This month we’ve seen a lot of interesting talk about different technologies and how they affect teens here at the YALSA blog. Now that we’re wrapping things up, I thought it might be interesting to pull back a little and look at the larger social effect of the Internet on society. There are two reports by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in particular that can tell us how the Internet has changed our social lives.
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Google’s Cr-48 Chrome Notebook pilot program generated a lot of buzz in the tech community when, late last year, laptops started appearing on people’s doorsteps–laptops with solid-state hard drives, no capslock keys, and built-in WiFi and 3G capabilities. The laptops were sent to people who, as Google put it, were “living on the web […] doing everything in the browser, from using web apps to storing all your files online.”

You can take their quiz to find out if you’re living on the web–but teens most definitely are. As adults, I think we get pretty settled into having our own computers at home, our own computers at work, and moving back and forth between them. But teens may be sharing a family computer at home, using computer labs at school, and doing homework and playing games on the computers at the library; they lead much more fluid technological lives with fewer fixed points. We need to be familiar with websites, apps, programs, and services that allow the user identical access from multiple devices–with things that keep their data in the cloud.

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I’m about four months in to my first professional position out of grad school. I was very lucky to land a YA position just a few months after graduating, and I really like my library, my coworkers, and the community that supports the library. But as a new librarian, I’m finding that even though I have my MLS, I still have a lot of learning to do in providing a strong teen services program.

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There’ve been some great summaries of sessions at the 2010 YA Lit Symposium here, and I’ve written in detail about all of the sessions I attended on my own blog, but now that I’ve had some time to process everything I heard and talked about over the weekend and what I’ve read about the symposium since then, I thought I’d share some of my overall impressions from the entire conference here to continue the discussion.

One of of the themes I saw come up across multiple sessions was that reading allows us to vicariously experience things that are not part of our own lived experience, so reading books about people who are different from us helps educate us, allows us to test our values, and de-Others people like the character. In “Beyond Good Intentions and Chicken Soup: YA Lit and Disability Diversity: How Far Have We Come?” the presenters mentioned that for a lot of teens, reading a book about a person with disabilities may be their first experience with disability. Making sure that portrayal is balanced rather than stereotypical and that the character’s disability isn’t the primary problem in the story gives teens a more accurate portrayal of what people with disabilities can be like–that is, that people with disabilities are people, too. Read More →

YALSA president-elect Sarah Flowers recently authored Young Adults Deserve the Best: YALSA’s Competencies in Action, which expands on YALSA’s competencies for librarians serving youth and gives practical advice and examples for fulfilling those competencies. Sarah was kind enough to answer a few questions about her new book.

GK: You were on the taskforce that updated YALSA’s Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth. What were the most important things you wanted to see changed in the newest version?

SF: I wasn’t on the Board when they decided that the Competencies needed to be updated, so I just tried to look at them with fresh eyes when I was appointed to the taskforce, and the other members did, too. We thought they were really good competencies, but we all began to notice that there were some repetitious parts, and we also thought that the language was perhaps a little too academic, so our goal was to streamline them.

GK: What motivated you to not just serve on that taskforce, but to write this book as well?

SF: Most of my library career has been spent as a manager. And as a manager, I tend to look at things in terms of: “How can I help librarians grow and get better at their jobs?” “What can I do (or provide) that will help these people develop and be better able to serve our population?” And the competencies fit that. They give a framework for growth and professional development. And in writing the book, I had a chance to really focus on how a front-line librarian (even one without a lot of administrative support) could grow and become a better YA librarian.

GK: Looking over the list of competencies, the sheer number of qualities and areas of knowledge that librarians working with teens should have can feel overwhelming. What advice would you give someone for prioritizing the competencies and knowing which to focus on developing first? Is there one competency area that you think is the most important or that is essential to have to fulfill the others?

SF: I think it depends on two things: what a specific librarian feels that he or she lacks, and what actually can be accomplished. Some things it’s really hard to do if there is no budget, or no support from library management. So you look at the whole thing, and work on the little pieces that you can manage. In terms of a most important area, I do think that Leadership and Professionalism are critical. I think that in a lot of ways they lead to all the others–especially in those situations when you’re on your own, without a lot of support. Be professional, be a leader, and you will be able to work toward achieving the other things.

