asked by YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) to serve on a committee to create a literacies toolkit. YALSA was trying out something new, aka put-seven-people-with-various-skills-and-areas-of-expertise-on-literacy-and-teens-together-for-one-day-and-see-what-they-can-come-up-with.
It was definitely an adventure, but a good one.
I ended up spending a day with six other smart librarians-educators who have all sorts of ideas on literacies (and how you teach them to teens). We spent a day throwing around ideas, passing along our favorite articles and theories, and revising a Google Doc so many times our notifications said: "A lot of changes have been made to this Doc. Click here to see the changes." We faced our fair share of hiccups (including no electrical power in the outlets to charge our laptops, making quick adjustments to our various work styles to be efficient, and trying to log on to the internet) but at the end of the day, we have "several dozen" pages of information, which we hope to turn into a useful and practical document for other YALSA members.
As a side note to the YALSA toolkit, I was a little worried headed into the day. During a planning phone call, the other librarians working with me had some sort of direct teen experience (through an internship/practicum/full-time job). Sure I worked with teens at my previous library gigs, but I never had the title of "teen librarian." Now, technically, I do work with teens (18-20 year old undergrads) but I feel a separation between YALSA and academia. Imposter syndrome was kicking in. What was I bringing to the table? Would I be taken seriously?
However, once I was there, I was reminded of the strengths I can bring. I know a lot about literacy (especially digital and information) and am pretty passionate about it (I thank Illinois, Martin, and many others for that). My community engagement lens colors how I analyze and think about the world, and how I try to keep the people (in this case, teens) first. What can we do to collaborate with and serve them better? I also am a good connector, constantly seeing where things can come together, become thematic, or the ways in which different concepts feed off each other. I felt supported in the group, even if I had only met these people (in person) for a few hours.
The guide is still in draft form, but I'm really looking forward to sharing it on this blog (and other platforms) for a larger reach.
After working on this toolkit for almost eight hours, the group was losing steam. We wrapped up, knowing some more work would be done, and I then headed to the ALA Opening Session. The speaker was W. Kamau Bell, a comedian and activist.
I only recently started having a lot of Kamau in my life. I had heard him interviewed on Death, Sex, Money and then stumbled upon one of his podcast.s He and his friend (and fellow comedian), Hari Kondabolu created a political podcast called Politically Reactive. Each week the two of them would interview someone in politics, helping the viewer start to see the various layers and perspectives in the 2016 election. I found it incredibly insightful and they were part of this larger conversation I was having with myself, where I am being more intentional with the people I listen to and the voices I amplify.
Kamau was GREAT. He's funny,
Is HUGE on community (YES),
And gets how librarians are fundamental right now.
When the session ended, those who wanted to talk to him and nab his signature got an advanced copy of his new memoir. I ended up meeting a woman who went to high school with Kamau (back when he was called by his first name, Walter). I told Kamau I listened to his podcast and really loved the work he and Hari did. Kamau responded with writing this in my book
Yes, Kamau, I will gladly put up with your "nonsense." Keep it up!
My first day at ALA ended with dinner with the executive director of Pennsylvania Library Association and a few other Pennsylvania librarians. It was a blast to attend, do a little networking, and try out a new Atlanta restaurant.
I'm glad I can attend ALA Midwinter this year and continue to look forward to the other days at the conference!