A few weeks ago my social media feeds were filled with photos, tweets and status updates from librarian friends posting about all the excitement at ALA Annual in Orlando. Meanwhile, I was at home, one of the “ALA Left Behind.” Registering for and traveling to the conference just wasn’t in the cards for me this year. As a school librarian, I can’t rely on my employer to foot the bill for such an expensive professional development opportunity and I wasn’t willing the pony up the cash on my own either (though I did last year!). Chances are, many of you are in the same position. You want to take advantage of opportunities to develop professionally, but it just isn’t in the budget. Luckily, there’s quality professional development to be had for much less, and sometimes, even FREE!
School Library Journal Events, Webcasts & Webinars
One of my favorite places to turn to for high-quality, affordable professional development is School Library Journal. Thanks to corporate sponsorships, they are able to offer a variety of in-person and on-the-web opportunities to learn about the latest trends in librarianship, new releases and tech. Their annual Day of Dialog, which usually takes place in New York City the day before Book Expo America (this year both events were in Chicago, which was great for Midwesterners, but meant I sat this one out!) costs around $50 and includes a full day (breakfast, lunch and cocktail hour included!) of networking, sessions, author appearances, book signings and more. It is my favorite annual event and I always try to attend. This October, their FREE! Leadership Summit is coming to DC, and I was sure to be one of the first to register. This event bounces around (it’s been in Austin, St. Paul and Seattle previously), so be sure to register when it comes to your area. They also sponsor two virtual conferences: SLJTeenLIVE! (happening August 10!), which focuses specifically on issues, materials and programming for YAs, and The Digital Shift (happening October 19!), which is all about tech in the library. SLJ also has terrific webcasts and recaps publisher previews so if you’re short on time, you can still get small bites of library goodness. The best part is that so much of their stuff is available and accessible to librarians without a subscription.
Book Expo America
If collection development and readers advisory are your main thing, you should make it your business to get to Book Expo America (BEA). This annual event bopped around (New York City, Chicago, LA), but is now typically (aside from this past year) hosted in New York City. According their website, BEA is “the leading book and author event for the North American publishing industry. It’s the best place to discover new titles and authors, conduct business and network, and learn the latest trends.” This event is massive, so it’s not for the faint of heart. We’re talking lots of walking and lots of opportunities to meet authors, get books signed, snag advance copies and schmooze with book industry types. I love that librarians pay a low rate (this past year it was $128 for 3 days or $81 for a single day with early bird registration) and, at least in my experience, are treated just as warmly and welcomely as the bookstore folks (who usually have much better budgets). I love to stop at all the booths to see what’s new, get ideas and of course, get some swag to bring back to my students!
Library of Congress
Naturally, another great place to turn for professional development is “THE” library. For those in the DC area, the LOC offers the FREE! National Book Festival. Since this event is open to the public it can get quite crowded and a little crazy. I recommend planning ahead for the specific authors and sessions you want to attend and making sure to get there early. The Young Readers Center also hosts a variety of speakers and other events from time to time, which are also FREE! For non-locals, the LOC offers a variety of self-paced online modules on various topics – particularly of interest to school librarians! – including several on using primary documents and copyright.
Any blog post on professional development for librarians serving teens would be incomplete without mentioning the resources provided by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association. While it’s true that access to most of their professional tools requires a membership, dues begin at $61 for students (joint ALA and YALSA membership) and provide a year’s worth of access to FREE! webinars (including the archive, YELL) and discounted rates on registration for e-courses and conferences. One resource that is freely available to all is the YALSA Academy, a series of short instructional videos posted on the YALSA YouTube Channel. Here you’ll find a variety of tech-related trainings created by librarians around the country.
All of these great options that I’ve mentioned aside, the best professional development resources I’ve found are local. Obviously, you’ll need to poke around in your own area to find local organizations that suit your needs. Back when I lived in New Jersey, I was active in the NJLA YA Section, which offered a variety of trainings and I was also a Reader for their Garden State Book Award. I’ve been in Northern Virginia for the past seven years and with Virginia being so large, I haven’t really felt like involvement in the VLA was workable (everything is far!). Luckily, I’ve found Capitol Choices, a DC area organization of librarians (and other book types!) that meets monthly to read, discuss and evaluate books for children ages 0-18 for their annual list of noteworthy titles. I also helped to re-start MWISLA, the Metropolitan Washington Independent School Library Association. (Don’t Google us, none of that has been updated since our reorganization.) We’re still getting things settled and don’t yet have formal leadership, but we’ve been meeting 3 times per year and doing a lot of sharing of best practices and have high hopes for the future.
All this is to say that you shouldn’t let time or money stop you from being the librarian that your teens deserve! Even with a packed schedule and non-existent professional development funds, there are ways to get out there and network with other professionals and develop your skill set. I’m sure there are tons of really great resources that I haven’t even mentioned. If you know of another awesome free/cheap professional development opportunity, lay it in me in the comments.