Virtual Conference Does World of Good

The following blog post is written by one of YALSA’s 2020 Symposium Registration Grant student winners, Jana Wiersma.

YALSA’s Young Adult Services Symposium theme for 2020, “Biggest Little Spaces: How Libraries Serve the Expanding World of Teens”, was a play on Reno’s slogan “Biggest Little City”, where the symposium was originally supposed to be held. When it became clear the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t letting up, the symposium moved online, and representation, diversity, and inclusion were not lost in the shift. As disappointed as I was to not attend the symposium in my backyard, connections and networking were still possible, and many young adult librarians were able to join from all over the world. As a first-time YALSA symposium attendee, I was able to enter the community of young adult librarians and share experiences in a meaningful way.

The author lineup was incredible in its diversity of the powerful voices that YA librarians could not only hear, but also discuss relevant issues with. The excitement of the authors at being represented and presenting together on panels was palpable and contagious, even via Zoom. Even with the plethora of diverse authors, there was still an overwhelming call for more diversity in publishing, editing, and writing. Each author recognized the need for our teens to see themselves in whatever space they occupy — represented as readers, yes, but also as authors, editors, publishers, media specialists, and more. During the opening session, author Alan Gratz said, “There isn’t one America, there are many different American experiences,” which I felt entirely summed up YALSA’s 2020 Symposium.

From the pre-conference to end of symposium, sessions included relevant topics like teaching teens to spot and stop the spread of fake news, ramping up library teen volunteer programs, creating book boxes to help teens and tweens destress, fostering community partnerships to advocate for teens beyond the library, transforming teen services, providing support to our immigrant youth, and more!

Each session provided a wealth of information and resources we could bring back to the library and apply with confidence to better support our local teens and the spaces they occupy. With this information, our team can go forward with our top priorities: re-evaluating our teen volunteer program, re-configuring our teen space to better support the needs of our young adult community, and helping our teens feel both represented and connected during this especially difficult time of separation.

As the Young Adult Services Symposium wrapped up, I was inspired and motivated by all the possible ways I could apply what I learned, how best to implement shared tips, and how to better diversify our young adult services on a daily basis. My to-be-read pile now has a thousand books on it, and my inner book-nerd heart was bursting with the joy of getting to hear from so many amazing authors! I cannot wait for YALSA members to meet in person once again, but in the meantime, meeting and connecting virtually still did a world of good.

Jana Wiersma
MLIS Student @ University of North Texas,
Senior Library Assistant, Carson City Library, NV