Candidates for 2021 Election – YALSA Director-at-Large part 2

Hello members!

The YALSA/ALA election kicks off Monday, March 8. Over the course of this week, we have published interviews with all of the candidates. Please take a moment to read through these, and most importantly, VOTE when you receive your electronic ballot from ALA.

Enormous thanks goes out to member Sarah Sogigian for conducting these interviews!

The live Candidates’ Forum will take place via Zoom tomorrow, Friday, March 5 at 3pm ET / 2pm CT / noon PT. This event will include all YALSA candidates, along with the three candidates for President-Elect of the American Library Association. Please register to attend the Forum.

The final two candidates are for the role of YALSA Board Director-at-Large. Today we hear from Abigail Phillips and Tess Wilson. Yesterday, we interviewed the other two candidates for this position, Melanie Wachsmann and Traci Glass.

Name and current position:
Dr. Abigail Phillips, assistant professor, School of Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

What best qualifies you for being on the Board of Directors?
AP: I have a lengthy time of service with YALSA, first as a committee member, then a Board Fellow, and currently as the Division Councilor. I believe my dedication to YALSA is well represented through these positions. I also have a passion for working with youth to learn more about how to improve their lives and the library’s role within it.

How do you envision furthering YALSA’s mission if elected to this position?
AP: I will work hard to continue the research I conduct in my current researcher. My research focuses on ways in which librarians and library workers can support and aiding youth. I focus largely on neurodiverse youth and marginalized youth, who are, in many situations, one in the same. In addition to research, I also teach future librarians through our MLIS program. In my public libraries course, I ensure that youth services, particularly by using YALSA resources, is a feature of overall library services. As a Board Member, I will ensure that the voices of teens are represented through the work I do as a researcher, teacher, and librarian.

What would be the most exciting aspect of this position? The most challenging?
AP: I would be excited to continue my work on the YALSA Board and strive to represent a unique voice. With my previous experiences as a rural public librarian serving teens alongside my ongoing experience as a researcher and instructor, I see myself as a welcome addition to the other voices on the Board. As always, it is an exciting prospect to hold a leadership position in such an established and progressive ALA division and work with membership and others to create the best possible environment our work.

Please share a recent example(s) where you made a shift to better focus on the current needs of teens.
AP: Recently, a colleague and I worked on a research project where we focused on teen voices, ensuring that we really heard what teens were saying, not what researchers and other said teens thought or said. So often in youth research, the true voices of these teens are overshadowed by the researcher’s (or researchers’) voice. However, it is critical, to best serve teens, to know what they really want and need in the ever-evolving world surround them. Teens and teen voices first!

What is the most pressing issue facing YALSA today?
AP: I believe the most pressing issue facing YALSA right now is building our membership and maintaining relevancy within the youth services community. Members and potential members should feel represented and included in the work that YALSA, YALSA staff, and the community does on a day-to-day basis. Without the support and interest of members, YALSA would not be able to accomplish the goals and vision, which it has set for itself.


Name and current position:
Tess Wilson
Community Engagement Coordinator, Network of the National Library of Medicine, Middle Atlantic Region

What best qualifies you for being on the Board of Directors?
TW: Throughout my life, I have worked with youth in a variety of capacities. I have taught as an arts educator, worked as a youth-serving librarian, presented best practices trainings to mentors and mentees, and even performed with an educational theater group. This wide range of experience allowed me the opportunity to view youth services through many lenses and truly understand the power of a supportive network of advocates. My experience in the field– navigating challenges and learning from others–has given me a perspective necessary to providing for the unique needs of library workers who serve teens. Similarly, my experience serving on a number of advocacy boards in my own community has given me a better idea of how to leverage these positions of power to support those we serve.

How do you envision furthering YALSA’s mission if elected to this position?
TW: The Board is in a unique position to use its platform to advocate for teens and those who serve teens. If elected to this position, I would encourage the Board to consider the following phrase in our mission statement: “especially those with the greatest needs.” I would examine the ways in which we determine the needs of teens, the methods we use to reach these communities, and the strategies we employ to engage communities with limited resources.

What would be the most exciting aspect of this position? The most challenging?
TW: One of the most exciting parts of managing YALSAblog and serving on the editorial advisory team for YALS has been drawing from experiences outside the library world. I would like to spread this interdisciplinary approach to the Board, looking towards trends and challenges in other teen-serving fields and learning from experiences outside our own. This type of broad exploration of teen services can inform the resources we share, the support we offer, and the framework for the future of YALSA. In addition, by leveraging our connections with others within and outside libraries, we can expand the variety of collaborative educational opportunities we can offer our community. I anticipate that, as we transition into whatever our new normal is, we will need to mindfully balance the support we offer. That is to say, we will continue to offer our network what they need to navigate a world impacted by COVID-19–from virtual programming ideas to workplace mental health resources to COVID protocol support. Simultaneously, we must do what we can to consider the larger field of youth services and equip our library workers to remain systems of support for their teens not just in the next year, but the next five years, the next ten years. In other words, I believe we need to think deliberately about both the micro and macro needs of our community at this moment in history. This transition will certainly be a challenge, but we can look to the library staff in our own YALSA community as models of adaptability, creativity, and resilience as we move forward.

Please share a recent example(s) where you made a shift to better focus on the current needs of teens.
TW: When I volunteered to run for 2020 Youth Services Division Chair of the Pennsylvania Library Association, I could have never predicted the kind of term I was in for. Of course, the past year has forced us all to flex–and in some cases, overextend–our adaptability muscles. As a leader within my state’s association, my priorities certainly shifted in order to support my fellow library workers as they moved quickly behind the scenes to provide for their communities. As I worked with my leadership team to plan our monthly meetings, we considered what might be most immediately helpful for those serving teens. We facilitated several highly practical meetings, featuring our own library staff from around the state who offered their ideas for virtual programming, plans for take-and make kits, and reliable mental health resources. We also offered these meetings as a space where our community could voice pressing concerns– for example, how to best track attendance and evaluate impact in a virtual environment–in a receptive and supportive environment.

What is the most pressing issue facing YALSA today?

Recently, I delivered a training to mentors in my community. Within this curriculum, we show a video demonstration of “The Privilege Walk,” an interactive exercise that shines a light on the many dimensions of privilege and inherited social capital. After the video ended, a participant made a point that still echoes in my thoughts. She noted that, while this exercise made a good point, it was made by amplifying the trauma of others. It is essential to consider not just issues facing our community, but the larger context of those issues. If we are to truly offer support to staff who work with youth “from a variety of backgrounds,” we must take on the challenge of continuous education, we must be comfortable being uncomfortable, and we must view our work through a lens of cultural humility. The most pressing issue facing YALSA today is ensuring that inclusivity is a top priority.