ILyAy: First Conference Enthusiasm

I’ve had the weekend to process my time at the ILA Rise Up! conference, but even after that handful of days my head is still spinning from the experience. There were so many in-depth discussions, exciting speakers, and creative programming ideas I had to start writing notes within my notes about what I wanted to tell my partner about when I got home. After I finished up on Friday I did more napping than talking, but that’s besides the point.

Before I get into it, I’d like to extend my gratitude to the people at Skokie Public Library who made it possible for me to attend the conference in the first place. I appreciate every opportunity to learn and grow and it means a lot that the library has so much faith in me that they’re willing to invest financially in my on-going education. Just when I think I have a handle on what it is librarians do day-to-day, my eyes are opened to an entirely new facet of the profession.


I’m pretty organized when it comes to note-taking so I’m going to break down my experience by day and program.

Tuesday (10/10)

I had the distinct pleasure of starting Tuesday off with my volunteer shift at the registration desks, from 7:00 – 11:00 am, so I missed a lot of the morning programming. I think I lucked out working those desks first because everyone’s main concern was picking up their conference ID. I know my ABC’s pretty well, so digging those out of an alphabetized stack was a pretty gentle introduction to helping run a massive conference. Talking to the other interns later after their shifts on Wednesday and Thursday, it sounds like attendee questions got more complicated with time. I’ll take that first morning shift over having to defer to other people for answers anytime.


1:30 – 2:45 pm Tween to Teen: Collaboration in Action

The main focus of this program was coming up with programs that suited the more awkward ages of 5th – 8th grade. Oftentimes that population is too young to be with 12th graders, but too old for youth services (birth – 6th grade) so we as YA librarians have to come up with programming that targets and fits their specific age group.

A brief list of programs different libraries have hosted successfully:

  • Battle of the Books
  • The Rithmatist Melee
  • The Margin Project
  • Intro to Robotics: Meet the Ozbots
  • Video Game Club
  • Battle Royale Laser Tag

I could go on, the librarians presenting had a ton of great suggestions and I had to take pictures of some slides to keep up, but my absolute favorite had to be the Margin Project.  The basic idea is a library identifies newer YA titles they have one or two extra of (or they budget buying specific title copies) and clearly label them as part of the Margin Project, creating a display. Junior High patrons are then encouraged to check out and write in those books, indicating in the front page/s who’s taking notes with what color pen. The books can be checked out by library patrons, but it needs to be noted in the catalog that they shouldn’t be lent out to other libraries. Once a Margin Project book is returned, a YA librarian will check to make sure the notes are appropriate and then return the book to the display. The idea is that Junior High patrons will begin talking back and forth in the notes, asking and answering questions or simply noting what they find significant. This kind of project is fun in that it’s almost like a pen pal system, but it also teaches young patrons how to annotate what they read, a skill that becomes more and more necessary as they get older.


Primarily stressed throughout this program was that YA librarians need to be constantly asking their patrons what they want and like in order to program successfully.

2:45 – 3:45 pm Keepin’ YA Real

This program focused on buying and circulating non-fiction for young adults. Before starting, we were posed the question of whether or not young adults need non-fiction for research or for browsing. We came to the conclusion that there is very little need for a YA-specific non-fiction research collection because more often than not, they use the adult or high-level juvenile non-fiction for research already.

When we talk about a YA non-fiction section, we’re talking about a browsing collection so we need to keep it fresh and get over any weeding apprehension. When weeding YA non-fiction it’s important to look out for any biased worldviews, such as books that display “happy” slaves.

Recommended modern non-fiction books for YA (I apologize if it’s hard to read some titles, I can see them when I enlarge the pictures on my computer):




The presenters gave a lot of really good examples of how to incorporate non-fiction into YA spaces and programming. For instance, escape rooms can be designed around non-fiction books and spaces can be decorated like scenes from popular non-fiction books. Other ways to push non-fiction books can be through social justice programming: we can partner with schools and community clubs to create events or suggest topics with related non-fiction readings; inspirational displays and reading lists can be made connecting history to current events; memoirs can be suggested as they relate to popular modern-day interests.

