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Happy Hour? When what we do is different than what we say we do

In case you missed it, Heather, Karen, Robin and I were on Twitter on Thursday night (and on email too but you can’t see the emails, poor you because they had way more sarcasm and snark) discussing the YALSA Happy Hour that will be going on in Chicago. 

Disclaimer: Heather and I are members of YALSA and have been since library school. Karen is an on again and off again member as finances allow.  We have worked on a variety of YALSA committees. We are BIG YALSA supporters here on Teen Librarian Toolbox!

The problem we’re having is not the Happy Hour.  Meeting and mingling and drinking with YALSA people is awesome and should be done more often – let’s start local meet-ups!  Our problem is with the evening’s “entertainment.” 

(Screen capture from the YALSA blog as of 6/22/2013 8:15am CDT):

Now, I know that the YALSA Office, President & Board always work hard to do fun things when the conferences and meetings come into town, and it’s a huge job. Trying to find a place to hold all of us is hard, trying to find a time that doesn’t conflict with the majority of YALSA meetings, and the things that we know in advance that publishers are doing is difficult, and trying to balance that with the non-existent budget and the fact that everyone is spread everywhere in the hotels all just makes you want to pull your hair out.  We appreciate the work YALSA, President Jack Martin, and the Board do.  Really.

Here’s where I have issues with the whole message coming across in this.


First, there’s the inconvenience.  Everyone’s coming from conference things on Saturday, so you want us to either wear what we’re going to wear to the fashion show ALL DAY, or run to our hotel and change then come to the fashion show. Um, yea. Then, there’s the fact that anyone who’s not local is going to have to PACK special clothing to be in the categories (because I don’t know a lot of people who wear GALA attire to conferences- actually, I don’t wear anything that would remotely fit any of the four categories to conferences, but that’s beside the point).  Karen doesn’t even own anything that resembles gala attire because she can’t afford it on a librarian’s salary.

Second, and most importantly, you’re telling me that AFTER I go to all this trouble, someone is going to go around and pick the best of the best based on appearance, and that if my appearance isn’t good enough, we’re all gonna know it in the extra special round. Now, I spend a LOT of time and energy telling teens that the need to work on their self esteem and not let their looks (and what they were born with) make them feel second best. That is part of what we do as teen specialists. We are on the battlefield of diffusing the hurt and confusion from bullying and name calling, and trying to stem the tide of suicidal thoughts, cutting, and other self harm because of body image issues, and yet my organization wants to have their event so that we can show off the best dressed and the prettiest, because that’s what a fashion show is.

Third, you’re stepping all over Librarian Wardrobe, which is actually fun and interesting and breaking ground, and something people opt into specifically because they are interested in the fashion angle. I wanted to go to the one in Anaheim last year but didn’t make the conference due to surgery recovery and hope to make their event this year.


I have nothing against drinking. I had a lovely time in college, did a number of bar bands (going around the night before games to the local bars and performing for alumni), I have wine with dinner, and I currently have limoncello and some other alcohols in my fridge. 

BUT.  Let’s look at the last line again:

Remember to bring plenty of cash for the bar. That way when Jack taps YOU to participate in the fashion show, you’ll be able to say an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Expect FUN and HAPPINESS at this always-exciting YALSA event!

I’m guessing it’s really trying to be a cute way of saying it’s a cash bar so bring money, but it comes across as slimy and gross and fits right into all the wrong things that we’ve been pointing out here on TLT. It acknowledges that we’re uncomfortable being judged on our appearance!  It points out that under normal circumstances, professional women and men aren’t tapped by the President of their professional organization for reasons so surface and irrelevant to the work we do.  It comes across like this:

Be liquored up so that when the President of the association comes around to tap you, you can say yes without any hesitation because now you’ll agree to do stuff you wouldn’t if you were sober!   


