A Whirlwind Trip to PLA 2014, “About the Girls,” + Other Musings

I just got back from a whirlwind trip down to Indianapolis to present at the Public Library Association conference. When I say whirlwind, I really mean it. My plans went a little askew because of a winter storm, but in the end, we made it down to Indy Wednesday evening and I made it back to my house in Wisconsin on Friday morning.

PLA was too short for the amount of fun it was. And I think this is the first time ever that I’ve felt presenting at a conference was completely fun without some kind of attachment to it. I didn’t feel nervous like I have in the past. It felt comfortable and good, and both of those things coalesced into making the experience so enjoyable.

After arriving on Wednesday night, I got to see both Angie Manfredi and Sophie Brookover. Angie and I made a quick trip through the exhibit halls — where I got to surprise and be surprised by seeing a friend there when neither of us knew the other was going — and let me just say that PLA exhibits are fun, low key, and enjoyable. This isn’t ALA exhibit opening night. This opening night involved enjoying some pita, hummus, spiced chicken, baba ghanoush, and some dessert. We picked up a few galleys, chatted with the vendors, and had this excellent picture snapped and shared by Penguin:

We didn’t stick around long, and I went out to dinner with Sophie afterward to have a power chat and talk a tiny bit about our morning presentation on “new adult” fiction. We went back to our room after and shared some of Wisconsin’s finest beer (because when I can travel somewhere by car, I’m going to bring my state’s finest). 
The nice thing about an 11 am presentation was the luxury of being able to sleep in and take it easy in the morning, which we all did. But then we made our way over to the convention center to give our talk on “new adult” fiction. 

Sophie and I had our “new adult” presentation accepted as a conversation starter, meaning that rather than talk at the room for an hour, the audience in attendance would be participants in the discussion. This set up was marvelous and so insightful for me (and I’m assuming Sophie, too). We had a five-part plan of attack, where we would talk for a few minutes on an aspect of “new adult,” then have the attendees discuss a question relating to what we’d talked about for a few minutes. We’d reconvene and hear what they had to say. 
Our room was full, too.

This conversation starter was so fun. We knew what we had to say, and we were confident in the message we wanted to impart (that “new adult” can and should be something much bigger than what’s being sold and packaged AS “new adult”) was what attendees took away. We got to hear from a number of people who had been working with 18-26 year olds, including libraries doing programs and collection work for this emerging adult group and a university librarian who works with this group and helps them find pleasure reading. The mix of experience and knowledge was perfect. We took copious notes during the session, which we plan on typing up and posting in our “new adult” resources page on the readadv blog — and if you attended the session or are curious about “new adult,” you can find those resources right here.

I had a lot of fun giving this presentation and learning from everyone else in the room. I’ve never felt so CONFIDENT about giving a presentation before, and it was such a neat experience being on that side of the fear/anxiety/worry spectrum. I think a lot of it had to do with remembering while I’m at the front of the room, I’m also there to learn from those in the room — it’s a collaborative effort, even if I’m the one (with Sophie!) who has to get the conversation started.

After my morning presentation, I had lunch with a friend, and because I had so little time between sessions, I had to run out of lunch earlier than I’d like. Perhaps I was too casual, as I was the last one to arrive to the second session…and I was the one with the technology. But we got it together and were prepared well before the start.

The teen programming session, which was a traditional panel, included Andrea Sowers, Angie Manfredi, and Katie Salo. We’ve been collaborating together since early in 2010. I had a really bizarre moment while I was sitting up on this stage and this was my view:

Hold on. That doesn’t quite capture it. Let me borrow this photo from Jason Walters:

So the weird moment was that I was sitting in seats just like that only five years ago. I was attending sessions just like this one in hopes of figuring out the secrets of teen programming success. But here I was now, sitting at the front of the room, facing out, rather than sitting in the back. Kind of surreal. And it hit me when I had that realization that what I had to say wasn’t necessarily about how I do great stuff (because, honestly, I don’t make new worlds here) but it was about how important it is to build a network like the one sitting beside me and how important it is to try, fail, then try again.

During our panel, I think it became clear how much we all work to collaborate with one another. We’d set up the discussion like a Q&A, and Angie moderated, asking us to weigh in on a few questions. When asked about my most successful teen program, all three of my fellow panelists jumped in saying they’d used my program idea and modified it, then explained how they had succeeded or failed doing the very same things.

This panel was also a LOT of fun. The four of us have very different experiences, come from very different libraries, with very different needs and outcomes. Angie was able to work in her standard line about how today’s teens aren’t interested in Buffy and how important it is to just stay abreast of your local teens interests and cater to them. If you want to see what others had to say or share during our panel, there are a few tweets at the #teenprog to explore. I’m positive that the ladies I did this with will also blog about it and I’d be happy to round those up.

After the panel finished, we were approached by folks who wanted to ask questions to us directly, and I had the privilege of meeting people who read Stacked (!!!) and who were kind enough to say nice things about it. I also got to meet a local to me librarian, which is always such a joy to me. It was nice to bounce ideas and thoughts with people, and it was even nicer to remind people of that very revelation I had: I’m not an expert but a colleague who is happy to share experiences and ideas where they’re helpful and useful.

When the second session finished, I was back in the car and on the road home. It was a bummer not to see more people or sessions beyond mine, but I’m SO excited to dig into the PLA tag and discover more. What an enjoyable conference and enjoyable set of presenting experiences to have.

I’m going to be riding high on them for quite a while and I’m so grateful to everyone who came out, who interacted, and who (without being paid) said such nice things about my sessions and this blog (which will forever thrill me to the core).

We’re at the mid-way point of our “About the Girls” series, and I just wanted to send a quick thank you to not just those who have taken part — and will be taking part — in writing the post. But I also wanted to send a huge thank you to those of you reading and talking about these posts. I’ve had some of the nicest comments recently from readers, and I’ve been able to see teachers who are using these posts and discussion fodder in classrooms. 
There is literally nothing that could excite me more than thinking about teens having these conversations about “unlikable” girls or female friendships in YA fiction. I love reading what you’re doing and sharing that, so yes! If you are having these talks or pointing people to these posts or writing about them yourself, keep sending them my way so I can enjoy and share them, too.
I will try to put together a roundup at the end of the series with all of your posts as well. 
The voting for ALA elections opens next week, and I have an interview about my qualifications and experience over at YALSA’s blog
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  1. says

    Soooo jealous. I went to PLA when it was in Seattle a few years back and found it to be a great conference–mellower than ALA as you noted and full of cool book people. Also, I cannot wait to read LIKE NO OTHER, so my jealousy continues to your arc snap!

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