Specific programs librarians have hosted successfully related to YA non-fiction include:

  • One Book: Multi-Generational Reading
  • Adulting 101
  • Instructable Craft Day

The Adulting 101 program sounded most interesting to me. The focus can range widely from day-to-day, anywhere from lawn mower maintenance to how to tie a tie, and it feels relevant to modern young adult needs. The focus has shifted so much more towards using new technologies that the more practical skills often go untaught until they’re immediately necessary. How often are young adults taught to change a tire or check a car’s oil? They know how to use 3D printers, but are we making sure they also know how to address and send a letter in the mail? Programs like these are perfect for not only bridging the gap between generations, but also teaching some incredibly useful skills young adults may feel too embarrassed to ask about.

*Side note, some of the Skokie staff were inspired to consider running a slide show promoting non-fiction books in the High School Lounge whenever the TV isn’t being used.

Wednesday (10/11)

9:00 – 10:00 am Bravery Literacy: Libraries Leading and Supporting Tough Community Discussions

To begin, the presenters discussed what it means to be Bravery Literate versus Bravery Illiterate. These skills include:

  • Identifying community concerns
  • Being at the “table” or providing one for discussions
  • Being civil
    • Respect everyone
    • Find common ground
    • Disagree without disrespecting
  • Having conversations over talking at one another
  • Allowing for silence and time to reflect and think on something said
  • Avoiding deflection
  • Understanding one another
    • For example, sometimes personal stories help share experience such as growing up undocumented, etc.

A great way to make sure the conversations you’re having at your library are Bravery Literate is to find and include educators from the community and form partnerships for program facilitation. Bravery means the willingness to learn and we can show our willingness to do that work by seeking out educators.


A representative from the Elgin Police Department also spoke and, I’m not going to lie, I was a little hesitant to listen at first. I know that’s hypocritical of me to feel after being so motivated to learn about Bravery Literacy, but I do also feel validated in my hesitation to trust police officers considering their constant refusal to work towards eliminating systemic racism. I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard, though. I know it’s hard to know how dedicated they truly are to police reform and community engagement in Elgin, but the officer they sent to speak was aligned morally and ethically with most library values.

The police officer stressed ensuring the officers they send to community functions and programs:

  • Have the same understanding and message as the rest of the department
  • Are ready to answer heated questions respectfully and hear the community out
  • Are willing to take a proactive approach to addressing hot topics

Over everything, the police officer asks her department to be:

  • Engaged
  • A partner
  • A listener
  • Proactive
  • The change

* Side note, the police officer also mentioned a program they participate in called Not In Our Town, which is a film series and Q&A that addresses hate in the community. I was very struck by how committed Elgin seems to be to police reform and a healthy relationship with the people their police department serves.

10:15 – 11:15 am Diversity and Diversability: Developing Programming for All

This was the first interactive program I attended and it was a ton of fun! Attendees were all arranged in groups at different circular tables and each table had different craft supplies. To begin, we were asked to reflect on our libraries’ connection to neighboring libraries near and far. From there we were told we’d have a couple minutes to create as many bridges from our table to other tables as possible using only the supplies on our table; we were also allowed to share supplies with other tables. Once we counted up our bridges we were asked to reflect with our table on our direct or indirect connections with other libraries. What resources do libraries have to connect with others?

One of the speakers went on to talk about what a great resource Heritage Committees can be for connecting libraries and their communities with each other. Cultural diversity creates cultural literacy and decreases the “you/them” feeling. It’s great to bring these committees in on events at the library where a majority of the patrons are represented by that heritage, but it’s also good to reach out and connect with people who do not represent your library’s majority. Exposure to other cultures creates a connection with other communities and is key to cultural literacy in patrons and staff.


