In September, I was afforded the opportunity to attend the 2022 ALSC Institute – #ALSC22 – in Kansas City as a recipient of the Friends of ALSC Scholarship. It was my first time attending the Institute, and after two very tumultuous years of the COVID pandemic and its lingering effects, I was excited to attend an in-person gathering of my children’s services peers at the national level.
As always, when attending any type of professional conference, I was impressed by the slate of keynote speakers and educational programs offered. I was happy to see that most educational sessions were offered more than once, because as often happens, I wanted to attend everything! With schedule in hand, I developed a plan that included sessions I hoped would inform my practice once I returned to my library.
More than a Checkbox: APALA’S Evaluation Rubric for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Youth Literature was my first stop. Not only was I able to listen to and learn from Dr. Sarah Park Dahlen and her colleagues, I also got to view and evaluate several titles using the APALA Rubric with other youth-serving library workers under their guidance. We got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly, and learn which is which. Spoiler alert: I recognized one of the titles discussed because I had purchased it for my collections, and uh-oh, it was on the ugly list. When asked by another session participant what to do with those titles if they exist in our collections, one of the presenters commented, “Remove it. It’s a sunk cost.” I followed her advice upon returning to my library, and plan to apply the APALA Rubric to future purchases.
Another standout session was Dr. Michelle H. Martin’s Black Kids Camp Too, Don’t They?, which highlighted the many ways in which BIPOC (Black and Indigenous people and People of Color), and particularly, Black Americans are excluded from the enjoyment of nature and outdoor spaces, which is reflected in the scarcity of literature for children and teens on the topic. Dr. Martin shared with attendees some examples of picture books that show Black children experiencing the “immersive enjoyment” of being in natural spaces. Toward the end of the session, attendees were invited to share any titles that fit the bill of featuring Black or BIPOC characters immersing themselves joyfully in nature. The group suggested a number of titles, but it is clear that there is still a long way to go in making space for Black and BIPOC children in nature in both publishing and in real-world experiences. Several weeks after attending Dr. Martin’s session, I received a copy of the book Emile and the Field by Kevin Young, with illustrations by Chioma Ebinama, for addition to my library’s picture book collection. Reading it, I recognized exactly what Dr. Martin described as a Black child immersing himself in a special natural space. I hope to discover many more such titles for addition to my collection in the future.
The discussion group Children’s Library Service in Small and Rural Libraries was where I found my people: library workers serving children and their families in smaller libraries and rural communities where they are often the ONLY librarian or staff member serving their communities and making it work with limited resources. Participants discussed creative partnerships that have allowed them to offer programming and support to their communities. We also shared tips on resource management and sharing, time management, and effective advocacy for our libraries. I remain impressed and inspired by library workers in small communities. By opening their libraries as safe, equitable spaces, they open the world to the children and families they serve.
I would be remiss not to mention the stellar welcome to Kansas City that Institute attendees received from ALSC staff, and from the library workers of the Kansas City Public Library and surrounding library systems. I was fortunate to have time to visit the Central Library of the Kansas City Public Library and view their beautiful exhibits, as well as observe their Baby Storytime, which gave me lots of ideas that I implemented right away upon my return to my library (shoutout for “The Elevator Song”, which I hadn’t used before, but is now DEMANDED at my sessions).
We also had the special opportunity to preview The Rabbit Hole, a unique museum dedicated to American children’s literature set to open in 2023. Attendees got a chance to view and experience immersive exhibits based on favorite picture books from the last century, with a special sneak peek at The Great Green Room, familiar to all from Margaret Wise Brown’s iconic Goodnight Moon. I am currently scheming a plan to return to the museum once it officially opens and bring EVERYONE I know with me.
And did I MENTION the keynote speakers? Christina Soontornvat, Dr. Nicole A. Cooke, B.B. Alston, Hena Khan, Adam Gidwitz, Julian Randall, and Young Vo? At one Institute? Hearing the why of what they do, about the children they work and write for and about moved me to tears more than once. Despite the pushback some of their books have received, they keep writing for the children they once were, and for the children now who so desperately need to see themselves reflected in the books available to them.
I returned home from Kansas City with a head full of ideas, some of which I have already been able to implement at my library. More than that, though, I returned with a heart full of gratitude for all the authors, educators, advocates, and library workers who go to work every day with the intention of creating safe, equitable, diverse, and vibrant library spaces, literature, and programs for the children and families they serve. In a time of mounting challenges to libraries and library services, knowing that I’m on the same team as the wonderful people I encountered at ALSC Institute gives me great hope for our future.
Today’s guest blogger is Katy Henderson. Katy is the Youth Services Librarian at Chatham County Public Libraries in central North Carolina. She enjoys early literacy programming, non-fiction reading (especially true crime), and taking the road less traveled by.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.