Takeaways from Portland: YALSA15

imageI practically lived on coffee and doughnuts this past weekend at the YALSA Symposium in Portland. Not that I’m complaining; if you’re going to drink lots of coffee, Portland is the place to do it. I began my symposium experience with the Friday afternoon preconference Hip Hop Dance and Scratch: Facilitating Connected Learning in Libraries with the hope of gaining some programming ideas. I walked out three hours later with a newfound comfort-level using the program and, yes, concrete ideas for how to use it at my library. Having three hours allotted for experimenting, asking questions, and watching what other people created helped immensely.

At Teen Services without Borders, a panel of school and public librarians and an independent bookseller that discussed challenges and successful partnerships that cross library, departmental, and district lines. Boundaries can feel like brick walls when they prevent teens from accessing the library, and the panel members ultimately decided they needed to serve teens and not the rules, viewing themselves as part of the same community, not competitors. Tips they shared include: Give up your ego. Put kids first. Promote each other’s programs and services. Ask for help and keep trying until you find the right person. Finally, take a hard look at the rules – can any be broken?

At Moving On Up: Introducing Middle Schoolers to the YA Collection, I gained perspective on what makes YA literature  – ANGST – from author Carrie Ryan. Love triangles get a bad rap, but they make sense for teen readers because the characters are trying to figure out who they are; once they know who they are, they know who is right for them. She said that she writes for an audience that doesn’t have the context to know that the characters they fall in love with can die. Responses to death are, “That’s not allowed, this can’t happen, I don’t know what to do.” YA readers need to know that things will be okay without adults there to help them.

During the Q&A portion of A Series of Fortunate Events: Library Collaborations that help LGBTQ Young Adults Transition to College Life, David Levithan, Susan Kuklin, Ann Bausum, and Mariko Tamaki gave advice to librarians to increase quality of life for LGBTQ teens: Make sure they know they’re represented in your library. Put human faces on people’s lives; encourage empathy. Create a safe space and make them part of the group. Recognize that LGBTQ books belong with other types of books, too; include them in different ways. Let straight kids know that they can read LGBTQ materials, too.

At lunch on Saturday, I learned that Jack Gantos is phenomenally warm, funny and animated. I also learned that reading his sister’s unimpressive diary entries as a boy inspired him to write, he drew spy maps of his neighborhood as a kid, and he still likes to write in libraries. He also has beautiful penmanship, which will be appreciated by the teens at my library who get to read the copy of the book that he signed.

Finally, at the poetry slam on Sunday, I was wowed by the variety and depth of emotions put on display by the very brave teen poets who participated. References ranged from Shrek to Lady Macbeth, hyena-like laughs to man buns, haunting scents, bipolar personalities, and unfamiliar images in the mirror. Check out Verselandia for a taste of their talent.

For photos, quotes and other bite-size bits from the YALSA Symposium, search hashtag #yalsa15 on Twitter and Instagram. The insights will linger long after my stomach has finally processed the last doughnut.

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