On Friday 7th & Saturday 8th October, a catalogue of children’s librarians, of which I was lucky enough to be one, descended upon Cardiff for the annual Youth Libraries Group conference. The conference brings together librarians, publishers, authors and guest speakers for two packed days of networking, talks and workshops and is definitely a highlight of my professional calendar.
One of the best things about conference this year was the breakout sessions. From using sport to entice young people into the library to engaging families with reading through nature (anyone up for the Twig Towers challenge!?) the workshops were full of simple, practical tips and ideas that were no / low-cost, achievable and relatively straightforward to implement.
Tracey Cooper from Scottish Booktrust led an excellent Bookbug session (forget garlic bread, stretchy Lycra is the future!) and showed that simplicity is key when it comes to planning sessions for under fives and their families – it’s not about how many nursery rhymes you know but about the reassurance, security and enjoyment of a shared experience. In fact, repetition of a few well known rhymes often works better than a wider repertoire as carers feel more confident and relaxed and less worried about getting things wrong and so are more likely to engage and interact with their child.
The session with Becky Wells on engaging children with autism was also really useful. Becky showed us a video which showed how overwhelming an everyday experience such as visiting a shopping centre can be for a child with autism. We were then given the chance to talk in groups about some of the things which could be triggers in our libraries and what simple steps we could take to help children with autism and their families and make visiting the library a positive and reassuring experience for them.
Having been to conference for the first time last year, this time I was much more prepared. By that I mean this time I took a suitcase. A big one! For one of the best things about conference is being surrounded by so many brilliant, beautiful books and being able to take lots of them back home with you.
One of my favourite bits of the whole weekend is when the publishers each take their turn on the stage to highlight their forthcoming titles and the opportunity to get hold of advance copies of those books is a little piece of librarian heaven. I get so excited, not only at the thought of reading them myself, but also at the thought of the enjoyment and wonder they will bring to the children and young people that borrow them.
Other highlights of the programme included Nicky Parker and Laurence Anholt’s discussion on racism and the ways this can be explored and challenged through fiction; learning all about West Sussex’s Communication Library and services for children with disabilities and their families; and the privilege of watching Barroux paint live on stage. Not to mention the presentation of the CKG medals and CILIP Amnesty Honour and the sumptuous gala dinner that followed.
I returned from conference not only with a suitcase full of books but with a head buzzing with ideas and sense of affirmation about the importance of libraries and librarians and their ability to change the world, one book and reader at a time.