I recently had the opportunity to go to the 2015 ILA Conference as an intern. This was not my first conference—I had been to ALA for the previous Midwinter Conference—but I felt like this experience was another step into a larger world. I learned so much more about how to plan and network at this conference.
Opening General Sessions Featuring Shankar Vedantam
Vedantam specializes in the brain and brain development, and he talked mostly about the gender bias. I’ve been a little preoccupied with the gender bias in relation to reading lately, so naturally this appealed to me. According to his studies, children start to develop a gender bias by the time they are three years old (as well as other biases). This naturally led to a discussion on collection development, and Vedantam stressed that challenging the gender bias is something librarians must do actively, not passively. It is not enough, he said, to be neutral.
Thinking about this more: we should be cautious even in the way we challenge gender bias. Is it really as simple as providing masculine books for girls and feminine books for boys? One big issue is that we want girls to see themselves as leaders—but I think a bigger issue is that feminine traits are not always seen as desirable. Vedantam addressed this by talking about how often women leaders are described in masculine ways if they are effective, and if they are ineffective their feminine traits are villainized.
To truly challenge gender bias, I would suggest we go further than offers a variety of materials for all. We ought to seek to celebrate all traits, be they masculine or feminine, keeping in mind that each child has a variety of interests that should be considered valid. It’s not so much about equalizing boys and girls as it is about giving each child the opportunity for success.
Many of the interns served their shifts at the registration desk, but my shift was in the authors’ showcase. I really valued this experience as a writer myself; I had the opportunity to talk with each author and ask about their writing, how they got ideas, etc. It was also a good chance for me to practice networking, the act of going up to people to start a conversation.
One author started handing out bookmarks to the people in line for the lunch buffet. One of the other authors remarked that it was a good idea, but said she worried that people would give her strange looks or wouldn’t want to talk to her. Hearing this, it struck me that at conferences like these, everyone wants the opportunity to make a connection. Everyone is both nervous and eager to start a conversation.
I also went to a couple of panels about programming for young kids. At one of the panels, librarians talked about the challenge of creating a program that is too structured. Often they set crafts out, and parents would take over in order to make the crafts according to the instruction. Instead, the library wanted to create a space for process-focused programming, where kids had the freedom to make whatever they could imagine. I also went to a panel about serving teens who don’t speak English, and while the topic didn’t have a lot of influence on what I’m doing in the library now (mostly storytime), it prompted me to think about my life as a librarian after I graduate. I hope to be hired in a Michigan library, many of which are often smaller, at least in my neck of the woods. In addition to these panels, I went to a couple of youth services breakfasts, which featured Chris Raschka and Katherine Applegate. Finally, I attended a DiversiTEA session. Some librarians expressed concern that though they offered various materials and displayed them, their diverse populations did not seem interested. In a way, this harkens back to the idea of bias and the way that we expect to see heroes in literature. It’s not necessarily a problem for just librarians or publishers or authors, but a constantly evolving issue that we all should be actively thinking about.