GK: In the book, you mention a few times that these competencies aren’t so much a list of qualities those in entry-level positions should have so much as a vision for YA services that librarians grow into throughout their careers. Which competencies do you think take the most effort or time to develop?

SF: Again, it depends a lot on the individual, and their own gifts, talents, and background. Some people are natural advocates and communicators, so that part isn’t a problem for them, but maybe they have a tough time doing the administrative stuff. Others may be great at programming and services in the library, but shy about making the case for YA services to administration, or to elected officials, or even in doing outreach.

GK: You’ve had an impressive career so far with your work in libraries as a YA librarian, adult and YA services supervisor, library manager, and most recently as the deputy county librarian for the Santa Clara County Library in California; your previous books and articles; and your recent election as the 2011-2012 president of YALSA. Are there competencies you still feel like you’re developing?

SF: Oh, always! I think I am always working on being a better advocate for teens and teen services, and communicating their needs to the wider world. Also, because I jumped fairly early into management-level positions, I never felt like I had a chance to develop skills in programming for teens, so I’m really in awe of some of my YALSA colleagues who have been able to create terrific programs with and for teens.

GK: What do you think the biggest hurdle is in providing quality services to teens, and how can a librarian who may be working with a small budget or working in a department of one do to overcome that hurdle?

SF: I think lots of times it’s just inertia or lack of knowledge: “we’ve never done this before and we don’t know how and we don’t know why it’s important.” But I think attitude is key. And that’s where leadership and professionalism come in. If you can take your enthusiasm for serving teens and your knowledge of their needs and desires, and convince others on your library staff that services for teens are important, you can overcome any hurdle. It won’t necessarily be quick or easy, but there are plenty of success stories out there.

Thanks a lot, Sarah!

Earlier this summer, Melissa Rabey reflected on her experience so far on the Printz Committee. While I think a number of us one day aspire to serve on a selection committee, we may not be ready to make that kind of commitment yet, or we might feel like we don’t have the experience within YALSA to do so–but there are other ways to begin your involvement within YALSA. For new members especially, a task force can be a good way to try out professional service, so I thought I’d talk about my experience on the YALSA Mentoring Program Task Force.

The call for task force members went out a few days before I graduated. I’d been looking for avenues for getting more involved in YALSA, and a task force seemed like a manageable way to start. I’d applied for the mentoring program itself, too, so I made sure to mention that in my task force application. When I was asked to join the task force, I was told I just needed to recuse myself when my own application came up, but that I could still evaluate the other applications and help match proteges and mentors (and it turned out that one of the other members of the task force was an applicant to be a mentor!). Soon after the mentoring program application deadline passed, the chair of the task force emailed all of the members asking us to introduce ourselves to one another, and we began our work.

One thing that makes a task force a good place to start for people who are looking for their first way to get involved with YALSA is that many of them conduct their business entirely virtually. We did all of our work by exchanging emails and chatting via Skype, which was a great way for a group of people across the country with varying schedules to be able to collaborate. Of course, there are pitfalls in communication done primarily by email, but it opens task force work to people who can’t afford to travel and lets members work asynchronously.

Since task forces have a specific project to carry out, task force work is also usually done over a shorter timeline than a selection or process committee. We began our Mentoring Program Task Force work in early July and submitted our final recommendations at the end of August. If you’re anxious about how to get started with your YALSA involvement, a few months is a great trial period to see how you like it.

Joining a task force–or serving in any capacity with YALSA–is also a fun way to get to know your fellow YALSA members. Especially if you’re a new member, I think that trying to jump into a huge crowd of people you don’t know to make connections and friends can be intimidating. A task force is a good way to narrow that crowd to a friendly few and to start to put personalities and faces to the names you may have seen on listservs. While I’m not going to be able to make it to Midwinter this year since I’m going to the YA Lit Symposium in November, I’m hoping I’ll be able to meet up with some of the other task force members at future conferences.

I was a little nervous heading into my first professional involvement experience, but I had fun and I’m proud of the work we did. If you’re thinking about getting involved with YALSA but you’re not sure where to start, keep your eye out for calls for task force members. You’ll likely be able to work virtually, it’ll be a relatively short and easy introduction to serving within your professional organization, and you’ll come away from the experience with new connections and maybe even friends. And once you’ve got one task force under your belt, you’ll be ready for another opportunity to get involved!

