I’m just back from YALSA’s 2012 YA Lit Symposium in St. Louis. It’s YALSA’s third Symposium, but—for a variety of reasons—my first. There will be much discussion over at The Hub about the actual programs and presentations, but I wanted to say a few words about something else that I observed over the course of three days.
I’ve been going to ALA Annual and Midwinter for over 15 years, and they are great. But a Symposium like this is something really special, and it’s all about the connections. Let me just give you a few examples that I observed:
- I was chatting with someone at a break who works at the library in the area where I grew up. We knew people in common from the library, but then I found out where she had gone to high school, and immediately took her over to introduce her to another YALSA member who went to that same high school—turned out they had overlapped by a year or two.
- A librarian told me that she was rooming at this Symposium with someone she had first met at the 2008 Lit Symposium.
- At the closing session, I was asked to take a picture of four librarians who had met and bonded at the symposium. They told me they were all “orphans” who had come alone, but met and had a great time together.
- At the Morris Lunch, a librarian who wanted to know more about staff development models happened to be seated with another librarian who does staff development as a full-time job.
- At the same table, a person who is interested in library apps like Boopsie was put in touch with someone in her local area who was involved in getting the app for her library.
- The symposium Twitter hashtag (#yalit12) was trending on Saturday afternoon, as attendees live-tweeted their sessions and got into back-and-forth discussions about what was being presented.
- I found new people to follow on Twitter, and new people followed me.
- Attendees had opportunities to have real conversations with authors at the Book Blitz on Saturday night, and at the networking breaks.
Of course, these things happen at all library conferences. But somehow, the setting of the Symposium just made it easier, or at least more obvious. Why?
- All YALSA, all the time. Everyone there was interested in YA lit, and there wasn’t any competition from programs and events about other things.
- Location. All the events were in the same few rooms at the hotel and almost everyone was staying in the same hotel.
- Size. 500 attendees vs. 20,000 just makes it easier to connect.
- It was all about the programs. No one was called away to committee meetings. There was a small YALSA store, but no huge exhibits hall. There were publisher reps there, but they were there as participants, and they weren’t hosting show-and-tells, brunches, lunches, dinners, and other events that pull members away from the programs.
- Built-in networking breaks. Morning and afternoon breaks between sessions made it easy to meet people. The snacks and drinks were right there—and free. And since all the programs were also right there, there was no need to rush off to wait in line for a shuttle bus to get to the next location.
Sometimes people say they find ALA and YALSA too big and too overwhelming, too hard to break into. Solution: come to the next YA Lit Symposium, October 31-November 2, 2014, in Austin, TX. I guarantee you’ll have a good time, meet new people, talk about books and teens, and come home with tons of good ideas. As YALSA’s president Jack Martin says, Connect, Create, Collaborate. I know that connections made at this year’s Symposium will lead to many creative ideas and great collaborations!
YALSA Immediate Past President