Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recapping the 2014 ALSC National Institute #alsc14

As previously mentioned, I spent the latter half of last week in Oakland for the 2014 ALSC National Institute. It was a grand old time, folks--easily one of the top conferences I've attended, if not the top. There was learning, there was presenting, there was networking, there was cavorting in Fairyland... What youth librarian could ask for more? I want to do a bit of recapping of the conference, first of my biggest takeaways as a participant, with my presentation details following.

Conference Takeaways

The conference was positively brimming with gems of information and ideas, but for the sake of everyone's sanity, I'm going to condense it all down into three main takeaways that have been resonating in my brain since the weekend:
  1. Discerning tweens deserve responsive programming. Ernie Cox, Iowa school librarian extraordinaire, talked in this session about how he chats with his 5th- and 6th-grade students each year when they return to school to see what they've been up to and what they're interested in. He then uses those conversations to inform his programs. Example: tweens were talking lots about using Instagram, so he crafted some programs on creating photo collages in apps. Tweens participated in and enjoyed the program because it was directly responsive to their interests. So simple, yet profound: don't assume you know what programs tweens want; talk to them about their lives and go from there.
  2. We need to remind ourselves that inspired collaboration is a two-way street. Many libraries are great at forming impactful partnerships, but are we always looking to be equal partners? Or have we gotten to a default position of "we know what's best, so this is what we'd like you to do in this partnership, thank you very much"? The myriad examples of collaborations that this panel shared reinforced this point that, in good collaborations, we're not the only experts at the table. And there will be many times when we defer to the expertise of our partners instead of insisting things be done how we envisioned them.
  3. "So often, the books we call 'diverse,' kids just call 'books.'" -Tim Federle As I take on a much more substantial materials selector role at my new job, I'm thinking a lot about the need for diverse books in collections for youth. Tim Federle's statement, however, put something in direct perspective for me: It's my job to think about diverse books. It is not kids' job to think about that. Rather, it's my job to find these materials and then get them in the hands of readers just like I would with any other great titles. The critical concern and consciousness needs to happen on my end; we as professionals need to reflect on and modify our tried and true practices as necessary; but, ideally, to readers, nothing about their fundamental library experience is changing.
As I said, these are just three of a plethora of great takeaways from even more excellent sessions. If you want to see all of the handouts, slides, etc., from the educational sessions at the Institute, head to the handouts page.

Me, Marge, Mel, and Amy, post-presentation. Whew!

Thinking Outside the Storytime Box

The first of two educational sessions I led at the Institute was a collaborative effort with dynamic librarians Amy Commers, Melissa Depper, and Marge Loch-Wouters, and it was about two years in the making. Let me explain. Just about two years ago, the four of us started engaging in a spur-of-the-moment Twitter discussion about programming for preschoolers beyond traditional storytimes. We enjoyed the conversation so much that we moved our thinking to a Google doc so we could keep things going. From there, it seemed like a no-brainer to submit our thinking as a program proposal; we could figure out details later.

Fast forward to the Institute, where were started our presentation with some reasons why a library might want to think beyond storytimes when it comes to the breadth of programming for preschoolers. From there, the presentation covered 9 different specific examples of alternative preschool programs. After Amy, Marge, or I outlined what each program looks like and entails, Mel swooped in as only Mel can do and was the perfect combo of energetic and persuasive while sharing the rationale behind offering each of these types of programs. One of my favorite examples is how, after I talked about preschool obstacle courses, Mel shared some research that emphasizes how an obstacle course program is what age-appropriate writing skills look like.

The audience chimed in with lots of outstanding program ideas, too; you can find many by searching Twitter for our presentation hashtag, #unboxST.

If you'd like to see the handout with links to write-ups for the 9 programs we discussed, as well as to Mel's research and our Pinterest board, click here. Our slides are below.

STEAM Power Your Library!

The second of my two presentations was all about STEAM--programs & services for both preschoolers and school-age children. I gave some context for thinking about STEAM, what it means, and why it fits into library youth services. From there, it was rapid-fire idea sharing. I outlined examples of preschool and school-age programs and activities on each of the five STEAM content areas (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), then moved into some discussion of other STEAM services like displays and readers' advisory. The whole session wrapped up with an exploration of some go-to resources for program planning and use as well as funding. It was an hour-long introduction to STEAM. (Apologies to all the attendees who had to deal with all the science puns that just flew out of my mouth in the sessions.)

And don't forget Guerrilla Storytime!

Kendra Jones, fellow Storytime Underground Joint Chief and my once and future conference roommate, and I hosted a Guerrilla Storytime on the first morning of the conference. Make sure you click over to the recap, where we captured all of the great ideas that participants shared--in text AND video. It's a multimedia world, y'all.


Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to ALSC and the local arrangements committee for putting together such an outstanding professional development opportunity. It was absolutely top-notch, and I'll be reflecting on the conversations I had there for a long time to come.

Now tell me, how was YOUR conference? I'd love to hear in the comments or on Twitter.

Whimsical adventures (and a
toothless lion) at Fairyland.

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