While for many people September means going back to school–either back to working at a school, back to classes of their own, or just back to learning things on the job after summer vacation or summer reading programs–for recent graduates who are still looking for their first professional position after getting their MLS, September means it’s now been two or four or more months of being out of school. In fact, this is the first fall in 20 years that I haven’t been headed back to the classroom. While some of my classmates got lucky and were offered a new position or a raise or more responsibilities at the job they already had, there are plenty of us who are still looking.

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I recently received my MLS and a few weeks later relocated to a different part of the country where I’m now searching for a job. Many of my fellow graduates are still looking for full-time employment, and library cuts continue across the country, perhaps leaving some jobless. While I was still in library school, I was constantly ingesting new information and synthesizing what I was learning in the classroom with what I was learning on the job, but now that I’m finished with my degree and in a new city, I’m having to think about how to keep my skills fresh until I find a library where I can put those skills to work and continue to develop them. Here’s what I’ve been doing.

Reading lots of YA lit
A library’s collection is the backbone of its services, but it seems like there’s never enough time to read everything. Now that I’m unemployed, I’m able to spend a lot more time discovering new books and catching up on old titles I missed. I’ve also been working my way through the current contenders for my new state’s youth book awards. But to really take advantage of the extra reading time I have, I’m concentrating especially on genres I don’t normally read like romances. When I’m in interviews, I’ll have plenty of titles–books, audiobooks, manga, and graphic novels–to talk about when they ask what I’ve been reading lately, and once I land a position, I’ll have a broader knowledge to inform the readers’ advisory and collection development that I do.

Keeping up on listservs, blogs, and Twitter feeds
While I’ve lost my immediate library connection, I’m still plugged in to what’s going on in the library world by observing what other librarians are doing and thinking. Listservs are full of discussions about upcoming programs and recently published books. Bloggers write book reviews, postmortems for programs they’ve done, interviews with authors and other librarians, and their thoughts on the profession. Twitter feeds offer shorter bites of information but are a great source for links to more in-depth articles on relevant subjects–and Karl Siewert recently compiled a list of YALSA-bk members who tweet, so if you’re new to Twitter, that’s a great place to get started. Observing, reading, thinking, and commenting on all of this helps me stay connected to the profession.

Nancy Bertolotti wrote earlier this spring about blogging as a professional development tool and while I’m not sure blogging has the scholarly heft of peer-reviewed writing, I agree that it’s a great way to practice writing, to develop a professional network and to pursue mutual interests, to develop our thoughts on the profession, and to become or stay comfortable with social networking tools. If you’re thinking about blogging, Blogger and WordPress make getting started easy.

Reading things I missed in library school
This is a little heavier than reading YA lit or blogs or short articles, but since I wasn’t able to take all of the electives that I wanted while I was working on my degree, I’m revisiting some of those topics by reading textbooks and longer discourses on library and information science topics. I’m currently working my way through Thomas Mann’s Library Research Models, will then read my former professor’s textbook on library ethics, and then am going to find something technology-oriented to read and maybe finally learn CSS. These reading assignments appeal to my nerdier side, and they’re introducing me to complex new ideas.

Participating in professional development
I’ve registered for the YA Lit Symposium in November and I’m so psyched about connecting with other librarians and hearing about the newest trends and thoughts in YA lit. In the mean time, I’ve also been attending Booklist’s free webinars. Stephanie Kuenn’s recent post on YALSA’s upcoming professional development opportunities is also full of ways to keep stretching yourself and learning new things. Some schools also offer LIS classes that are completely online and don’t require you to be pursuing a degree to take. The cost for these classes is higher than most webinars or conferences, but you’ll be going into more depth on the subject.

Okay, I’m still figuring out exactly where I’m going to do this, but volunteering is a great way to address the more practical, hands-on side of keeping your skills fresh. You might volunteer at your local library or give your time to a local youth organization to keep that connection with teens. A lot of the other things I’m doing tend toward the theoretical, so it’s important to me to address the practical side, too.

So that’s my plan to tide me over until I find a library for which I’m a good fit. Are you in between places of employment or freshly graduated from library school and looking for your first job? What are you doing to keep your skills and knowledge fresh?