Sunday, November 29, 2009

YA in the real world

I read children's books. I say this confessionally, because I am so accustomed to being the only fully grown-up person around reading this stuff. So it is slightly surreal to attend the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents , in a ballroom ranked with hundreds of other people who get my literary allusions, arrayed to receive the more than sixty authors who spoke for as little as five minutes. But it was another YA author event in Philadelphia that literally shifted my perspective on what it is these people are doing.

Children's Book World in Haverford hosted a benefit signing for the Philadelphia Free Library last Sunday. Like the best indie book store experiences, CBW requires a cognitive shift to a place where bookstores contained books you actually wanted to buy. And last week you could have a conversation, immediately afterwards, with the author, in an environment devoid of the press and grab of the exhibit floor. And these were the authors: Laurie Halse Anderson, T.A. Barron, Sarah Dessen, Steven Kluger, Justine Larbalestier, David Levithan, Lauren Myracle, Scott Westerfeld, and Jacqueline Woodson. Wow, huh? (Westerfeld & Myracle above) But seeing these rather august individuals compelled to mill about with their readers make me think there is something to the industry quite apart from writing.

Perhaps its because of
NaNoWriMo , and the extremely workmanlike advice I have seen distributed over the course of the month, but I began to see the process of working at this sort of writing for young people as distinct from sitting in a garret, waiting on the muse. It is more like content creation, crafting tools which will engage young people and push them forward on a path to full literacy and democratic participation. And we are like wholesalers for this work, connecting it with the end consumers, quite apart from any sense of literary merit. And I began to wonder about readership of YA outside of institutional settings, and how my own fangirl enthusiasm can help serve my students when I am too star-struck to attempt conversation. Meanwhile, the close proximity to these amazing authors will give me something to sigh about while shelving.

Prediction: As chain bookstores stock an increasingly limited range of materials, professional development opportunities connecting school librarians with noteworthy fiction will be more important than ever.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Technorati wants me to insert the code XSGUY2E7CEUH on this site to verify ownership. Still upset about someone stealing my url when I forgot it wasn't set up to auto-renew. Will keep you posted.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

From deep within the 11th Circuit

My Google News alert started popping up yesterday morning. The Supreme Court was not going to hear the ACLU's case surrounding the removal of Vamos a Cuba from Miami-area school libraries. I am no legal scholar, but that refusal leaves the ruling -- that individuals can call for the removal of material they personally deem factually inaccurate from school library collections -- standing in the 11th Circuit Court, which includes Alabama and Georgia as well as Florida.

I don't even want to get into the claims on the part of the self-described former political prisoner who lodged the complaint against a picture book. I went to Cuba in 2004 and have pictures of Cuban children laughing and smiling, much like those pictures on the cover. But that is a story for another day.

Until yesterday,  I had been confident in my laboratory for intellectual freedom, as Justice Brennan described it, feeling that Board of Education of Island Trees versus Pico had once and for all established that school boards should not bow to community pressure to remove "objectionable" materials from the shelves. So the high court allowing this decision to stand chills me to the marrow, for the same reason I have never wanted our library's catalog online for home access. I want to preserve our students' right to intellectual freedom, which means preserving their ability to a receive diversity of opinions. Meanwhile, in region where selection is often muddied with censorship, it will be interesting to see how this will be played out next. Will it be the books on non-Christian religions? From authors affiliated with left-wing political causes? Or will it merely offer a mechanism for blanket protest against those lists of books, the ones we hear are disseminated at some of the churches?

I got a phone call last spring.
"Do you have 'My Daddy Has a Roommate'?" said the caller, who did not bother to identify himself.
"No," I said, not bothering to correct him on the title or share that, as a high school library, our number of picture books is small and almost all curricular.
"Do you have the Bible?"
"Yes," I said.
"Good." he said, and hung up.

I don't know who preached about homosexual lifestyles seeping into the school via the library collection. But next time, it might be question about a book I hold, and if it comes at the behest of a community member, not a parent whose student has selected that book from our collection, I might have to begin to think about another sort of laboratory altogether.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I'm on the way home from Charlotte, thinking about the series of days that made up the 14th Annual AASL conference. It was one of the best experiences, personal or professional, I’ve ever had.

I eased into things by going for the Wednesday night paddleboat dinner cruise on the Catawba Queen around Lake Norman. Despite the full moon, it was difficult to see much beyond the powerplants ringing that man-made body of water. But the dark night provided an opportunity to talk with local North Carolina librarians as well as some from Connecticut, Arkansas, and Illinois. There was an especially anticipatory air as five of the eight women at our table were attending the conference for the first time.

