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ALA Midwinter-Seeing where I fit in

January 24th to 28th was ALA Midwinter and held in Philadelphia, which meant I was able to go and explore more of how I fit into the huge organization that is ALA. Due to the kindness of geography, I’ve now attended both an Annual and Midwinter conference and they’ve helped me to understand better where I fit into the diverse world of librarians. At this conference, I participated in a few events that to me summed up this issue of understanding what I want to make of ALA. Also I want to talk about Philadelphia, which is the city of my heart.

To begin with, I grew up outside Philadelphia in Swarthmore, Philly has always been the city of my life. After I graduated college, I interned for a year at a museum on Penn’s Landing and spent months taking the train to Market East and then walking out to the river. I’ve stood on Market street and froze while the Mummers marched by and worried about missing the last train home after being out on South Street. For this visit, I was staying with my brother in New Jersey and so took one of the commuter lines back and forth, that meant I did miss out on some social aspects of the conference, but did see my family. Also the only reasons I’ve had for going to the Convention Center were mainly to see the Philadelphia Flower Show. To see all of the ALA signage and publishers that I’d last seen in Chicago in my own city was strange and wonderful, it helped me feel more like ALA was more a part of my life.

Now to begin with the events that made this conference click for me. The first was that I went in to see the opening of the exhibit hall which I had missed in Chicago due to attending an alumni reception for the University of Michigan School of Information. This year, I was there when the doors were opened and it was a great beginning to my conference as I had a few wonderful moments of different worlds crossing. First I found the booth for YALSA where I would volunteer on Saturday morning and will speak about next.

Then I came upon the Harry Potter Alliance, a wonderful organization that channels the energy of fandom into social action. I knew of them because a dear friend who works in politics has been involved with them for a long time and it turns out the people there knew of her. This was their first time at an ALA conference and it seemed a highly successful one considering that the wizard activist ribbons they were handing out were highly popular. In the same aisle, I spotted SFWA or the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, who were also first time exhibitors, as a reader of many SFF blogs and writers, I’m aware of their work. It was nice to see them connecting with librarians though I was surprised that they hadn’t exhibited before. I went home with books in my wonderful conference bag and a sense that the conference was reaching out in interesting ways to fandom. There was also a quintet of Mummers strutting around the exhibit hall which made me grin like mad. Below is not the best picture but captures their energy and the feel of the opening.

Mummers' performers

Mummers at Midwinter

Saturday morning after a cold wait at the PATCO station, I arrived at the opening of the exhibit hall to volunteer for two hours at the YALSA booth. This was probably one of the best choices I’ve ever made connected to ALA. I was able to see the traffic going by, talk to anyone who was curious about YALSA; long-time members, students, and see how much of a community exists. 9 to 10 was quiet as many people were at meetings, but at 10, I was joined by another volunteer and by the time I left at 11, there was a crowd of librarians and friends at the booth. It was great to see friends meeting up and colleagues discussing the swiftly changing world of young adult librarianship. I’m going to work to become more involved in YALSA, because they’re a huge part of where the world of libraries are going.

After lunch with a relative, I headed to the Best Fiction for Young Adults teen session, which was amazing. The teen session is where local teens from a school or library come and talk to librarians about their thoughts on the long list of possible books for inclusion into the Best Fiction for Young Adults’ list. I learned what books the kids were reading and clearly recommending to each other because many books were talked about by multiple books. Those works brought about interesting moments as it was obvious which ones were loved, which ones kids’ thoughts depended on their own preferences. There were few that were truly hated, most of the time, a book didn’t work for someone, which was informative as if there was time, they explained why. It was a great reminder of how aware many kids are of what they like and don’t like and what’s good writing. I didn’t stay for the entire time, but most of it as I wanted to talk to the Joblist, then home for a Robert Burns’ supper.

The next major event that felt to me as if it had snuck in from a different sort of convention was waiting in line to get a copy of Fangirl signed by Rainbow Rowell. I wasn’t even aware of this signing until Friday, but due to having a friend who follows her on Twitter, I was one of the early ones in line. Macmillian press did a great job organizing the signing, everyone got a piece of paper that assured them a signed copy. In theory that meant we could have left and come back but most of us chose to lean against the back wall and hang out. There’s a vibe that you get when everyone’s waiting for a chance to meet someone who’s books matter to them, a friendly camaraderie that made the time go quickly. Most of us were reading or talking with friends and all of us were hauling about bags loaded down with books, because we were librarians. Then Rainbow Rowell was a joy and her entire backlist and new book are high on my to-read pile.

The final event I attended was the Morris’ awards and Nonfiction awards presentation that was done after the announcement of the winners of the Youth Media Awards. Since the announcements started at 8 am, I followed them on my Twitter, which was such fun. All the librarians, publishers, authors, bloggers and various book news’ outlets were sharing the winners in different ways. I was able to see some of the same energy when I got to the convention center as the noise spilled out of the various rooms where the announcements were going on.

Later, the winners of the Morris awards for the Debut fiction and Nonfiction award for young adults spoke in a different space and were available for signing. Two of the speeches left a great impression on me and made me even more conscious of the kind of librarian that I wish to be. Carrie Mesrobian, the author of Sex and Violence, spoke about how growing up she was a library rat. As a child, she was involved in many activities and then as a teen would do her own research but rarely spoke to librarians. Now she sees how those librarians made sure the books she wanted were there and that she wished more activities had been available. It was a powerful reminder of how sometimes a library can do a huge amount by just being there. The other speech that hit home was by Elizabeth Ross author of Belle Epoque, she spoke about how in her family, her sister was seen as the bookish one and that her brother didn’t read a great deal. When she decided that she wanted to write a book, she had to go against these expectations that she had internalized of herself as not a reader. Its so easy to implant these ideas when adults talk to kids and air their own perceptions instead of leaving kids space to define themselves. As a librarian and an educator, I think one of the key jobs I have is to provide resources for kids to explore, to listen and especially to let them tell me who they are.

It took me some time to put these thoughts together because ALA and its conferences have many layers and as a newer librarian, I’m still working out how I fit inside the organization. I feel like in Philadelphia, I was able to find my feet and get a better idea of how as a youth librarian, I can be part of the future of libraries. To end, here’s a picture of the Delaware River that I saw as I headed back to New Jersey and my regular life.

Philadelphia Waterfront

Philadelphia Waterfront

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