Wednesday, July 15, 2009

ALA 2009 Wrap-Up (Warning: It's LONG!)

I returned from ALA 2009 on Tuesday and have been thinking about what I would like to say about my experiences. The best way for me to divide it, I think, is into sections based on the types of activities I participated in during the weekend.

Part I: Professional Activities

I joined ALA in order to participate in more professional activities. I felt that I was not getting enough contact with people who thought the way I did and had similar goals. A colleague suggested I apply for the Emerging Leaders program and the rest is history (!) Therefore, the sessions and committee meetings I attend during the conference help me to learn more about my profession and how I can do my job better. This is an overview of a few of the sessions I attended.

On Saturday, I enjoyed attending the AASL President's program. Laurie Halse Anderson, Alan Lawrence Sitomer, and Jacqueline Woodson spoke, mostly about reading and the importance of books in the lives of children. All three lamented the loss of school librarians and how that effects the access kids have to books, as well as access to libraries in general. I work with a population very similar to the one Sitomer described (disadvantaged, urban, lots of attendance problems, transient) and I always worry that they are not reading in the summer due to lack of access. I have partnered with the public librarians in my town to help bridge school library use to public library use, and my colleagues and I also sent home nearly 50 backpacks filled with books for our students this summer. I hope people understand that lack of access truly effects urban children (and rural children too!) Anderson also told it like it is about the potential loss of BBYA--thanks, Laurie!

Another session I attended was called "Walk the Line" and provided information regarding censorship vs selection. This has been a hot topic among librarians recently (even making the cover of SLJ). I don't think this session provided the "aha" moment, but rather cemented the things I know about selection. While we all have more limited budgets each day, it is exceptionally important that we choose wisely based upon our patrons' needs and the constraints of our selection policy. The presenters made strong points about the awesome responsibility of providing patrons with resources that they are looking for without prejudice because they count on their libraries. My students frequently come to me asking for certain types of books. I am always open to listening to their ideas and trying as hard as I can to get what they want and will enjoy. I also make a point of reading the books kids recommend to me. I have discovered a lot of great reads through student recommendations.

This was the first ALA event at which I had the privilege of presenting to my colleagues. I am a member of AASL's Best Websites for Teaching and Learning task force which presented our inaugural awards this year at the conference. We had tables for 150 participants and decided that we would add some chairs in the back in case people did not want to sit at the tables. We ended up with a packed house--I couldn't resist taking a few pictures from the stage! The presentation was interactive, including polling the audience using their cell phones and Polleverywhere (a persuasive argument for cell phone use in schools) and a Skype call with James Byers, one of the co-founders of Wikispaces. We were initially concerned about possible technical difficulties, but were fortunate that everything went well and we were able to show some of the capabilities of our winners. The full list, as well as some example tie-ins to the Standards for the 21st Century Learner, a PDF of the bookmark listing the winners, and a Voicethread telling more about the winners, is on our website. Please feel free to visit--and nominate a favorite website for inclusion on the 2010 list! (Special thanks to Pam Berger for leading our task force--Skype calls will never be the same!)

If you have never been to an all-committee meeting, I highly recommend that you take the opportunity at ALA Midwinter or Annual. It's a great way to get involved with the work of the association. I attended AASL's all-committee session this year to meet with the LMS Role in Reading task force. I have participated on this task force for the past year and have gained knowledge from some of my most respected LMS colleagues, including Judi Morellion, our chair. While the position statement is complete, there have been few opportunities to share this important work with our colleagues. There is a toolkit that we are hoping will be added to the website to help support SLMSs all over the country and we will present some of the work at a very short session during AASL 2009 in Charlotte, NC.

Some of the most interesting sessions I attended at ALA this year were the BBYA sessions. I was unable to make it to hear the teens speak due to a conflict, but I loved sitting in and listening to my colleagues respectfully and thoughtfully discuss YA literature. I have heard various people talk about their experiences on the BBYA committee and I was grateful to have the opportunity to watch the process in action. I loved the green and red "YES" and "NO" paddles that each participant used to agree and disagree with one another. It was fascinating and I hope to attend more of these sessions in the future.

Part II: The Exhibits

The first time I ever saw an ALA exhibit floor I was completely overwhelmed. I couldn't believe the corporate products and services that were brought together in one place for librarians. I was only slightly more prepared for ALA in Chicago because I had seen a list of the authors who would be appearing and signing and I know the companies I like to see when I am at ALA. However, I was constrained by my meeting schedule, so I knew I would have only a few time periods when I could cruise through and see what was new and hot. It was probably good, however, that I was limited because the exhibits were a madhouse! There were so many people on Saturday that I decided to leave. I couldn't take the crowd. It was hard to talk to the reps in the booths, which is usually my favorite part of the exhibits. On Sunday and Monday I had better luck talking to the reps and even getting some books signed by authors. The highlights for me included meeting Sarah Dessen, Sherman Alexie, Laurie Halse Anderson, Sarah Ockler, e lockhart, Holly Black, Matthew L. Holm and Jennifer Holm, and Justina Chen Headley. My surprise meet up with Gitty Daneshvari, author of School of Fear, was also a high point. She was so friendly and I loved her book, so it was a cool moment. I also had Judy Blume and Neil Gaiman sightings, but could not wait in their loooooong lines!

