The Liberation of Not Knowing All the Answers

This post was written by Jill O’Connor who was a school librarian for 12 years before making the switch to a public library and, as the Youth Services Librarian at the Merrill Memorial Library in Yarmouth, Maine, she is  loving the freedom to craft programs for a willing audience. She is an avid reader of YA and middle grade books and a book reviewer with the Maine State Library Book Review group. When not thinking up glorious new STEM programming, she can be found driving to her son’s hockey games or her daughter’s dance classes, routing for the local baseball team, or cooking up new foods to tantalize her family.

As a former school librarian, I am new to the public library world. In the public library setting, programming looks very different than it did in school where you are a teacher, on par with all other educators in the school with learning objectives and curricula in hand. A school offers an audience of a knowable set of bodies in your class every day. You plan classes (programs) that hit your objectives and you present information. You don’t have to know everything, and it’s okay to say, “I don’t know, let’s look it up,” but for the most part, I always felt that I had to be the one in the know and in the position of teaching my audience something.

Fast forward to this past fall, I am the shiny new Youth Services Librarian at a public library, excited to try new things in a completely different setting, no longer hostage to the multiple classes-per-day grind. My domain is 3rd through 12th grade, and I am in charge of collection development, reader’s advisory, and all programming for the patrons within my assigned demographic. I know that I have to offer some STEM programming; it’s being asked for by parents and it’s a sensible and sought-after topic for all kids to be participating in, but what to do?!

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Book Tastings

In November, I was able to attend YALSA’s Young Adult Services Symposium with one of my coworkers. It was a wonderful experience, and we came home full of ideas for the 6-12 independent school library where we work. One idea we immediately wanted to try at our library was book tastings, which we heard about in a session led by Alicia Blower, librarian at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School.

I like to think of book tastings as the library equivalent of free samples at the grocery store—you get teens to try a bite of various books, hoping they will find one they want to take home. The basic setup involves putting books out at tables, and having teens rotate through the tables in groups. At each table, they “taste” a book that looks interesting to them by reading the blurbs on the cover and the first few pages.


Tasting a book. [Photo Credit: Erin Lewis]

We had the perfect opportunity to run a book tasting just one week after we got back from the Symposium. All of our seventh grade English classes were coming in to check out books, so instead of the usual book talks we give to feature certain genres, we decided to set up book tastings based on the genre of realistic fiction.

First, we decided on our physical layout. Five tables was a good number for us, given the class sizes (18) and how much time we had to run the activity (40 minutes). On each table were books related to a specific theme within realistic fiction, based on what’s popular with our students. Once we decided on the layout, the next step was to pick the books for our tastings. I wanted to have six books at each table, one for each student in a group of four, and a couple of extras to give them alternatives. We also needed to replace the books that got checked out during each class, so I accounted for that when pulling books..

While making book selections, I also had the goal of providing a strong representation of diverse books. To do this, I got a piece of paper and tallied up numbers as I pulled books. How many books had I selected with main characters of color? How about LGBTQ+ main characters? Characters who were differently abled? What about books that were #ownvoices? I had to go back to the shelves quite a few times before I felt I had acceptable representation, and some tables still ended up with less diversity than others. For example, we simply didn’t have enough diverse books for the theme of survival (as in surviving the wilderness or a natural disaster), so now that’s on my watch list for collection development and content curation.

I made place cards to go at each table, with the theme of that table printed on the card. My coworker made tasting forms where students could write down the title and author of a book they looked at, give it a rating from 1-5, and put any comments they had. (See linked documents for examples.)

Filling out a tasting form. [Photo Credit: Erin Lewis]

Finally, I went out and purchased some real “tastings” to go along with the books. I got a variety of Hershey’s kisses, some miniature fruit-flavored candy canes, and a huge bag of Life Savers. At each table, we put two cups. We filled one with the candies; the other was for trash. I am proud to say that our students didn’t leave even one candy wrapper for us to pick up.

In the end, all of our work paid off. The students really enjoyed the experience. A lot of our selected books were checked out, and we were able to highlight the diversity in our collection. It took a little more time to prepare than book talks, but now that we have done it once,  there won’t be as much prep required next time.

Choosing which books to taste. [Photo Credit: Erin Lewis]

Does anyone do book tastings in a different way? I’d love to hear about it!

Whitney Etchison currently lives in Maryland and is in her tenth year as a school librarian. The best part of her job is readers advisory, although teaching research skills is pretty cool too. She loves horror novels but can’t watch scary movies.

YALSA Statement Against Racism and Discrimination in the Library Profession

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) joins our colleagues in ACRL, AILA, APALA, BCALA, GLBT, LITA, REFORMA, RUSA, and SRRT, as well as the ALA Executive Board, in condemning the recent incidents of racial harassment and discrimination that occurred at the 2019 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. As an association with an unwavering commitment to the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion, YALSA agrees that immediate and sustained action is necessary to redress institutional inequities and systemic power asymmetries that affect ALA and our society, to challenge bias, harassment, and discrimination, and to provide equal opportunity for all persons.

