Bringing the BFYA Teen Feedback Session to Kansas City

For any YALSA member, the Teen Feedback Session of Best Fiction for Young Adults is a highlight of attending ALA’s Annual Conference or Midwinter Meeting. It isn’t just getting the feedback on what titles teens liked from this year’s publishing cycle…but seeing teens up at the mic, sharing their thoughts with marketers, editors, agents and library staff. It’s empowering and reminds us why we do what we do. After experiencing the Midwinter 2017 BFYA Teen Feedback Session, we began to think about how we could get our teens to the conference at Annual.

Chicago and Denver are the closest ALA’s conference ever comes to Kansas City (although KC is a large city, we don’t have the conference facilities to host ALA)  That means our teens will never have the chance to experience and reap the benefits of  the BFYA Teen Feedback Session. They will never have the awesome power of addressing the committee and a room of library staff and publishers. And on a late spring day in Kansas City…we decided to change that.

Three YALSA members from two library systems – Amanda Barnhart from Kansas City Public Library (MO), and Peggy Hendershot and Kate McNair from Johnson County Library (KS) – came together to talk about the BFYA Teen Feedback Session. Our grand idea was to figure out a way to take teens to Chicago and get them on the mic…but soon learned that there are ample teens in Chicago waiting their turn and we wouldn’t steal their moment to speak up. We still wanted to empower our teens and give them the opportunity to speak out and be heard, so we went back to the drawing table and came up with an idea that would impact more teens than we could have fit into a van on a roadtrip to Chicago…

Talk Book To Me was born. In line with YALSA’s Futures Report goal of designing programs with teens’ passions and interests at the heart that are strongly connected to academic and career achievement, we identified four goals for the program. 1) Give teens the tools to analyze a book and express their thoughts in the form of a review. 2) Amplify their voices to BFYA committee members, editors, agents and library staff. 3) Unlock opportunities for teens to build a portfolio of accomplishments.

We are lucky to have two other very talented YALSA members and school librarians in Kansas City: Terri Snethen (former chair of BFYA and member of numerous selection committees), and Shelly McNerney (former member of BFYA, Printz and Morris and current chair of the Selection Oversight Committee), who agreed to contribute time and expertise to our event. Combine their experience with passionate teens from library and school book groups and we had everything we needed!

The day started with snacks (of course) and an introduction to the Best Fiction for Young Adults List from Terri Snethen. Shelly McNerney gave a great workshop on how to write a good review (walking teen participants through examples, and giving them time to write and edit).

Then we took a quick break for lunch and more importantly…offered free books to teen participants that were graciously provided by Scholastic! The teens loved getting pre-published galleys as a reward for their hard work in the morning session. After lunch, teens took to the stage to share their expertise. The Kansas City Public Library was gracious enough to send two teen interns to ALA in Chicago to observe the BFYA Teen Feedback Session. They shared their experience and what they saw as best practices for presenting reviews during the session, reminding other attendees to speak clearly and loudly, keep from fidgeting, and prepare ahead of time.

In the afternoon, participants were given a choice: to practice their reviews by becoming familiar with the stage and the mic or attending a podcasting workshop led by Kate McNair.

The last event of the day was a live-streamed Teen Feedback Session attended by BFYA committee members and publishers (we did some promoting in Chicago at the conference to attract a livestream audience). The session was introduced by Terri Snethen, and one by one the teens got up to the mic and shared their thoughts. They were articulate, thoughtful and presented themselves with a growing confidence. We stood to the side, and felt what I assume every YALSA member who brings a teen to a conference must feel … a sense of awe, pride and exhilaration. They had absorbed everything Shelly McNerney had imparted in their morning session. They spoke confidently and slowly, as coached by the teen interns from Kansas City Public Library. And they took their job seriously, to inform the decision makers about their opinions.

First they shared their thoughts about titles already nominated for BFYA, followed by titles eligible for BFYA but not yet nominated (we have encouraged all of them to submit a field nomination), and finally by titles that weren’t eligible but deserved a shout-out. With only an hour to work on preparing for the livestream, they had read far more books than they had time to develop into a quality reviews, so the livestream ended early and we shared with them the opportunities they had “unlocked” by participating in our workshop activities.

Each attendee earned the consent from a library staff member to sponsor them, if they choose to participate to apply to the VOYA Teen Perspectives Blog. receive another free book at the end of the day. Results from the distributed program evaluation surveys included comments about their plans to start a podcast, interest to write for VOYA, putting this experience on job or college applications, and using the review skills they learned in the classroom. Over the next few months, we will be tracking to see how the ripples from Talk Book To Me travel outwards, and how these teens use the skills and connections they developed at the program to share their opinions and thoughts and impact the future. We look forward to growing the program next year!

Kate McNair and Peggy Hendershot work at the Johnson County Library, KS and Amanda Barnhart works at the Kansas City Public Library, MO.

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