Blogger Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla

A Meeting of the Minds at KidLib Camp

former Darien Librarians Lisa Nowlain (left) and Amy Laughlin (right) with the #KidLib15 Topics!

Next Thursday, August 3rd, Darien Library will host the ninth annual KidLib Camp. KidLib is a free unconference for youth services librarians, the brainchild of Gretchen Caserotti way back in 2009. The one day event, which lasts from 9-4 p.m., is a chance for professionals from public libraries and schools to get together and talk about the things that matter to them. The day is billed as an “un” conference because the topics for discussion are not predetermined. Participants suggest topics they’d like to talk about when they sign up to attend, and then in the morning before the day begins, everyone votes for their three favorites. The library provides coffee and lunch, and attendees provide the day’s discussions! Since 2012, we’ve kicked off KidLib with a brief keynote address, with educators from The Carle, Sesame Workshop, and past ALSC and ALA Presidents addressing the group at the start of the day.

Unconferences are a fun, relatively inexpensive way to connect with professionals in your area. If you’re thinking about hosting one, here are some tips:

Plan early!

We start planning for the year’s unconference around the same time we start planning summer reading. Because the event requires us to book all the meeting spaces and programming spaces in the library for the entire day, the earlier we chose a date, lock down our keynote speaker, and reserve those rooms, the easier it is for the rest of the building to plan their lives around the expected deluge of children’s librarians! Which brings me to…

Get Buy-in From Everyone Else

KidLib traditionally has between 60 and 100 attendees. Non-youth services staff in our building will be answering questions about room locations, bathrooms, the building itself, and much more during the unconference. Essentially every employee of the host library is playing host to your guests for the day. The more you involve the non-youth services departments in your planning and preparation, the more relaxed everyone will be on the day of the event. I give a schedule of the day’s events to every public service desk in the building. When front-line staff are prepared, they can do anything!

Plant Discussion Starters

Because topics are determined on the day-of, and discussion moderators are attendee volunteers, there is a potential for a discussion about storytime success, or tween programs, or anything, really, to get sidetracked into a recitation of complaints. While it’s good to vent frustrations and find commonality in issues with other libraries, complaints without solutions don’t lead to productive discussions. More than anything, we want attendees of KidLib to feel like attending was worth their time. To combat this issue, we ask our staff to join different discussions and be prepared to steer the conversation back to its original purpose if it starts going off the rails.

Work Out the Kinks as You Go

I’ve been to 7 KidLibs, and we’ve changed something, be it large or small, every year. There’s no one, perfect way to run an unconference at your library. Things that work one year might not work another. This year, because we’re starting with a panel discussion and not a keynote, we’re switching up our voting to be passive rather than participatory, which will save us time. Be flexible, and know that you can always change something that didn’t work the following year!

KidLib 2011, which was described by former Head of Children’s Services Kiera Parrott on this very blog, was my fourth day of work as a Children’s Librarian. I truly cannot imagine a better introduction to the passion, joy, and fierce intelligence of those who serve as children and teen librarians than an unconference. If you live in the tri-state area and can swing a day away from your library in August (a tough one for those of us in the middle of Summer Reading!) I invite you to join us, and add your thoughts to the discussion! And if you live on the other side of the country and would like to start your own unconference traditions, please feel free to email me with any questions you might have, at

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