Sunday, September 21, 2014

2014 ALSC Institute

I have been wanting to go to the ALSC Institute, ever since I first discovered there was such a thing, two years ago. Two years of saving, the surprise agreement of my library to pay for the conference itself, and copious amounts of angst (which are involved in any traveling I do) and I was on my way! (No, I am not scared of flying. I have punctuality anxiety instilled in me by the horrible Austin public transportation system and my family's inability to get anywhere on time so I am always in "OMG I'm Going To Be Late" mode.) I also tend to have Conference Anxiety because I am Not Good at the social aspect and...I have issues.

However, I hoped the positives of the conference would outweigh the ANGST, I told myself I could play in my newly-arranged apartment when I came back, I spent several hours on Monday printing out maps and detailed schedules, and I set out. This is the story of what I did. If you are looking for detailed thoughts on sessions, they're here! Also my musings on author talks, emotional manipulation, the difference between "breakfast" and "continental breakfast" and the lust for artichokes.

Wednesday - Traveling! This involved driving, a bus, a plane, running across the Phoenix airport (I hate Phoenix. Phoenix hates me.) another plane, and a train. I arrived! I met people on the train that I knew and followed them! I determinedly took myself down to Happy Hour, despite the fact that A. I do not drink and B. I dislike noisy crowds, and was rewarded by meeting some new friends. After we determined that neither food nor drink would be forthcoming any time soon (and at this point I had definitely run through the banana and trail mix which were my sustenance that day) we adjourned to a pub down the street which had awesome food and was quiet enough to talk without yelling.

Thursday - My roommate arrived late Wednesday night (and she had a much more stressful traveling story - luckily we're at least remotely similar in size and I could lend her clothes) and we moseyed downstairs. I was all set to go seek out breakfast and then realized there was a Guerrilla Storytime going on! Storytime trumped breakfast, which was totally worth it, especially when someone demonstrated the Popcorn Train song for us, which I had never heard before and it was awesome. My kids are generally pretty shy but I think I can adapt it for the kindergarteners at least.

Session 1: Thinking outside the Storytime box: Building your preschool programming repertoire

  • This was the BEST session of the entire Institute and really started things on a high note. Marge Loch-Wouters, Amy Koester, Mel Depper, and Amy Commers did this and they were amazing. Since I canceled my preschool storytime this fall and am regrouping and preparing to completely revamp preschool services next year, this was absolutely perfect. Tons of great ideas for unique programs and their organization was spot-on and hilarious, as they popped up and down to describe programs and give the early literacy research and even helpful tips on presenting programs to your administration for approval.
Session 2: Easy programming for Discerning Tweens
  • Realistically, not every session is going to be amazing. This was probably the most disappointing session I attended, mostly because I had high expectations and it didn't meet them. I did pick up a few ideas, but mostly spent the session annoyed that the presenters seemed so...out of touch. Probably the best moment was when one said not to feel discouraged if you "only have 20 or 30 tweens at your book club" and the entire room broke out into spontaneous laughter. Although I'm not usually one who cares about such things, it did bother me that they talked about giving tweens ownership over their own content and the audience raised questions about copyright, but nobody questioned the videos of interviews with kids being shown. It did remind me to keep working on replacing the pictures of kids on my programming blog though, which is an ongoing project.
I then found my new friends from the night before and we went and found lunch! I have never actually been to a Quiznos btw. We had so much fun talking we were almost late back to the next sessions!

Session 3: Be a winner: Inspired Youth Grant Writing
  • There were some good tips in this, but it was mostly far, far beyond the scale of my own grant writing. As the presenters mentioned, it's a ton of time and work. Honestly, for me, I am more in need of staff and time than money. We're not super well off in regards to $$, but we're not too bad. Most of the grants they talked about mounted well into the thousands - I usually write requests or mini grants for well under 1,000. Anyways, I did get a few good tips that I'll be using when I write a little garden grant for our children's garden this fall.
Session 4: STEAM power your library
  • I've been to previous sessions with Amy Koester before, so most of her introductory "why STEAM at your library" remarks are familiar to me, but I always like to attend her sessions because she's very practical and I always get some new ideas to add to my steam programs, plus encouragement for what I'm already doing. I got several new ideas for Mad Scientists Club and also for a new program I'm thinking about called, tentatively, Mini Makers.
We had a fairly large break here - there was a book signing for some of the authors, but I've never seen the point in standing in book signing lines, or really getting book signed (I missed out on the fan gene completely) so I took myself off to have a look at the Oakland library. It was about a 30 minute walk and it was hot. The area felt a little iffy to me - tons of graffiti and I've lived away from the city so long that my urban instincts are pretty meh. I arrived and my first thought was that it was a clunky old building, obviously suffering budget issues as they had severely curtailed hours, there was no a/c...but as I wandered about I became more and more impressed. The library was PACKED. Every chair had someone reading, studying, or just sitting quietly. The teen area amazing, a very friendly staff person obviously knew the kids' names and they were behaving beautifully, all using the space to read or hang out. The kids area had a similarly welcoming, busy hum. I chatted with some of the librarians and they were extremely nice - told me a little about their Thatcher Hurd murals and made a few deprecatory remarks about the after school crowd, but I told them their teen space especially was far superior in behavior to my own! If my library had a mezzanine they would be throwing stuff off it constantly....anyways, it was a really nice library - I hope they get the funding to stay open or expand their hours, as they're obviously well-used.

