YALSA 2021 in Reno was my first opportunity to attend a professional conference in my career field. I graduated with my MLIS in May of 2021, so needless to say, graduate school didn’t end up being the experience I’d wanted it to be. I had so many plans to attend conferences as a student, and build connections with my cohort at the University of Illinois. I had one semester in person, and then my graduate school experience was drastically modified due to the pandemic.
The opportunity to attend YALSA provided me with the experience I had yearned for in graduate school. I had the chance to meet others in my field who are as passionate about advocating for teens as I am. I loved all of the discussions we had, and each presentation I attended was enlightening and informative. This past year and a half was exhausting and I’ve felt myself getting burned out, but the experience I had at YALSA lit my fire again. All this is to say it’s really hard to narrow down what I learned, because it feels like I learned so much, but I’ll give it a shot.

The presentations that focused on serving teens in poverty were extremely helpful to me. In my new position as a Teen Librarian, I’ve moved to a new community with significant poverty rates. An important aspect of my job includes getting to know this new community and the best ways to serve them. Some of the key takeaways I gained from those presentations included training all staff on issues of poverty, and providing equity boxes with a variety of items including socks, toothpaste, deodorant, etc. I love the idea of an equity box and have been considering ways to propose this idea to my administration. I also plan on contacting the public transit in my area to see if they will provide me with bus passes that I can hand out to anyone that may need one. Some other pieces of advice I found helpful were “you don’t know what you don’t know” and “ask the teens”. These may seem somewhat obvious, but I found it helpful to reconsider these points and remind myself that I should always be consulting my teens and patrons in regards to their needs and wants at the library. I won’t know what barriers my teens face unless I ask them directly.

Something I’ve been personally struggling with at my library is feeling like other staff and patrons discriminate against the teens. From the conference discussions, I received helpful advice on how to manage this issue, including advocating for all staff training. When I asked for advice about this issue at a panel, one of the presenters even suggested bluntly asking staff why they are hesitant about working with teens.

Overall, I learned so much at YALSA this year. Each presentation I attended gave me some bit of advice or understanding that I found helpful for my career as a Teen Librarian. I even gained so many new ideas for programming, books that should be in my collection, and more. I’m really grateful I was able to have the experience to go to YALSA and meet new colleagues. I can’t wait to attend again next year!

Kaileigh Oldham is a recent MLIS graduate from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Originally from Michigan, Kaileigh received her Bachelor’s in Creative Writing and Fine Arts from Western Michigan University. She now resides in Danville, IL with her boyfriend, 2 dogs, and 2 cats. She is currently the Teen Librarian at Danville Public Library. When she is not at work Kaileigh enjoys playing video games, watching anime, and hula hooping.

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