Sunday, September 17, 2006

Special Report: The ALSC Institute

Brains. Passion. Two hundred librarians singing "Wahoo." In a nutshell, this was my experience at the institute held by the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) held here in Pittsburgh this weekend. And lucky me -- I was able to finagle the funds and the childcare to go! And I'm going to spill all the juicy bits for you right here.

Day One: Language of the Heart

Okay, let's get a few things straight for those of you who don't know: the ALSC is the children's librarians' division of the American Library Association. This is a big deal. The ALSC, among other great things, decides who gets to win the Newbery, Caldecott, and a passle of other big book awards every January. It has a tremendous amount of influence on how kids interact with books in the U.S. Plus, they are some pretty darn nice folks.

The workshop I went to on Friday morning was all about Dia de los niƱos/Dia de los libros (Children's Day/Book Day), ALSC's big outreach program to Hispanic families. Dia is celebrating it's tenth anniversary this year, and so ALSC brought in a bunch of fabulous librarians to tell of the frustrations and successes they've had running this celebration of kids, books, and community.

I must just give Mad Props to the lovely ladies who told us about their programs. Elva Garza runs a very fun, very large citywide program down in Austin, and Tammy Pineda gave an informed administrator's view of the Dia celebrations (and the amazing exponential growth thereof) in Portland. But I think Tammy Pineda stole the show with her heartfelt story of the Hispanic outreach programs she runs out in Minnesota. She had to twist families' arms to get them to come to the library -- but come they did and love it they now do. Pineda has a passion for her work that is infectious. During her lecture, she said that she has what she considers a rather controversial belief: that bilingual families should always speak the language of the heart -- it doesn't matter if it's English, Spanish, Russian, or Chinese -- the important thing is for parents to let kids know that they love and care about them. In a country where more and more states are putting "English Only" laws on the rolls, Pineda's voice is one that needs to be heard far more often.

Also, the workshop's information packet contained a booklist from ALSC's International Relations Committee. Entitled "Growing Up Around the World: Books as Passports to Global Understanding for Children in the United States," it is one of the most thorough booklists on world culture I've seen in a while. Click here to download it.

Lunchtime: Gossip & Flotsam

At lunch, I found myself sitting with librarians who were mainly from the East Coast, and they were all pretty lively talkers. The conversation centered mainly around prima-donna children's authors who are a pain to host. I'm not naming names, but one author wouldn't carry her own luggage, refused to walk across a parking lot to the hosting librarian's car, and then asked prying questions about the host's personal life. Another author refuses to stay in hotels and requests expensive bed-and-breakfasts. Ai-yi-yi.

But the keynote speaker was there to lighten up the mood -- one of my favorite author/illustrators, David Wiesner. What a charming, unassuming man -- and with such a lovely, subtle sense of humor. He showed us a bunch of early works from his portfolio, and read his newest book, Flotsam. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking up a copy. Plus, we got to find out exactly where he was on June 29, 1999 -- at the New Jersey Agricultural Center, celebrating giant vegetables and everything else that might float down from the sky.

Day Two: Baby Brains, Wahoo.

I originally signed up to take a workshop about "Designing Dynamic School-Age Programs," but it unfortunately didn't contain any information that I didn't already know. Plus, they made everyone sing a song entitled "Wahoo, Wahoo, Pittsburgh is Fun." I ordinarily don't mind singing songs -- even at professional conferences -- but I was seated at a table with a group of librarians who gave me a look that said "If you get up and sing that song, I will throttle you with my complimentary conference tote bag." So we all sat sullenly while everybody else sang. I skipped out after the song.

Down the hall there was a delightful workshop entitled "Storytime Programs Transformed!" It explained ways to incorporate early literacy skills from ALSC's Every Child Ready to Read project. The workshop was taught by Sue McCleaf Nespeca, and while the workshop again didn't contain information I hadn't heard before, it was presented in a clear-cut, constructive way that changed the way I look at baby and toddler programs. In a nutshell: the way you present the material can be tied to six basic early literacy skills: vocabulary, narrative awareness, print awareness, letter recognition, phonological awareness, etc. Nespeca is a person of seemingly boundless energy, and she read her toddler books to us with gusto. If you have an opportunity to hire her to teach a workshop at your library, do it. It's a good investment.

And after all that, I ran back home, gathered up my littl'uns, and went to the Pittsburgh Dragon Boat Festival. Wahoo, Pittsburgh is fun.

1 comment:

Anne said...

Hey there - just came across your blog thanks to a link from Fuse#8. I was also at the Institute though I was at the tech session on Friday. I also wasn't into the Wahoo song and dance, and also skipped out on that program early. Was it just me, or were the speakers under the impression that we're all in the classroom a significant portion of our time? Not that the info can't be pertinent to public librarians, but it felt like Classroom Management 101. Anyway--love your blog. Keep it up. :)