Next, we had dinner. Someone speculated it would be chicken, rice and green beans and they were WRONG. It was chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans with carrots. I had fun chatting with some of my new friends, although the din was truly awful. Then the opening general session with Steve Sheinkin. I'm not generally much for author talks, but I really enjoyed this. He has a rather dry sense of humor which appeals to me and he was very funny and informative in talking about his path to writing, his books, the research that goes into them, and the importance of telling the stories that have been overlooked or censored. He talked primarily about Port Chicago 50, (which I did stand in line to get an ARC of last year) but it was really interesting to hear more about it.

There was a children's trivia thing at a pub, but that was it for me and I went to bed.

There was a breakfast buffet and then after you'd picked a table an author magically appeared. Mike Twohy was at our table - he's done some very cute picture books about animals but it was too noisy for anyone but the people sitting directly next to him to actually talk. Which was ok, b/c see previous remarks on my disinterest in authors in general. I listened to some interesting discussions with a couple librarians from Missouri, who live/work near Ferguson.

After breakfast, there was an author panel about diversity. It was moderated by Jamie Campbell Naidoo, whom I'd never heard of (academic apparently?) and consisted of Tim Federle, Pam Munoz Ryan, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Gene Luen Yang. They all told stories about their middle school and tween years. Rita Williams-Garcia talked about how she had nothing going for her in school but a "strong left hook" (she told hilarious stories about her mother dressing her in cast-off clothes that she picked up after funerals of old ladies!). Pam Munoz Ryan talked about the power of imagination to allow children to relate to stories whether or not they were about their own culture. Gene Luen Yang had some very funny things to say about his childhood and experiences with comics.

The two things that I enjoyed most about the breakfast, to be totally honest, was I was very excited when the authors were asked what they had coming out next, that Yang is doing a middle grade series!! I feel so much better about him being in the Comics Squad anthology now. Also, when they had all the authors stand up, I eye-marked Susan Blackaby and pounced on her before she could escape to tell her how much my library loves the Brownie Groundhog books. Ok, maybe I can be a little fan-ish. I do like telling authors that kids like their books or they work well in storytime.

Session 5: Inspired Collaboration: Early Childhood Partnerships

  • This was three speakers explaining three massive, like full-city partnerships, they worked on. It wasn't super useful, but I did get a couple ideas I can scale down to my small town. I think a couple other people were a little disgruntled as well, as they pointed out that it's really difficult to go out and do outreach when you're the only person at the children's desk and none of the other staff want to cover the children's desk (I got over this difficult by just not staffing the children's desk, but other than providing a moment of humor, I don't think it's necessarily an option for a lot of libraries)
We had a lunch break and I went to the Oakland Farmer's Market. So, most of the time I like living in my small town in Wisconsin. But every once in a while I miss living in the city and I miss living in a more temperate climate. Omigosh the fruit and the vegetables and it was all SO AMAZING. City blocks and they do it ALL YEAR ROUND. I bought a whole tub of raspberries for myself and a nectarine to eat later, and a walnut-pear tart and dried apricots and nectarines (and they're good dried fruit, not those horrible washed out apricots, but the really delicious ones that are dark orange and tangy) and then I was overcome by the number of pomegranates. So firm and red and plump and then omigosh ARTICHOKES. They had BUCKETS OF THEM. Big and green and obviously completely ripe and super delicious.