A representative of the Chicago Public Library system provided us with a great snapshot of how they plan their diverse programming:

  • Plan for the year
  • Research
  • Discover patron resources
  • Use your collection
  • Collaborate with organizations


Finally, the last speaker taught us more about programming in a way that represents disability awareness. She gave us this great quote, “Nothing about us without us,” to highlight the importance of including the people you’re programming for in the planning and education process. She also provided us with a list of programming and organization resources.


1:45 – 2:45 pm What Now?: Diversity, Intellectual Freedom, and Activism

Right off the bat, the speakers for this program stressed the importance of the sliding glass door approach to diversifying programs and collections: looking into the lives of others through books. As we should understand by now, representation matters and everyone deserves to see themselves in stories so we need to make sure we’re ordering and displaying books from a wide variety of experiences.

A good way to enact and encourage diversity is to take opportunities as a librarian to educate through patron interactions and programming. Normalize these kinds of conversations in the library and build relationships with your patrons. Ask questions! If we do something purposefully for long enough it becomes habit. For example:

  • Pull out and display books with diverse authors and characters
  • Create book lists and do book talks with diverse authors and characters

We all need to take personal responsibility in making sure this happens until it’s normal. It’s important to understand, too, that when creating these displays and making recommendations that the diversity piece isn’t the most visible aspect of the book. We need to encourage “every-day diversity” that doesn’t center a story around a person’s race or religion or gender identity etc.

A great metaphor made by a speaker was that the difference between performing diversity versus promoting inclusivity is the same difference between inviting someone to a party versus asking them to dance. We need people to feel welcomed; it doesn’t do anyone any good to “other” people while you’re trying to be inclusive.

TIP: Always make sure you’re assessing the quality of the material before you promote it to ensure it doesn’t perpetuate stereotypes. Think about that when you think about how you book talk. How do we describe the characters? Do we point out race in an unnecessary way (ex: a character is black when they’re black, but just a character when they’re white)? Are we making some material sound “less desirable” by stressing those unnecessary characteristics for patrons who feel unwilling to read more diverse material?

Finally the speakers stressed staying informed on policy when having hard talks with patrons about removing materials they find offensive. Everything is easier when you have policy to back you up rather than fighting on the floor over personal opinions. Consistency and persistence is key and always be willing to apologize and commit to doing better when we get stuff wrong.

3:00 – 4:00 pm DiversiTEA: RISE UP!

I’m going to have to go ahead and fess up about this one: I didn’t really take any notes. The speaker for this program, Dr. Lian Ruan, was incredibly interesting and I enjoyed listening to her talk about the trajectory of her life as a Chinese immigrant navigating the library world, but it felt like such a laid-back presentation that I focused more on connecting with the librarians at my table.

My partner and his family all live in the south suburbs of Chicago, so over the years I’ve become much more familiar with towns like Ford and Chicago Heights, Park Forest, Richton Park, etc. Introducing myself to two of the women at my table, I discovered both of them have worked for decades in the south suburbs, Richton Park specifically, so I had a really excellent time talking to them about the politics of that area.

Ford Heights specifically has for years been one of the poorest towns in the midwest and I really appreciated their perspective on why and how Ford Heights lost its library recently. Unfortunately a lot of people who live there are unable to find work or they make their money under the table, leaving little in taxes to support a library. It was all very heart-breaking, but I really feel good about the time I spent connecting with librarians working in the Chicagoland area, especially considering my connection to a place I’ve never lived. The Richton Park library they work at is only a handful of blocks from my partner’s place, so I’m going to make a point to swing by and say hello.

Thursday (10/12)

9:00 – 10:00 am Keeping the Peace with Teens

As an introduction, the three speakers of this program (shout out to Laurel for being one of them) explained to us what restorative justice means: a relationship-based response to zero-tolerance policy used, in this case, to help teens understand their place in the community.

As a little more background information, the speakers gave Senate Bill 100 as an example of a restorative justice policy that sought to address and mend the school-to-prison pipeline. The IL House and Senate realized that needs weren’t being met at home, that kids were coming to school with trauma, and the school policies needed to be more understanding of that. Essentially, this bill eliminated zero-tolerance policies, which were responsible for the unjust suspension and expulsion of young adults from school.

