ALA Midwinter 2015

Takeaways from Sessions at #alaac15

We’re now a two weeks out from the conclusion of the 2015 ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco, which is a good amount of time for those who were able to attend to be able to let the learning percolate into some major takeaways. As promised, we at the Public Awareness Committee are back to follow up on some of the sessions we were most excited for at ALA.

Leadership & ALSC – Lisa Guernsey gave an excellent keynote to tie in with the official release of the white paper Media Mentorship in Libraries Serving Youth. Her talk, titled “Literacy & Equity in the 21st Century: The Critical Role of Media Mentors,” began with the acknowledgement of the “quiet crisis”–that children are struggling to learn to read proficiently. Guernsey quoted data about how two-thirds of American children in fourth grade are not reading at a fourth grade proficiency, and that numbers are even high amount children of color and children on free and reduced lunch. That’s a crisis indeed. We know that is major crisis exists, and if we ignore technology and how it can be used with children, says Guernsey, we are missing an opportunity to support kids. Guernsey went on to share some research and resources on this topic, including some tips and recommendations for using technology in positive, literacy-developing ways with children. Her core message, if anything, is that any tool that can help get toward equity in children’s literacy is one worth exploring to wield it well.

Pura Belpré Award Celebración – I was unable to attend this celebration due to another engagement, but I am thrilled that the remarks of medal and honor winners are available online for anyone who’d like to celebrate these talented writers and illustrators even more. Here are the Belpré remarks. And all throughout the conference, folks were reminding attendees to look forward to next year’s 20th anniversary celebration of the Belpré. It’s sure to be an event to remember!

Babies Need Words Every Day – This program served as the major release of ALSC’s initiative “Babies Need Words Every Day,” which aims to help close the 30 million word gap by encouraging parents and caregivers of young children to interact with their children through talking, reading, singing, and playing. If you haven’t yet seen the beautiful posters–designed to go over changing tables, but truly limitless in their applicability–make sure you do that ASAP and print some off for your library and other local establishments that families with young children use. Then check out School Library Journal‘s excellent writeup of both this conference session and the initiative.

Speeches at the Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Awards Banquet – These speeches are moving every year, but I think Dan Santat’s Caldecott acceptance speech takes the metaphorical cake for packing the biggest punch. Santat, it turns out, is not only an incredibly prolific author and illustrator with over a dozen books out last year along; but he’s also affected by a persistent feeling of “will he ever be good enough.” This sentiment really resonated with me in a library conference context, as I see so many library professionals who fall into this same psychological trap–doing so many things, but not being able to easily see the value and import of those things. Santat’s award perhaps means all the more because he never assumed he deserved it. This speech (read it in full here) in particular reminded me why I am so happy there are so many awards for youth media, because there are so many deserving authors and illustrators whose works make huge impacts on the lives of children. Kwame Alexander’s Newbery acceptance speech was beautiful in its own poetic way, with the author’s reminiscences of how, he thinks, he got to the point of being at that podium accepting the award. Life is full of moments of impact–that’s my major takeaway of the Newbery speech (read it in full here). And finally, Donald Crews wrapped up the evening with his acceptance of the Wilder Medal, during which he reflected on a life and career filled with art and love. Beautiful words (read the speech here) to accompany a beautiful body of work.

Early Literacy Outreach for Teen Parents – This is another session which I personally was unable to attend, but I had quite a few conversations with folks who were able to sit in on the session. The biggest takeaway of these attendees’ takeaways, for me, was the framing of the unique and powerful role that a library staff member can fill in the life of a teen parent. The presenters set up an analogy of the librarian not as teacher to the teens, but as a sort of grandparent. These teens have plenty of teachers, most of whom are ultimately concerned with whether the teens learn specific content. Grandparents, on the other hand, are full of joy at spending time with the teen; supportive of the teen; and both a resource and role model in ways that are not didactic. In filling that grandparent-type role, librarians serving teen parents are able to have a tremendous impact on the whole lives of the teens, including but not limited to just their parenting. What a powerful way to think of this work.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, I recommend checking out the coverage and recaps of the conference that have been published here on the ALSC Blog. You can check out all the livebloggers’ coverage by perusing the “Live Blogging” tag, and you can also read a recap from our division president, Andrew Medlar.

What were your top takeaways from #alaac15?

Amy Koester is Youth & Family Program Coordinator at Skokie (IL) Public Library and is writing this post for the Public Awareness Committee, of which she is chair. You can reach her at

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