I enjoyed getting a chance to thank the reps from Bound to Stay Bound who have provided an award which will facilitate my attendance at AASL in Charlotte. I wanted them to know just how fortunate I feel to receive their funding in tight times. I heard grumbling from many sources who felt that there were less "free" books and other types of swag at this conference than they have seen in the past. I, for one, understand the commitment that the vendors who attend ALA make to be a part of this conference. When thousands of people attend, the vendors cannot be expected to provide each person with a giant pile of free books. That just isn't good business. However, it is good business to be friendly and informative, as well as provide materials which will create buzz about their newest products and resources. Sometimes that means ARCs, but often brochures/reader's guides and other promotional materials. I am glad that so many vendors choose to travel and be a part of ALA, even in tight economic times--it's great to speak directly with reps you may only know electronically and see demos of new and innovative products. I hope that they will continue to be able to support and sponsor ALA even if it means that the way they participate evolves in future years.

Part III: The Awards

This year my sister attended ALA with me (our first ever "sister" trip). I wanted her to have the full experience, so we attended both the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder and Printz (she also attended the YA Coffee Klatch/Morris presentation--it conflicted with my presentation). I have attended the Printz in the past, but this was my first Newbery. I am so grateful that I attended the Newbery/Caldecott/Wilder banquet. It was interesting to end up sitting with a woman who was on a previous Newbery committee and get some insight on her experiences. The part I enjoyed the most, though, was the speeches. Beth Krommes, winner of the Caldecott Medal for her illustrations in The House in the Night, was so down-to-earth. I could feel the excitement that she must have felt when she found out she was being honored. I was able to congratulate her briefly the following morning and she mentioned how difficult it was to write her speech because she is an artist, not an author. No matter, I think, because I was just so happy to witness her joy.

The next speaker was Neil Gaiman, winner of the 2009 Newbery Medal for The Graveyard Book. The high point of the speech for me was when Neil said he stands, " . . . on the side of books you love . . .," in the conversation of books you like vs books that are good for you. I, too, stand for well-loved books and stories, sometimes reading favorites over and over. In addition, it was fun to hear him tell the story of being a "feral child" among the library stacks. The stories Gaiman shared were inspiring and interesting--I'm sure I'll go back to the audio provided at the dinner when I need a pick-me-up in the future.

The third speaker of the evening, Ashley Bryan, was honored with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Bryan's speech was an amazing combination of his life experiences and having audience speak chorally the beautiful words of Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni. I had goosebumps throughout and made so many connections to the kids in my community through his words. My sister and I ran into him the next morning and had a brief moment to thank him for inspiring us. We were overwhelmed when he hugged us both. What a genuine and beautiful man.

The following evening we attended the Printz award ceremony. I like the Printz event because all of the authors get to give a speech. Terry Pratchett was unable to attend the ceremony, but he sent a video and his editor accepted the award on his behalf. In the background of the video he was making a sword (of course) and he told us that, "It's wonderful for an author when you're writing fast because you want to know what happens next." I read Nation before it became a Printz Honor and wondered if it might even win the award itself, so it was great to be able to hear Pratchett speak about the process of writing it.

M.T. Anderson, author of Printz Honor book The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II, spoke next and, let's be honest, it was awesome. He made the point that we must not underestimate the intelligence of our students--especially if we want to avoid raising children who can't think for themselves. There were cheers all over the audience throughout the speech. It's exhausting to hear people say that kids won't read certain books or that they aren't accessible, so I loved hearing an author so eloquently debunk all that nonsense based on personal experience. Not every book may be to my personal taste, but that does not mean that it won't be THE book that hooks a kid.

E Lockhart followed Anderson's speech and she laughed at the prospect of doing so. I love, love, love The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks (as well as having reading all of her other published books and short stories), but this was the first time I had heard her speak. She made the comment that, "Books are not billboards," pointing out that adults often think that YA must have a message and be good for kids or they shouldn't be reading it. I'm so glad that she had that opportunity to say that--and I hope it was heard!

Margo Lanagan, author of Tender Morsels, had to be the winner for cutest speech. It's funny to think that an author might be insecure about her work or ability--especially one who has now twice been a Printz Honor winner. She mentioned that she really didn't think she could write a book and kept telling herself that she wasn't so that she could get through it. I didn't finish this book before the award ceremony (fell short of my goal!), but I do have it on the table next to my bed in my (ever increasing TBR pile) and am hoping to do so quickly!

The Printz Medal winner, Melina Marchetta, made me laugh when she quoted the post-announcement bloggers who wrote, "Melina who? Jellicoe what?" and other such things when Jellicoe Road was announced as the Printz winner. I will admit that this book was not on my radar, but I'm so glad it won because I ended up reading a well-written and interesting story that I may not have found otherwise. Marchetta made the excellent point that the "30 page rule" frequently does not hold up and that so many great surprises are found on page 31. Keep reading, folks! (It's worth it!) She also said (brilliantly), "I'd like to think the first line of a novel doesn't make sense unless you've read the last." I hope readers give Jellicoe Road a chance--it's a wonderful journey. I know that I will be re-reading it in the near future because I will get so much more the second time around.