Restorative justice policies, such as Peace Circles or de-escalation strategies, think about the root cause of a teen’s behavior and impact over the broken rules. These policies create a culture of support in the library, or a more welcoming environment. A couple ways libraries can foster that culture of support are by:

  • Greeting and knowing the teens who frequent the library
  • Hosting after-school activities
  • Knowing the community in order to better know the teens

From there, the speakers talked about the difference between minor and major interventions and what those interventions looks like through a restorative lens.

Minor Intervention: noise, horseplay, mess, etc.

  • Talk privately
  • Ask for their viewpoint
  • Explain the problem
  • Offer a way to repair the damage

Major Intervention: fights, disrespect, repeat offense

  • Schedule a meeting
  • Discuss what we can control
  • Discuss who was impacted
  • Offer a way to repair the damage or allow them to come up with a way

During these interventions we need to make sure we take ten or more seconds of silence to help the teens reflect on what we say or ask, even if it seems awkward at first. Respecting this silence usually results in a genuine answer. A good way to have these talks is by walking and talking. So for instance if an intervention becomes necessary, you could say, “I need you to take a walk with me” to get the teen away from where their friends can hear.

The speakers went on to talk about how we need to rethink success when implementing restorative justice policies. Rethinking what we consider success could sell coworkers on either maintaining or implementing even more restorative policies in the future. Here are some examples of how we can evaluate success:

  • Understand that teen outcome matters
  • Changing versus eliminating behavior
  • Quantitative versus qualitative data
  • Connecting teens to resources

What this comes down to is obtaining buy-in for these policies from the rest of the staff so a standard is upheld. Sometimes this means a culture shift needs to happen in the library. We can make that happen by:

  • Setting new expectations
  • Training coworkers so they understand we’re all responsible for all patrons, even if they don’t want to “deal with” teens
  • Being transparent
  • Hiring staff who are on board with restorative justice

At the end of the day, working with teens means remembering that we’re here to help them become whole, involved, and compassionate. Sometimes a teen’s progress isn’t as obvious when they say or do something hurtful, but in those instances we need to ask them “Have I done something to make you feel like you can’t trust me?”

*Side note, a testimony to how successful and popular this program was should be the fact that the Q&A afterwards went over the program time by more than thirty minutes. And even then, people were still waiting around to talk to the three speakers individually while the next program set up. Laurel killed it!

11:00 – 12:00 pm 12 to 18: Meeting the Distinct Needs of the Early Teen and Late Teen Years

A lot of this panel was discussing the behavioral differences between younger and older teens in order to understand why they act the way they do at the library. This understanding also influences how we react to the teens’ behavior; we’re less likely to overreact about or misinterpret actions when we know where a teen is developmentally and that makes us, as YA librarians, better at our jobs. I also believe making an effort towards mutual understanding helps us frame our interactions in less of a patronizing us/adults versus them/kids dynamic and our tone adjusts as we go. We probably all know by now that coming down on teens from a purely authoritative standpoint isn’t the best way to handle every situation.

The speakers began by giving us an overarching perspective on teen behavior: it is characterized by risk-taking, limit-testing, impulsivity, etc.

Pre-teens focus more on the self, social norms, fitting in, performing for an imaginary audience, separation from parents and movement towards peers. Pre-teens tend to feel more loneliness and experience mood swings. They become very focused on the present.

Late teens are less exclusive with their friend groups and are more willing to compromise. There’s an independence from the family as they obtain more freedoms like drivers’ licenses and become less reliant on their parents day-to-day. Late teens engage in more self-reflection and become capable of long-term thinking.

When thinking about designing programs it’s okay to make them open to everyone, but try to target a specific age group and the teens will filter themselves. Passive programming is always a good idea when programming for teens because it generally has no age.

