Guest Blogger

You Are Not Alone: My Experience at the 2014 ALSC Intitute

I returned from Oakland almost a month ago now, but I’m still processing much of what I experienced at the ALSC Institute and still pondering how to implement what I’ve learned in my own work.  As I look back at the conference as a whole, what comes into focus for me are particular moments when I saw the work we do in a new light.  We’re all so busy at our jobs that it can be hard to take a step back to think about the impact our work has and to be intentional about how we want to support our communities.  When I look at the Live Blogging coverage of the institute it seems like a lot of sessions have already been well-covered, so what I want to share with you are little moments that were meaningful for me.

 We’re all having breakfast and listening to incredible authors speak about their work and their experiences as young people.  I’m laughing at Gene Luen Yang’s story about hiding comic books in big library books, cheering when Tim Federle talks about how to kids diverse books are just books and scooting to the edge of my seat as Rita Williams-Garcia pulls out her actual teenage diary.  Then Pam Muñoz Ryan starts to talk about how she wasn’t much of a reader until 5th grade, when she switched schools and she needed books to keep her company.  Suddenly, I remember 4th grade when I became a reader.  I’d always loved stories, but reading was such a laborious process that I didn’t enjoy it.  Then it all came together and I took-off.  With all this focus on 3rd grade reading scores, it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of what level kids are “supposed” to be reading at.  But every reader is different and kids become readers at different times for different reasons.  If you know a struggling reader (or the parent of one), you can tell them that Pam Muñoz Ryan didn’t become a “good” reader until 5th grade and things turned out pretty well for her!  We should be looking for chances to help kids take-off as readers, not adding to the pressure for them to achieve.

 Later that day, I’m listening to a fabulous presentation about Oakland Public Library’s program to train volunteers to do weekly storytimes at Head Start programs.  It’s great for the kids and it’s great for the volunteers!  I’m busily thinking about how this could work at my library.  Didn’t we used to have a program like that?  Whatever happened with it?  Who would train the volunteers?  Then Gay Ducey says something that pulls me right back into the moment.  I’m going to have to paraphrase because I didn’t manage to write down her exact words, but it was something like: “Storytime is a break from the rest of a child’s day.  We are giving them a safe space to enjoy books and reading.  We are saying ‘You don’t have to do anything but listen right now.  Just be here and enjoy this moment.’”   When you left your extension activity at outreach, when your flannel board skills weren’t up to the task: all you really need is yourself and a book.  It doesn’t need to be flashy; we’re simply making a space for children to interact with books in positive ways.

 Flash forward to Fairyland a day later.  I’m warm, I’m sitting very close to people I’ve never met, but I don’t mind at all because I’m totally entranced by the conversation happening between Nina Lindsay, Mac Barnett, Jennifer Holm and Daniel Handler.  Suddenly Daniel Handler says something a little…risque.  (This should surprise no one.)  I worry for a moment and then I hear loud laughter from all directions.  I get to remember that although we work with children, we’re adults.  We can love children’s books and be devoted to helping kids and families, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be irreverent now and again.  In fact, having a sense of humor can often be our saving grace.

 There were plenty more notable moments, but I’ll leave you with these three.  All of them led me to my main take away from the institute: I am not alone.  When I’m strategizing how to balance my time, how to approach my manager with a new idea or how to entice that very active toddler to participate in storytime—someone else is dealing with these same problems.  As children’s librarians, I truly believe that we are each other’s best resource.  Having the opportunity to attend a whole conference with our colleagues has left me feeling connected, supported and heard like never before.

Hope to see you in Charlotte in 2016!

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