A little over a week ago, I packed my bags for the 2016 YALSA Symposium. It wasn’t easy to rip myself away from the Cubs euphoria raging in my hometown of Chicago, but I was excited to share a weekend with people who were passionate about something even more important: serving young adults in the library. The Symposium theme was Empowering Teens, and there was lots of discussion about ways to fostering teen ideas, talent, and leadership in our libraries. Letting teens take charge may feel like extra work, but the benefit to them is worth every bit of effort.


Teen Library Team, assemble!

Teen Library Team, assemble!

On Friday, I attended the preconference session Marketing Library Programs for Increased Impact. Two librarians and a marketing specialist gave us concrete and practical ideas about graphic design, marketing, and social media. I’ve always been a little insecure about marketing, but this session offered ideas anyone can use. They recommended some useful resources like the Digital Public Library of America for photos, Canva for graphic design newbies, Hootsuite for social media management, and Grammarly for high quality online grammar and spell checking.

The opening session was an author and publisher panel titled Inside the Diversity Prism: Understanding Hierarchy and Erasure. Panel members Jonathan Friesen, Julie Matysik, Kristin Elizabeth Clark, T.S. Ferguson, Zoraida Cordova, Leigh Bardugo, Dhonielle Clayton, and moderator Amalie Howard represented diverse perspectives: African-Amrican, Latinx, LGBTQ, differently-abled, and mentally ill, to name a few. All had excellent ideas on how to be inclusive and to remove the idea of “otherness” from YA literature. The best takeaway of the night: “We want to phase out panels about diversity. We should have panels that are diverse.”

From left: Jonathan Friesen, Julie Matysik, Kristin Elizabeth Clark, T.S. Ferguson, Zoraida Cordova, Leigh Bardugo, Dhonielle Clayton.

From left: Amalie Howard, Jonathan Friesen, Julie Matysik, Kristin Elizabeth Clark, T.S. Ferguson, Zoraida Cordova, Leigh Bardugo, Dhonielle Clayton.


On Saturday morning I attended Building Their Own World: Teen-Driven Community Engagement (#ownworld), where librarians Regina Townsend and Izabel Gronski talked about their teen-led efforts to promote civic engagement, social justice, and community service. I especially appreciated that they shared their less-than-successful ventures too. We all have them, so we should share what we learned from them. Their slides are available here.

Saturday afternoon, the session Empowering Teens with Books That Reflect Their World (#empoweringteens) featured staff from two publishers who prioritize inclusive books leading a conversation on how to promote diverse reading in our teens. We need diverse books—but we’ve already got some diverse books too, and we need to promote them.


I tried a Monkey Mocha from the local coffee joint–mocha with a shot of banana. Surprisingly not bad!

Anticipation was high for the Book Blitz, where conference attendees made a mad dash to meet authors and use their tickets to select four free books. I met Alexandra Diaz, Christine Kendall, Victoria Scott, and Jordan Sonnenblick.

At Rethinking School Outreach (#yaschooloutreach) on Sunday, employees from New York Public Library shared ideas, advice, and encouragement from their five years of the MYLibraryNYC school outreach program. My favorite takeaway: the presenters got on average one response per five attempts at contact with outreach partners, but they kept at it and built up a robust program. Don’t give up! Their slides are available here.

I took a break from sessions to pitch an idea to the Program Contest. I didn’t receive a grant, but it was a valuable experience in pulling something together under a tight deadline and presenting to a panel. I’m still going to try to implement my program idea at my library.

The time I spent socializing between programs was just as valuable as the structured activities. I hung out with other teen librarians from my area, some who I had met before and some who I had not, and learned about what they are doing and ways we can partner. I also got some new perspectives by chatting with library staff from all across the country.

I still found time to enjoy Pittsburgh, too. There were dozens of delicious things to eat just a block away from the conference center. My colleague and I walked to Point State Park, where we saw the beautiful cityscape from Point State Park, where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers merge into the Ohio. We also visited the Senator John Heinz History Center, where I was fangirling hardcore over the original set of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. (There was also ketchup memorabilia. Lots of it.) There was a comic con going on next door to the hotel, so we got to check out some cosplayers’ costumes. Some conference attendees had encounters with Charlie Cox and Nichelle Nichols!

I attended some other informative and energizing sessions as well, plus there were many more I could not attend. To see twitter conversations about the different sessions, check out YALSA Blog’s handy list of hashtags here. You can also view many of the presentations’ slides by clicking the presentation title on this page.

I left the Symposium energized, full of ideas, and with some new friends. See you next year in Louisville!


About Kylie Peters

Kylie Peters is the Middle School Librarian at Geneva Public Library in Illinois. She is passionate about building relationships and community, social justice, comics, middle school literature, gaming, technology, and reader’s advisory. She writes about middle school literature at http://www.flashlightchronicles.com.

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