YALSA welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with the ethnic affiliates, ALA roundtables, other divisions, and ALA to promote and provide educational opportunities that will ensure that ALA is an inclusive place where differences are welcomed, where different perspectives are respectfully heard and responded to, and where every individual feels a sense of belonging and inclusion.

On behalf of the YALSA Board by Crystle Martin,  President Young Adult Library Association.

Approved by members of the YALSA Board:

Trixie Dantis, Director

Kate Denier, Financial Advancement Committee Chair

Dora Ho, Fiscal Officer

Franklin Escobedo, Secretary

Jane Gov, Director

Sandra Hughes-Hassell, Immediate Past President

Derek Ivie, Director

Todd Krueger, President-Elect

Melissa McBride, Director

Ryan Moniz, Director

Abby Phillips, Division Councilor

Colleen Seisser, Director

Mega Subramaniam, Director

Valerie Tagoe, Organization & Bylaws Chair

Josie Watanabe, Board Fellow


ALA Midwinter 2019: Trying it on for size

Although I have been at an ALA Annual conference, I had never before attended an ALA Midwinter. It’s comfortable enough if you’ve been at the larger conferences, because it feels more compact, and yet there’s still so much going on that it’s impossible to choose between sessions. At first glance, you might think many of the meetings are only for committees and roundtables . What is there for a a normal, first-time attendee to enjoy? The beauty of Midwinter lies in the fact that you can attend many of these meetings. Many roundtable, division, or Board meetings are open to the public, and they love seeing new faces. As part of my Emerging Leaders group, I attended the Board meeting for the International Relations Round Table. It’s a great way to see how these divisions work and test out the ones you’re interested in joining.

Tomi Adeyemi at the Morris presentation

Not only that, but YALSA had some excellent programming at Midwinter. The Best Fiction for Young Adults Teen Feedback Session is not to be missed. Local teens are invited to a lunch with authors, and then tell the BFYA committee their thoughts on the BFYA list! It was great hearing actual teens talk about  the books we hope they love and seeing how our perspectives fit together.

I also had the privilege of attending the Youth Media Awards and the Morris and Nonfiction Presentation. Being in the room where it happens was magical, and the  crowd was electric. After that, I got to meet some of my favorite debut authors at the Morris presentation! The presentation also comes with a number of free books, so it’s a worthwhile addition to any conference registration.

The hall for the Youth Media Awards

Overall, Midwinter is a joy to attend because it’s so much smaller and easier to navigate than Annual. If you’re nervous about attending such a big conference, definitely try a Midwinter first!

New Issue of YALSA’s Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults

Volume 9, Issue 2 of of YALSA’s Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults (JRLYA) is now available online at http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/. This issue features research papers relating to library digital services and peritextual elements.

With their paper, “The First All-Digital Library Space: The Effectiveness of BiblioTech’sServices for Urban Youth,” Kristy Masten, Teresa Mobley-Sellers, Anita Pickett, Melissa Siller, Socorro Garcia-Alvarado, Paula Johnson, and Tivy Whitlock analyzed how teens responded to the services offered by the first physical library space in the United States to offer all technological and digital resources.  

Book elements such as book jackets, glossaries, indexes and others were the focus of the paper, “Pausing at the Threshold: Peritextual Images in Young Adult Nonfiction Award Winner,” in which Don Latham and Melissa Gross examine the promotional and supplemental functions of peritextual images in nonfiction books.  

JRLYA is YALSA’s open-access, peer-reviewed research journal, located at: http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya. Its purpose is to enhance the development of theory, research, and practice to support young adult library services. JRLYA presents original research concerning: 1) the informational and developmental needs of teens; 2) the management, implementation, and evaluation of young adult library services; and 3) other critical issues relevant to librarians who work with teens. Writer’s guidelines are located at http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/author-guidelines/.

Robin A. Moeller, editor, JRLYA

Community Champion Learning Series

This blog post was written by Marijke Visser, Senior Policy Advocate in the ALA Washington Office.

Young woman helping young girl with technology project

Library staff are some of the strongest advocates for teens. The encouragement and support library staff provides helps inspire youth to pursue new opportunities and undiscovered talents. This includes preparing teens for discovering college and career pathways. The ALA Libraries Ready to Code initiative and NCWIT AspireIT are joining forces again in 2019 in a project that will directly increase the meaningful participation of girls and women in computing. We are building on what we’ve learned through our pilot working with local libraries to build capacity for youth programs

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Research Roundup: Community Colleges and Teens

Welcome to Research Roundup. The purpose of this recurring column is to make the vast amount of research related to youth and families accessible to you. To match the theme of the fall issue, this column focuses on year-round teen services by examining current articles that share opportunities to mentor teens and support their leadership development.

Boerner, H. (2016). An Incubator for Better Outcomes: Innovation at work at Prince George’s Community College. Community College Journal, 86(4), 18–23.

