Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

How I Survived Conferencing with Teens and You Can Too

The other day I talked about how ALA 2013 was going to be a commuter conference for me, and mentioned that I would be bringing teens along for the first time.  All of this contributed to an e..x..h..a..u..s..t..i..n..g weekend, but honestly, I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity and would do it again in a heartbeat.  What’s the tradeoff that makes it so worth it?  Let this picture tell you the thousand words of why:

She met Ellen Hopkins!
Oh my gosh! The teens were so over the moon excited about it all, it was better than Christmas.  In the pic above, she had just met and spoken to an author (Ellen Hopkins) for the very first time.  If you could bottle that excitement and joy, you’d be a millionaire.  

Our trip wasn’t just about hobnobbing with authors and picking up galleys, though don’t get me wrong – that was crazy exciting for these teens.  The six teens I brought to Chicago were there to share their opinions and perspectives about the Best Fiction for Young Adults nomination list
The mic and crowd were intimidating, but the teens shone.
And share, they did. You can view the whole session on YALSA’s blog, or read the Storify of tweets of comments and impressions during the session.   
So how does all of this work exactly?
For the BFYA teen session, be on the lookout for the callout from YALSA this fall for teens in the Philadelphia area for the Midwinter Meeting, and next spring for teens in the Las Vegas area to come to the Annual Conference.  The application process involved describing my teen group and including some reviews and opinions on the nominees from my teens.  It’s helpful to plan ahead if you think you might want to do this so that you have some reviews at the ready when the time comes.  
If you’re not near one of the upcoming conference cities, that doesn’t mean your teens can’t participate in something similar.  You could host a teen book summit with libraries nearby, work to get your teens involved in any reader created selection lists in your state, or play off of the Teen Top Ten nominees during Teen Read Week.  
I was fortunate to have partnered with a school librarian on this endeavor, and she had access and practice in the nuts and bolts of moving teens around.  Permission forms and parent contact was her domain!  We were also lucky to be able to walk and take public transportation to get around, which eliminated a lot of my worry over driving teens around or ensuring that they arrive safely on their own.
Some tips: 
Remind them to bring water and wear comfortable shoes.  
Explain, in as much detail as possible, what you expect from them and what they can expect from the event
Communicate your time table clearly with parents.
Collect cell phone numbers from the teens and give them yours.  This is not a level of intimacy I’m typically comfortable with, but when one of our teens was separated from the group on the Exhibits floor, wow was I glad she had my number and quickly found us!
Plan timing carefully and build in some cushion so you are sure to arrive where you need to be when you need to be there.
Take a deep breath, and have some fun — that’s what your teens are doing!
What seemed most valuable to the teens was being taken seriously.  
Is it possible to convene a teen committee to review potential summer reading titles for the school?  Could you create a yearly Local Favorites list that is similarly teen informed?  If so, what about opening the deliberations on the titles up to the public so that the teens get a wider audience and a chance to demonstrate how informed and thoughtful they are?  Bring in technology too!  You could encourage Vine submissions for teen book votes for a barrage of six second platform videos that could loop on your website or in the teen lounge.
The author connection
Truth: meeting authors and getting galleys was a HUGE draw for our teens.  We were fortunate enough that Simon & Schuster and Penguin both hosted events that teens were invited to, which lead to  signings and conversations with Ellen Hopkins, D.J. MacHale, Julie Berry, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.  Visiting the Exhibit floor got the crew up close and personal with Frank Beddor too.  This was big (see photo above if you’ve forgotten already how amazing it was for teens to meet an author).  But Annual is not the only place to meet an author.  For many of us, hosting an author event at our own library is simply cost prohibitive.  But partnering with other local public and school libraries might make it possible.  
Frank Beddor, author of Looking Glass Wars
Don’t limit yourself to the library world either.  Check out your local book stores for author signings and coordinate a trip for a handful of teens.  Be on the lookout for smaller regional conferences and events.  Here’s the deal: one thing librarians can offer even the most jaded teens is access.  We offer them access to information and resources, books and their authors.  Staying connected to the book world around you and enables you to extend that information to your teens.  You become the conduit through which they can delve even deeper into their favorite books, and forge connections to other teens who share their interests.  
Teens from several library groups connected and immediately bonded over books.

How do you work to connect teens with authors and the larger book world?  Have you hosted authors that work easily with libraries?  Taken teens to author signings?  Escorted them to conferences and events?

-Heather

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