Thursday, the Blogger's Cafe kicked off, and I actually acted as a guinea pig, sharing my own students' accounts of what they do online (slides linked from here) in the cafe's first session. Many people wandered in from the registration area and listened to a little or chimed in with their own observations, and I was able to share some of the teens' favorite sites for online content creation and consumption. That Blogger's Cafe, a stone's throw from the requisite Starbucks, was an amazing experiment where anyone could stop in to hear some fresh ideas in an informal space or get some hands-on help with online tools. Over the four days, I learned about Intel's online site to promote visual thinking, scenario-based online netiquette, and my own personal favorite, Robin Williams' amazing work melding real life and virtual worlds in video.

I have long been a fan of danah boyd's ethnographic research talking with young people about social networking, so it was especially terrific to see her is person at the opening session Thursday afternoon. I spent part of Friday volunteering, counting heads, passing out evaluation forms, and mostly trying to keep latecomers from crowding into the already-full session on electronic note-taking.

Midday Friday, I helped with the Web 2.0 smackdown, sharing digital storytelling strategies along with Brenda Anderson and Shonda Brisco, while other amazing progressive school media specialists talked about information fluency, digital citizenship, and reading promotion. The most exciting portion of the presentation was the audience participation, via the microphones set up for that purpose or via twitter and chatzy.

A quick trip around the exhibits revealed debut novelist Carrie Ryan signing her debut novel, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, a current fave among my students, I especially enjoyed a late-afternoon session from a group from the University of Georgia on the role of class in children's literature, The panel touched upon a range of depictions of non-Western cultures, affluence and poverty, and labor issues.

The Ethics in a Web 2.0 World session Saturday morning used table-talk to present a range of scenarios, most based on real life, challenging our understanding of everything from intellectual property to student privacy to censorship involving read/write wrinkles. I also spent some time talking about my own doctoral work on the recursive and reiterative nature of new literacies with other doc. students and faculty.

After Marco Torres' closing session, the gala at the ImaginOn children's space gave everyone an opportunity to dance, talk, play, and explore an amazing space full of media. Every nook and cranny of the space offered opportunities to engage young peoples' creativity at this combination library and theater. The video production space, along with the stop motion cameras, has me more determined than ever to explore the free online storytelling tool Scratch.

Sunday, authors Linda Sue Park and Richard Peck spoke at the author's breakfast, both with much laudatory to say about the role of school librarians. That was a sort of relief, since much of the conference being shot through with anxiety about the future of the profession. Park's description of bookstores in Korea, which serve as de facto libraries in a culture where libraries are usually associated with higher education, was particularly striking when contrasted with her own childhood access to libraries in the U.S.. Despite the baseball theme, her Keeping Score is something I cannot wait to read. Peck was hilarious, provcative, and profound.

I feel lucky to have been part of the conference technology subcommittee producing content behind-the-scenes to share the experience with those who has purchased the bThere pass or for those looking for backchannels to connect with like-minded media specialists. I uploaded photos to flickr (mostly the work of my friend Cyndy) and tweeted almost compulsively about the goings-on. For those of you without a track pass, the tagged conference content was aggregated onto another site by Donna Baumbach. 21st century librarians can be clever like that.

Sunday, I headed away from the conference center to swing by the Levine Museum of the New South, currently housing Changing Places, an exhibit on multiculturalism and cross-cultural understanding. It was a really pleasant ending to a stimulating five days full of new and old connections.

AASL will be in Minneapolis in 2011, and I hope that its conference's organizers take a page from this one and remember that learning is always more fun when participatory and inclusive.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How to have a productive conference

In honor of my friend, Cyndy, who will be attending the American Association of School Librarians conference for the first time this week, I have made a list of my own indispensibles, both tangible and attitudinal:

The tangible:

Business cards for new connections and pre-printed return-address-label-style stickers for vendor sign-ups and drawings, so you don't spend all your time writing your particulars.

A snuggly shawl for too-cold rooms, comfy layers and your favorite hold-all.

Your laptop, fully charged, with an extension cord for your adapter.

Google docs versions of your itinerary and conference schedule with sharing enabled.

The intangible:

Openness to speak to everyone you sit down beside. These are YOUR people. For introverts like myself, this can be the hardest, but ultimately most rewarding aspect of conferencing.

Committment to get the most out of the sessions, the backchannels, and the exhibits. This will require GTD or some sort of organizational scheme to separate out what you need to hang onto versus that which isn't right for you, right now.

The wherewithal to get up and leave the session if it's not meeting your needs without guilt.

I will be working on the last point in particular. Even at the national conference level, most professional development for school librarians is still undifferentiated. I have found that I get more from sessions on topics about which I know absolutely nothing rather than choosing those attractive-soundings sessions which touch upon areas in which I am already working. I get more from stretching myself into new areas of our profession rather than sitting in sessions which are replicating information I am gleaning from my PLN on a daily basis. So if you could lead a session on the topic, I would say sitting in it is probably not the best use of your precious professional development time....

see you in Charlotte!