I had to make myself leave and go back to my hotel room for a cold shower (sheesh, not like that, dirty minds you librarians have. I was dripping with sweat - Oakland is hot) and then lie down for a while to recover before I tried to take a bag of artichokes and pomegranates back on the plane which I didn't think would end well for anyone. Can artichokes be classified as offensive weapons?

Session 6: Making Advocacy Awesome: A workshop for the everyday advocate
  • I was actually on my way to Tech Access On A Budget, but I was comparing notes with some of my new friends and they said that was more geared to writing grants and I'd already done one grant session. So, I picked this instead. I have kind of...mixed feelings about advocacy. On the one hand, yes, it's something that's vitally important. On the other hand, several years ago I decided that I couldn't be "on" all the time and maintain my sanity. Somewhere between the middle schoolers showing up at my front door to see where I lived and spending 20 minutes in Walmart answering questions about checking out ebooks from the library, I decided that when I was not at work...I was not at work. I know some people are constantly "on" especially those who work in embattled systems, and I respect and honor them, but I can't do that. I consider that it's my director's job to be the public face of the library and do those kinds of things. I do spend a lot of time working when I'm not at the library - collection development, networking online with other librarians, etc. and I have no problems telling people I'm a librarian, but other than that, no. I have been told that, because I choose not to promote the library at every possible moment, I am "not a real librarian" (person's name not given because I've forgotten). ANYWAYS. The point is, I have Anxiety about advocacy. I mean, I know Jenna Nemec-Loise and I didn't really think she was going to be like that, but still Anxiety. It turned out to be pretty awesome! Jenna gave some really good tips on language and reframing how you say things which I am going to use when asking for budget/programming things from my administration. Katie, who was from the Multnomah system, had some really practical advice about organizing and planning advocacy and even a FORM which is awesome and I'm going to use all their tips in presenting my new preschool out of the box programming for next year! Yay Katie and Jenna!!
The next thing was Fairyland. Throughout this whole trip, I was kind of amazed at all the children's literature-related things there were in Oakland. I vaguely associated it with crime (no, I don't know why) and I knew my Dad grew up around there (Walnut Creek) but that was all. But I kept running into these "oh yeah, that happened here, they're from around here" and it was kind of surrealistic. Anyways. I missed the first bus, into which librarians crammed to the detriment of life and limb and the obvious bewilderment and shock of the poor driver. So, by the time I caught the second bus and got to Fairyland I had missed the very beginning of the author panel but I don't think I missed much. Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, Jennifer Holm, and Mac Barnett were completely hilarious. I don't know that it was really an educational presentation, but it was side-splittingly funny. I also have to say I am sorry I didn't get to meet Mac Barnett in person because I am burning to tell him my Count the Monkeys story (long story short, I was reading it to three year olds and asked them for their plan to get rid of the lumberjacks and one angelic little boy pipes up "shoot them all!")

After the presentation, we all went to different break-out sessions (assigned previously and announced at Fairyland). I was given Hands-On Science with Deborah Lee Rose. I had never really thought of her as a science author, although I've enjoyed her picture books, but apparently she writes for a number of science presentations. I will admit that at this point I was feeling rather hot and headachy and felt a little tired of the whole "don't be scared to try science" thing, but of course she couldn't know how much STEM programming I've been doing for the past couple years! She did show a lot of interesting things from the How to Smile database, which I've never really used before, so that was really interesting. She was also very easy to listen to, which was nice given aforementioned headache. She wins for "Most soothing author voice" and I'd like to record her reading aloud bedtime stories for my next storytime (-:)

We had some time to wander about Fairyland, took pictures, and saw a little puppet show of Peter Pan with marionettes (and a rather grisly end for Captain Hook). I'm going to make our giant collaborative program in 2016 a fairy tale theme I think...and some snacks and I found my group of new friends again and we all trekked back to town. We went down to the Eat Real Festival, but most of us wanted to sit down to eat by that time and so we ended up going to a diner, Buttercup something, which was really good and we had an awesome time swapping stories and ideas and our cards.

Then I went back to the hotel and collapsed into bed, from which I was woken at about 11:30pm by my next door neighbors whooping it up - literally. My first, sleep-befuddled thought was "wha...librarians party in bars not hotel rooms. That's comic conventions." My next, clearer thought was "that's not librarians". My third, very clear, thought "I'm not dealing with this." So I stuck in my earplugs and went back to bed. Thus when my roommate came in several hours later, apparently her first thought was "how the heck is she asleep through that!?" and she complained and then everything was blissfully quiet.