Heather pointed out that this is at least the second time IN CHICAGO that YALSA has had a fashion-themed Happy Hour. We are supposed to be the creative people- where IS that creativity?!?!?! I talked with That Guy this morning, and we came up with a list of things that could get people pulled up to award prizes that would involve little/no effort for bring materials and still make a Happy Hour fun. (forgive if they get geeky- That Guy was working, and I am off today, so we go to the engineer side a little)

  • Best Use of the Color Cerulean
  • Best Use of Scarves
  • People with Prime Numbers of Nametag Ribbons (those association ribbons people tag onto their badges like flags)
  • People with n Letters in their Names, where n is a perfect square (16 letters, 25 letters, etc)
  • People who are named after literary characters
  • People who dress after their favorite literary characters
  • People holding a book (not an ARC)
  • People holding an ARC (not a book)
  • Most extravagant shoelaces
  • Dress as your favorite author
  • People dressed as Doctor Who companions (could actually be anyone but the person choosing could say a Doctor quote and see if the person would actually go with them- thereby being a Doctor’s companion)
  • Most shocking/tasteful/colorful SOCKS
  • Best use of skulls
  • Best use of the current Collaborative Summer Reading Theme
  • Twitter/Blog bingo- make up cards with YALSA members twitter/blog info, and then people have to go around finding those people to win prizes
Or, ya know, we could do what other associations within ALA, or other non image based professional organizations do. Go to a location (bar, coffee shop, restaurant), rent out the back room, ask for donations, serve hors d’oeuvres, charge for drinks and let people pay for their own real food, invite the authors who are in town to come join us, and have a good time.  No demeaning gimmicks required.

Heather’s note: 

Am I a killjoy?  Probably.  But WOW am I tired of the librarian conversation rolling back around to what we as librarians wear & how we present ourselves physically.  The YALSA Happy Hour is probably the biggest regular informal gathering of YA librarians in the country.  I’m disappointed that we’ll spend it talking about how we look or don’t look — even in the professional attire categories that are listed — instead of what we do.  

What we do is exciting and diverse and innovative, and we can learn so very much more from one another than where we bought that scarf.  I would love to see YALSA focus the Happy Hour on encouraging the kind of sharing that is possible when you get a whole bunch of us together, and I’m disappointed in this focus on image.  

So hey, YA librarians out there – I don’t care what you’re wearing.  Are you comfortable?  Are you approachable?  Are you, um, not smelly?  Then I say you’re dressed just fine.  Let’s not further sort ourselves by those who match the folks on stage and those who don’t.  That is not what our profession is about.  I want to hear how you connect with your teens, what the last book was that blew you away, which app you can’t stop telling people about, how you handled that horrible situation at your library the other day, what that teen said to you that had you crying tears of joy the whole way home.  I didn’t get into this profession for the comfortable shoes or the cardigans, the colorful hair or the tattoos, the punny t-shirts or the tote bags.  Did you?

Karen’s Note:

I spend my time telling my teens that you are more than how you look.  That “It Gets Better.” That women and men are equal.  Now I am going to go to a professional conference where apparently I will be an unwitting participant in a fashion show, just by showing up.  This is part of everything that I preach against (even in jest or fun, because we can find ways to have fun that don’t emphasize looks or dress).  And to make it even worse, a man (YALSA President Jack Martin) gets to choose who will or won’t be in the fashion show.  That’s right, once again a man is deciding who is worthy.  I am sure that Jack is an awesome guy, but I am tired of living in a world where guys are the deciders, where looks, dress and appearance are primary motivators, and where a gathering of young adult librarians seems to focus on a message radically different than the message we are (I hope) preaching to our teens.  We spend enough of our lives worrying about whether or not we look right or “good enough”, having anxiety about whether or not we will be chosen (you remember picking teams in PE, right?) – I don’t want to pay to go to a conference with my PEERS and have to worry about these things all over again, as an adult.  As everyone tweeted about who wore what at the Oscars this year I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why aren’t we talking about these actresses accomplishments in the arts as opposed to judging what they wear?”  That’s what I want you to judge me by, my accomplishments as a librarian, not whether or not I have an awesome gala outfit.