Part IV: The Social Aspect

Let's be honest: a big part of ALA is the excitement of being able to socialize with other librarian-types. Through the Internet, I "know" a lot of librarians, but rarely have time to sit down and just talk and laugh with them. ALA offers just this opportunity. While standing in line to have books signed, I always meet interesting new people who have library jobs I hadn't thought of. At this conference I met an Army librarian who provides a variety of services to our soldiers. She not only provides reading materials, but also supports them as they work through distance education college classes. How cool is that?

I also got to hang out with Sara and Necia, librarians in Alaska and Boston, who I met through Emerging Leaders last year. I don't think I ever laugh more than when I'm with Sara and I also learn a lot about what it means to be a librarian situated in a very secluded area of the US. Both Sara and Necia are serving on audiobook committees of ALSC this year, so it was interesting to pick their brains about how audiobooks fit into the library puzzle.

I have heard rumors about the Bookcart Drillteam Championships (sponsored by Demco), but had never seen it in action--until Chicago. Kristin and Karen insisted that it was an activity that we could not miss. They were correct. Mo Willems and John Szieszka were the most hilarious commentators. I spent most of the hour that I was there either laughing, cheering, or just plain old picking my jaw up off the floor. The librarians who had created routines, costumes, and then trained in order to put on the Bookcart Drillteam show were a true spectacle of library awesomeness. I don't have a staff of librarians to do this with, but am considering the creation of a virtual team. Look out, DC 2010!

Karen and I had a mission during the Chicago conference: to take new blog photos. After all, the Denver photos are so wintery--it's time for an update! The only logical place for us to complete this task was the adventure of the glass balconies at the Skydeck. At 103 stories up, we were suspended over the city of Chicago. It was both unnerving and awesome! I realized, more than anything, that I didn't see enough of Kar this trip as we are involved in different parts of ALA and stayed at different hotels. The blog connects us and our books, but most of the books we will write about between now and ALA Midwinter in Boston will be a complete surprise to each other since we missed out on our Bedtime Booktalks, Chicago style.

Part V: The Summary

I was so exhausted when I heaved my book-filled suitcase onto the train Tuesday afternoon. All I wanted to do was get home and sleep. Since that time, I have talked my to husband and kids, rested a little, and received my box of books. I also took the time to clear out my Google Reader (holy cow!) which was pretty full due to lack of Internet access during the conference (ironic, I know!) and catch up on the BBYA news which I really wanted to follow, but had a hard time due to scheduling during the conference. I am appreciative to all of the amazing people at ALA who plan and carry out an amazing conference. Being able to recharge my librarian batteries each summer makes it possible to make it through the tough days of job cuts, budget cuts, and other tedious moments of daily life. I would also like to thank all of the vendors who make the ALA event possible. Without you, I suspect I could not afford to attend a conference of such magnitude. Your generosity is appreciated. Finally, to all the amazing librarians who I briefly spoke with over the 5 days I was in Chicago: thank you for your collective wisdom. You are an amazing group of people who, I know, are changing the world in small and large ways each day!

Part VI: Random Sidenotes

Best book tour shoes: Sarah Dessen (shiny and hot pink!) tied with Laurie Halse Anderson (in honor of her Margaret A. Edwards Award: orange high top Converse!)

Best comfortable shoes: Lorie Ann Grover (pink Puma ballet flats with ribbons!)

Best business cards: Karen (pictures she has taken, including China!) tied with Justina Chen Headley (camoflauge Teen Book Drop cards for Readergirlz!)

Best Swag: Mo Willems/Disney Hyperion (Elephant and Piggy chubby pencils!) tied with AASL's 21st Century Learner buttons (Think, Create, Share, Grow!)

Coolest iPhone App in action: Kristin showed me how she can take a picture of a book cover and have it transfer to her purchasing list (ahhhhh, now if I just had an iPhone!)
Best Guacamole: Angels and Mariachis (all gauc, no lettuce!)
Most interesting hotel: Hotel Monaco (they give you a goldfish to enjoy during your stay AND they provide bath bombs! Sadly, I did not stay there)

Most surprising revelation: still hearing librarians say they don't read (I won't ever stop being surprised at that)

Best laughs: listening to Sara describe her one-eyed cat during our giddy post-Printz dessert at the Palmer House Hilton (sadly, there was no dessert at the event, but we more than made up for that!! Thanks again, Sara!!)

Favorite moment: getting into a cab where the driver had to move a giant stack of well-read books so I could sit down!

Saddest moment: realizing that I would not be able to connect with my other Emerging Leader pal, Jenny, due to schedule conflicts and transportation issues (next time, Jen!)

Thank you Chicago, ALA, and all the many vendors and librarians who made ALA 2009 a wonderful experience. I can't wait for the next one! :-)


  1. Great summary, Laura! Counting the days 'til we hit the next conference.

  2. Did I every tell you how proud of you I am? Well now I did.