Apparently, the difference between "breakfast" and "continental breakfast" is eggs or the lack thereof. Huh. Being the dedicated individual I am, I went to an 8am session even though I didn't think I was really interested in (or had already attended) all the sessions offered.

Session 7: Dewey-Lite: A solution to the non-fiction problem

  • I really didn't think I was going to get much out of this, since I have already put my picture book neighborhoods into place (although I am nowhere near done. Don't tell my director...) but I thought it would be fun to see what the Darien librarians had to say. I was really glad I went! First, it fired me up for eventually changing over the juvenile non-fiction (not yet! don't panic any staff reading this!) and secondly it gave me some good ideas for improving the picture book neighborhood process. Finally, it was fun!
Session 8: Science of Poetry
  • I was kind of done at this point and I am really leary of poetry. I know a lot of people love it, but it just leaves me cold, in general. Yes, I wrote a lot of (bad) poetry (it's all online!) and I have lots of poetry in my head, but I was just pretty doubtful about it. It wasn't a bad session - more geared towards teachers, as they emphasized their "take 5" program which is aimed at schools. It did give me some things to think about using poetry more in storytimes and working science and poetry into some of my activity table plans though, so not bad in the end.
The closing session was with Andrea Davis Pinkney. She's an amazing speaker (and has a stunning singing voice) but I have to admit it kind of left me cold. Because of some things in my own background and my own personality, anything that even vaguely smacks of emotional manipulation puts my back up and "inspiration" is included in that. I know I'm really alone in that and it doesn't affect most people this way, but I get really uncomfortable when people talk about libraries "saving lives" or we're all singing inspirational spirituals or talking about how amazing we are. I mean, I think libraries are important. I love my job. I absolutely enjoy that moment when I hand the perfect book to a kid and their face lights up, or when I spend the time to talk to a parent about finding books for their child and they're grateful for my help. I do get a little teary-eyed when teens come back and tell me they're readers now, even though they never read a book before. But the rhetoric makes me really uncomfortable. It was interesting to hear about her writing process and how she works with Brian Pinkney, as well as the research and inspiration for her books, but I have to admit that I don't purchase her picture book biographies because they don't circulate so I was a little blase. Anyways. I do think it would be amusing to put her and Rita Williams-Garcia together - they're such opposite characters in their approach to civil rights in their historical fiction and in their personalities (as seen on the stage) and you could tell that idea was going through everyone's heads when Ms. Pinkney demonstrated some boxing moves from the classes she'd taken for one of her books....

And the conference was over. But the fun did not end! One of my new friends, fellow blogger and Cybilite Maureen, set out with me to see how much of Oakland we could walk over. She visits yarn shops wherever she goes and I think this is an awesome idea, especially if we throw bead shops in there, which we did. We grabbed some pizza at a corner shop which was deliciously greasy, and then we wandered all over the Eat Real Festival. I feasted on a chocolate hazelnut tartine, which was a sort of pastry thing, and a blueberry meyer lemon frozen yoghurt popsicle from the Fat Pig which was delicious and then bought jam and honey and we had dinner and traded many, many, many library stories.

I finally tore myself away and drifted back to my hotel room in a happy haze of jam, honey and yarn. Which I then had to pack in my bags.

Sunday I went back and forth on paying for another night and just sleeping in the airport, but I finally decided that I didn't want to finish off my conference sleeping in yet another airport (bus stations are one thing - you kind of expect to be uncomfortable, you know? Although I can recommend the Indianapolis Greyhound station). However, I met a completely random couple of people in the elevator at the hotel on Saturday night who were also leaving at 4am in the morning and so the taxi I had to take at that ungodly hour was waaaay cheaper! Then I did plane, (Phoenix again, where they were about to take off and then taxied back to the airport to let someone off. See above remarks about my relationship with Phoenix) then another plane, which was consequently just a tad late so I had to wait for the next bus, but I got in fast enough that I snagged a seat on the crammed bus, back to Beloit, picked up my car, and finally home! (with a stop at Walmart for something to eat)

Conclusion: This was the BEST conference I have ever been to. I have a ton of ideas, perfectly in time for the overhaul of my programming I am contemplating next spring and the projects I am working on now. It was super easy for me to meet and hang out with people and get places and I enjoyed the whole thing immensely. I also have a serious longing for artichokes now...and realized I have no way of telling which honey sticks are which, so I guess I'll just have to taste them all!

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