How Louisville Stole My Heart at the 2017 YALSA Symposium

During this year’s YALSA Symposium, not only did I experience southern hospitality at its finest, I had the pleasure of meeting amazing YA library staff from all over the country.  From California to New Jersey, 442 YA library staff members descended upon the beautiful city of Louisville and, immediately, I felt at home. Despite the three hour time change, I spent four days communing with colleagues, eating lots of southern fried food, and taking in all the knowledge I could to become a better YA Librarian.

At the opening ceremony, we heard from YALSA President, Sandra Hughes-Hassell, who is embarking on journey to provide YALSA members with ideas and training opportunities to promote youth activism through community engagement. After introducing this year’s task force members, attendees heard from several teen authors including Kwame Alexander, James L. Swanson, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Nina LaCour. If you didn’t know, Kwame Alexander started a web series called “Bookish” where he discusses books and it’s a lot of fun (access the series from his Facebook page)! What was great about this opening session is that you could hear a pin drop as this room, packed with vivacious YA library staff, sat silently as they absorbed the words of these authors. Once the panel was done, these amazing authors signed books donated by the publishers for the attendees!

There were ample of opportunities for attendees to get to know each other as there were lots of dinner outings and attendees could register for group activities like visiting the Muhammad Ali Museum, an author luncheon featuring Barry Lyga, Holly Black, Anna-Marie McLemore, and Stephanie Kuehn, and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Let’s just say: library workers know how to have a good time and I think the tour guide at Evan Williams had an even better time! Also, in between sessions, there were plenty of opportunities to get some snacks and beverages while browsing YALSA items for sale and attendees could purchase raffle tickets to win super cool prizes.

Attendees had a wide range of panels and discussions to attend ranging from film making, volunteering, STEAM, fake news, and representation in YA literature. What I appreciated the most about all of these topics is their relevancy to issues that have a direct impact on teens. One panel I attended, entitled “Every Day Disabilities,” was absolutely fabulous. As an advocate for teens with disabilities, I appreciated how the speaker (Vera Haynes) opened up about her own disabilities, but, more importantly, how we can incorporate simple advice into our daily services.  Presenter slides are being added to this web page as the YALSA office receives them.

One thing I am guilty of is not using people-first language. It’s important to remember that people with disabilities need to be addressed by who they are not by their disability. Furthermore, I learned that I need to keep myself in check when it comes to using the term “differently abled” as that can be patronizing for people with disabilities. Vera did a wonderful job in giving us lots of tips and recommendations on how we can turn our buildings into a space that everyone can use regardless of disabilities. In fact, at this year’s ALA annual, she mentioned there would be a presentation on universal design that will help transform our current spaces into functional spaces. It’s amazing how quickly 1.5 hours goes by, but I walked away re-learning quite a few things that I don’t always remember.

Along with attending this conference, I actually co-presented with my colleague, Jane Gov, on the Teen Mental Health Initiative that our Teen Advisory Board implemented last year. No matter how much you practice those nerves always get to you.  However, we powered through this presentation and I was so grateful for the feedback we received. More importantly, I was so HAPPY to hear that attendees have, or will be, implementing mental health programming and services to support their teen patrons. Not only am I super proud of our teens, but I am also proud of the library staff who are embarking on their own teen mental health initiatives.

As a first time attendee, and presenter, this year’s YALSA symposium was the highlight of my year and I am looking forward to attending future symposiums.  Next year it’s in Salt Lake City, UT, Nov. 2-4.  I also want to say THANK YOU to all the amazing individuals who arranged this conference and the sponsors (treats were delish), and I am looking forward to YELP-ing my stay at the Hyatt and all of the fabulous restaurants Louisville had to offer! Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I left my heart in Louisville.

For more information about the presentations, or to download the slides and other stuff, click on the following link.

Published by

Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Senior Librarian for the Monterey Park Bruggemeyer Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for seventeen years and loves every minute. Deborah is also the author of "Serving Teens with Mental Illness at the Library: A Practical Guide."