Collections-wise, try to differentiate by age groups even if you can’t completely separate your young adult section. For instance, try creating age-specific displays and book lists to create the distinction between material. The speakers told us to remember that content is generally more important to consider than reading level when making these distinctions. The first thing you should figure out when determining an audience age group is how old the main character of the book is.

That was the extent of the notes I took for this program. It went on a little longer concerning age-appropriate content, but I didn’t agree entirely with one or two of their opinions on what kinds of books different age groups should and should not read. I lean more towards allowing teens to decide for themselves what they should be reading rather than deciding what’s appropriate for them, but I definitely see how this gets murky when asked specifically for recommendations.

1:45 – 2:45 pm Dealing in Diversity: Proactively Serving Communities Through Authentic Representation

Maybe I’m just learning something new about my note-taking endurance, but I have to fess up about not taking a ton of notes for this program either. Man, I really wear my hands out eating heavy meatball subs for lunch.

That being said, I was enthralled by the speakers for this program, specifically Sonali Dev. She had this very natural, funny way of discussing the serious problems publication companies have with non-white authors and the race/ethnicity of their characters and her delivery really drove the points home. She balanced her negative experiences receiving rejection letters seven years ago, very much related to the fact that her books are Indian romance novels with no room for making one of the main characters white, with the progress she’s seen recently. She praised the positive changes she’s seen over the past decade without allowing anyone to feel like our work making books more diverse was done and a lot of her quick wit came through personal stories she told of standing up to racist publishers.

After Sonali we heard from Todd Stocke, an employee from Sourcebooks, about what publishers can do from their end to make sure diverse materials are making it past their desks and into libraries and stores. He’s been with Sourcebooks from nearly day one, so it was pretty cool listening to him talk about their rise in distribution and popularity, especially considering they’re IL natives from Naperville. He talked a lot about how important it is to tap the talent of local writing groups to give POC and LBGTQ authors the chance and recognition so often afforded white authors, who are judged by different standards of mediocrity. Doing so results in the kind of success we’ve seen in books like The Hate You Give, which has almost single-handedly created a more visible market for genres that tackle modern-day race issues. Overall, it was fascinating to hear about diversity from the publisher’s end and it’s heartening to know publishing companies like Sourcebooks exists because libraries can’t provide patrons with diverse materials if they aren’t being published.

And last but not least, here come’s Skokie’s own Annabelle! Probably one of my favorite things about this conference was seeing so many Skokie employees highlighted in programs, hosting excellent Q&As, and Annabelle was no exception. She spoke about what Skokie’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee is and how it serves the Skokie employees by implementing training, raising awareness, and facilitating discussions. I already understood a lot of her presentation just from grilling Laurel and Mimosa about the EDI Committee so often and attending one of the guided discussions at the library, but it was very cool to see it all laid out for other libraries to implement. One thing Annabelle touched on teaching herself through the EDI Committee was how important it is to make purposeful change to your routine until it becomes habit. For instance, she began changing the font color of books by non-white authors in her collections order forms to ensure it remained diverse. She said that giving herself the intentional visual understanding of how diverse collections orders really were helped make diversifying materials more natural and I think that’s a great first step for everyone who wants to make change in their library.


(10/13 –  10/15) Weekend Reflection

I know, that was a bit of an information dump but it really feels good to get it out of my chaotic brain and into a more organized format. I joke that my memory isn’t great and I need to write things down if I really want to remember them, so the process of taking these notes in real time and then typing them all out after I’ve had the chance to ruminate has really prevented this experience from becoming a singular blur of great information. Even though it was so condensed, I really feel like I absorbed tips, ideas, and perspectives that’ll follow me not only through this practicum, but also into my practicing library career. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn so much in so little time and I hope I carry the enthusiasm I felt for my first conference into every single one that comes next.










3 thoughts on “ILyAy: First Conference Enthusiasm

  1. Thank you for sharing your reflections on the conference, and your thorough notes! I can’t remember another ILA conference that had so many strong, intriguing programs. The conference committee did a great job, and clearly our IL library community had a lot to say. So glad you had a positive conference experience!

    Liked by 1 person

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