If I were a better prepared blogger, you would have already read about my experiences at YALSA's YA Lit Symposium, held at the beginning of November in St. Louis, Missouri. Alas, time seems to be continually slipping away from me, so you're getting my write-up with a bit of a delay. The good news is that the things I heard and saw were about lasting contributions to YA lit and programming for teens. As I did for the Texas Book Festival, I'm going to split my recap up into two parts because there is a lot to cover!
I arrived in St. Louis on Friday afternoon after a very long drive (you can see why I love audiobooks so much!). We had a couple hours to kill before the opening reception (I was not able to take advantage of the pre-conferences this time around), so we headed to the zoo. If a city I'm visiting has a zoo, it's pretty much guaranteed to be my first spot. Anyway, since this is not a review of my trip but of the conference, I won't bore you with my recap of the zoo. But it was lovely. Friday night held an opening reception for the conference. I guess I should have expected that it would just be a mixer and networking reception, but I didn't. I'm pretty socially awkward, so the forced interaction of "People Bingo" is never my cup of tea. I had expected some sort of opening remarks by the YALSA president or someone equally official. Instead, I milled around awkwardly, signing my name on squares for folks only once they approached me. I was thrilled when I met up with some friends and colleagues and basically clung to them from that point on. After a couple hours of "mingling," we left. We went to dinner at a very cool burger joint and that was it for the night.
Saturday is when the conference really kicked off. I'm pretty sure that the very first panel I attended spoiled the rest of the conference for me. I started my first YA Lit Symposium with "YA Literature and Fan-Created Work." I absolutely adored this panel. Moderated by Robin Brenner (of No Flying, No Tights), the panel was composed of Liz Burns (A Chair, A Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy), Leslee Friedman (Organization for Transformative Work), and Aja Romano (The Daily Dot). I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from this panel, but I'm so glad I attended. Panelists provided us with an introduction to fan-created work and the language that accompanies it, as well as a thoughtful and insightful production on how important fandom and creating fan work is to today's teens. Friedman also discussed the legality of fan-created work (what I took away: if the fan work is transformative, it's legal). We were able to see some examples of various types of fanart and a really wonderful video of teens discussing their fandom and their work. It's strange - when I was a teenager and we first got our computer, I remember reading fanfiction and loving it. Of course, I knew that fanfiction still existed but I never made the connection between my own enjoyment of fanfiction as a teenager and today's teens. This panel was informative and entertaining and definitely made me want to have a fanart night for the teens at the library.
After a short break, I moved on to the next panel, "The Future of Review Guidance." The panel was comprised mainly of contributors to the Adult Books 4 Teens blog and wasn't exactly as illuminating as I hoped. Actually, I think this panel and I got off on the wrong foot. The very first thing discussed was the definition of review - essentially critical analysis of a title - and its difference from reader response - mainly what I do here on the blog. Though the panelists all agreed that there was a place for both, I felt a bit like reader response was less valuable than critical review. It made me wonder if I'm not taking my blog in the right direction and if I should even continue blogging if I can't commit the time to critical review of every title I read. It's not that I don't think critically about what I read - I feel it's nearly impossible to be a librarian and not think critically about what you read. I just don't find myself with enough time to write a critical review; lately, I'm finding it hard to find time for reader response. Also, I don't feel like I have the authority to provide critical review - it sort of reminds me of writing essays on English literature, something I haven't done in years. I don't think I could express my thoughts eloquently enough to make my attempts at critical analysis worthwhile. So, from the get-go, I felt, as a blogger, that I was less than what this panel was discussing and that made it difficult for me to focus on what was actually being discussed. This is, of course, my own personal hang-up, and I'm sure other attendees got a lot out of the panel. It just made me feel a bit dejected about blogging.
There was a lengthy break for lunch at that point; conference attendees had the option of an optional author luncheon feature David Levithan and Patricia McCormick. Since I was paying out of my own pocket for attending, I had to pass on the luncheon, so I met up with my boyfriend (he accompanied me on the trip so he could see an old college friend) to grab some lunch and check out Busch Stadium (home of the Cardinals).
After our lunch break, I headed to "A Matter of Facts and Fiction: Giving Teens a Research Edge through YA Author Panels." Maybe I was in a bit of a food coma, but the majority of this presentation just did not sink in with me. According to the description, five authors were there to discuss a pilot program in which teens and authors came together to face the trials and tribulations of doing research in an increasingly digital world. I guess I sort of got that, vaguely, but to me, it seemed most of the presentation consisted of the authors discussing how they did research for their novels. That's fine, and most of what they discussed was very interesting, particularly since their novels are all markedly different. I guess I expected something more along the lines of either how to connect teens with authors, or how to get teens the nonfiction they wanted and enjoyed. So, my lack of enthusiasm for this panel is probably as much my fault as anything else.
The final session on Saturday that I attended was called "Make it Pop: How to Use Pop Culture in Your Library." This was another fun session, though I don't think it was as helpful as it was entertaining. The session started with sort of a definition of popular culture and what it means to teens. Then, the discussion moved to ways to incorporate popular culture into programming and displays for the library. The point was made that popular culture trends change much more quickly than they did in previous years and, if you can't stay current with what's popular, maybe you shouldn't run a program or put up a display based on pop culture. For example, is it still relevant to make a display or run a program based on Twilight? Well, the final movie did just come out a few weeks ago, but it's certainly not as culturally relevant as it was a couple years ago. If you run a program or put up a display based on something that's already had its moment in the spotlight but isn't there anymore, you run the risk of alienating your teen population by seeming like you don't really know what will appeal to them. There is almost nothing worse than being a teen librarian whose teen patrons think is uncool. I was pleased to see a lot of discussion about fandom again during this program - we really need to figure out ways to capitalize on this here in libraryland. One audience member did comment that one of the easiest and most successful teen programs she's done was a "Fan Art Night" - she set out art supplies and invited teens to come and create fan art. Simple and effective - what we strive all programs to be like.
The day actually ended with an author book blitz - each attendee was given five tickets, which they could turn in for a signed book from one of the authors in attendance. There isn't terribly much to say about this event - it seemed to run smoothly. A few authors ran out of books early on, but I wasn't too surprised by that. I had circled the authors I was interested in meeting and the books I thought sounded good, but there was nothing I absolutely needed to have (well, I would have really liked to get a copy of A.S. King's newest but that was pretty much the first one to go). I just moseyed around and got copies of ones I thought I'd like to try.
And that was day one of YALSA's YA Lit Symposium! Stay tuned for day two!