Prince George’s Community College in Maryland partnered with the Prince George’s County Public Schools by actually creating a high school on campus.  Students who attend the high school have an opportunity to also take courses at the community college. Many of those students graduate with an associates degree as well as their high school diploma.  A collaboration like this one allows easier access to everyone and curriculum alignment is definitely at the forefront of the high school.

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Peer to Peer Learning and Libraries: A Recipe for Success

Peer to Peer Learning is shared knowledge learning that is not done by an instructor or another person of authority. It is all about people on the same level teaching each other what they know. 

Peer to Peer learning is not a new concept and can date back to Aristotle’s use of archons, student leaders and as an organized theory by Andrew Bell in 1795. It was later implemented into French and English schools in the late 19th century. Over the last 30 to 40 years, it has been increasingly popular in K-12 public schools. (Saga Briggs, (2013) How Peer Teaching Improves Student Learning and 10 Ways to Encourage It, opencolleges.edu) In Trends in Peer Learning, Keith J. Topping reviews the development of peer to peer learning from 1981-2006. He states that,

“types and definitions of peer learning are explored, together with questions of implementation integrity and consequent effectiveness and cost‐effectiveness. Benefits to helpers are now emphasized at least as much as benefits to those helped. In this previously under-theorized area, an integrated theoretical model of peer learning is now available. Peer learning has been extended in types and forms, in curriculum areas and in contexts of application beyond school. Engagement in helping now often encompasses all community members, including those with special needs. Social and emotional gains now attract as much interest as cognitive gains.” (Keith J. Topping (2005) Trends in Peer Learning, Educational Psychology, 25:6, 631-645, DOI: 10.1080/01443410500345172

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YALSA Board @ Midwinter 2019: Advocacy Board Position

At the 2016 ALA Annual Conference, YALSA Board directed the Leading the Transformation for Teen Services Board Standing Committee to explore the idea of changing or expanding the makeup of the YALSA Board of Directors to include board members who are from outside the organization. At the ALA Midwinter Conference the Board discussed document #27 to broaden the scope of the Board to accommodate advocates. The Board has had several follow up discussions regarding the makeup of the YALSA Board, most recently with Board document #12.

The Board has voted to create, with membership approval, an ex-officio (non-voting) board position for person with a non traditional background or experience who will act as an advocate for YALSA outside of the Library profession. This change was embraced by the Board as part of the 2015 – 2016 strategic planning process, and is included in the first-year Implementation Plan. It is also part of the current 2018-19 Implementation Plan. The inclusion of advocates to the Board who work beyond the library teen services space can bring a unique perspective and help broaden the organization’s outlook on serving youth. A more diverse Board can strengthen its capacity by bringing in relevant skills or knowledge from beyond the library community. By including advocates on the Board, YALSA is modeling the behavior it wants members to adopt at the local level in terms of reaching out into the community to forge partnerships that increase their ability to meet teen needs.

In order to make this change the number of At-Large Board members will decrease by one, and we will add an additional ex-officio position to the board. This member will be appointed by the President-Elect for a one year term, with the option to renew for a second term if so desired. This change will require a vote by membership (Board doc #13), so please look for more information closer to the March elections. Please feel free to contact Board member Melissa McBride, mcbride.melissa@gmail.com, with any questions.

Meet YALSA’s ED at Midwinter!

Anita Mechler, YALSA Executive Director

Can you believe the 2019 Midwinter Meeting is only a few weeks away? As the new Executive Director (ED) of YALSA, I am thrilled to take part in my first Midwinter Meeting!

Over the last 5 months as ED, I have traveled to cities such as Albuquerque to meet with attendees at the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color and to Salt Lake City for YALSA’s Young Adult Services Symposium and now I am prepping for my trip to Seattle this month. These gatherings provide me with the opportunity to meet with library staff who do the important day-to-day work of serving teens all around the country.

This is why I am excited to share that at Midwinter, I will be holding “ED Hour,” at YALSA Booth #2609 on Saturday, January 26 from 11:00am-12:00pm and Sunday, January 27 from 10:30am-11:30am. I welcome everyone to stop and say hello. I would also love to hear any feedback you might have on YALSA’s resources and services. I greatly enjoy getting to know the enthusiasm you have for the teens you serve. Your perspective guides me in directing the organization to move forward into a positive, dynamic, diverse, inclusive, and equitable future. If you have time, please stop by the booth. I look forward to meeting with and hearing from you!

At Midwinter, I’m also excited to work on YALSA’s forthcoming Strategic Plan for 2019-2021 during YALSA’s Board Meeting on Saturday, January 26, from 1:00pm-5:00pm. This is an open meeting where all are welcome to attend.

Stay tuned to more forthcoming news from me, as I plan to share with you what I have learned through the process of being YALSA’s new Executive Director for the first 100 days of the job and more.

Let’s build the future of teen services together!

With kind regards,

Anita Mechler

P.S. Don’t forget to check out YALSA’s 2019 Midwinter wiki page to download YALSA’s full Midwinter schedule, as well as find great local info and tips!