Guest Post: YA Smackdown @ ALA Midwinter

Today, we’ve got Evan from Arlington Heights Public Library (IL) talking about their guerrilla session YA Smackdown.

One day last July, when the weather was warm and the sun was shining and Chicagoland wasn’t buried in a blanket of cold and despair, my manager walked into the Teen Services office. She asked my coworkers Alice Son and Sonya Hill, along with myself, for some help with a project. She wanted us to come up with ideas for a teen services-specific break-out session at the Illinois Library Association’s first Youth Services Unconference. She was looking to put together a teen services equivalent – or at least analogue – to Guerilla Storytime. (For those of you unfamiliar, Guerilla Storytime is an unstructured professional development session where youth services librarians pick from a “cup of challenges” and share their favorite tips, tricks, and activities for storytimes. These can range from favorite intro songs to methods of incorporating letter knowledge to, I dunno, dealing with a fistfight between parents, maybe? I’m a teen librarian here. I’m just guessing. See why we needed our own thing?) What started as a request for “a few ideas” snowballed into “Why don’t you guys just plan and run it?” (Like all great leaders, my manager is all about guiding her staff into cool and enriching opportunities, sometimes through chicanery and deceit. She’s sneaky like that.) So, after a good ten minutes of blank stares, Alice, Sonya, and I got to work.

We loved Guerilla Storytime’s random and unstructured nature of pulling challenges from a cup or hat or receptacle of some sort.  Participants answer their question, followed by responses and extra ideas from the group. Lather, rinse, repeat. Since teen librarians don’t have anything that’s as ubiquitous, universal, or varied in scope as story times, we decided to broaden our scope. Instead of challenges, we filled our receptacle with discussion-sparking questions, seeking ideas and tips from across the broad spectrum of teen services. Question topics ran the gamut, from programming to readers’ advisory to dealing with those they don’t teach you that in library school moments. We structured questions into various formats, including:

  • Readers’ Advisory recommendations
  • What’s your most successful… (community partnership? passive program? etc.)
  • What would you do if… (you overheard teens prank calling local businesses? a non-teen showed up at a program? etc.)

Because the performative aspect of storytime was missing, we wanted to foster debate. (It is a Smackdown, after all.)  We had such hot button questions as “John Green or Rainbow Rowell?” or “Harry Potter or Hunger Games?” The question “Cardigans or no cardigans?” found near-universal common ground. “Would you rather only work with young children, or only work with young adults?” though, led to serious discussion and perhaps a thrown chair. There is also the occasional absurd question, like “Would you rather fight a teen-sized duck or ten duck-sized teens?” Laughing together is an important part of bonding as a professional community, but, like most teen services staff, we’re pretty weird.

The Smackdown session on August 7th at the Idea Playground Unconference was a rousing success, despite the aforementioned chair-throwing. Teen services staff from across Illinois shared ideas, tips, and laughter. Everyone walked away with at least a handful of things to add to their teen librarian tool belt, from book recommendations to program ideas to tips for fighting large waterfowl. And a great thing about YA Smackdown is how malleable and scalable it is. Questions can be added and subtracted depending on who will be smacking down. It can also be used by groups of various sizes. And since all you need is a receptacle full of questions and a group of teen library staff, Smackdowns can erupt at:

  • Staff meetings
  • Meet-ups over drinks or coffee
  • Long car rides
  • Or, at large professional conferences

Take, for example, the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference in Chicago at the end of January! We’ll be hosting two YA Smackdown sessions in the Networking Uncommons, on Saturday, January 31 from 2:30 – 3:30 p.m., and on Sunday February 1 from 2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Come and join us to share all of our great ideas for working with teens.

Thanks, Evan! If any of you are going to be at ALA Midwinter, be sure to check out one of their sessions. There may even been some TSU Agents there as well! (If you see one of, be sure to say hi!)


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