ALA SeattleSo, I think it’s pretty fitting that the first post from me, the librarian blogger, is about ALA Midwinter 2013. For those of you who don’t know, the American Library Association has two major conference-type events per year: Midwinter Meeting (Jan/Feb) and the Annual Conference (June/July); this year, Midwinter was held in Seattle! Despite the cold and rain, Seattle’s charm stood out – hands down, one of my favorite cities to visit.

As a member of the ALA Amelia Bloomer Project, I spent much of Midwinter convening with my committee to finalize our nominated list of books with significant feminist content geared towards children/young adults (ages 0-18). Given the amazing milestones and horrific tragedies that faced women and girls in 2012, the act of compiling this list is feminist activism. Sadly, the ABP gets very little attention at ALA conferences because it’s not a list compiled by the major youth associations of ALA: ALSC (Association of Library Services to Children) and YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association). While many major (and small press) publishers are aware of the list (obviously they are, because we receive quite a lot of books for consideration), the ABP committee struggles to have our work legitimately recognized within the wider body of selection lists targeted at young readers. Maybe this has to do with the ABP being just a little over ten years old. Or maybe it has more to do with publishers and library professionals not fully understanding why books with feminist messages are so vital. I think it’s more of the latter.

Though it was heartening to talk with publishers at Midwinter and have several of them say to me, “Oh, yes! I know about Amelia Bloomer,” in general, a lot of folks (including youth services librarians) don’t know of its existence. The onus is truly on the committee members to get out there and share WHY it’s important to have a list that highlights feminism. And let’s be real, most people don’t always have a clear idea of what that means. At the 2012 ALA Midwinter, I talked to a well known YA writer about ABP, especially because one of her books was nominated. Her response? A joke about feminism and unshaven armpits. Yeeaaaah… 😦

What we try to do on the Amelia Bloomer Project is call out books with strong messages for/about young women. THAT’S feminist to us. We feature non-fiction about female scientists, explorers, politicians, and activists, as well as fiction about women who struggle against social constraints. We strive to inspire a generation of feminists. Literature that has the power to raise social (especially feminist) consciousness deserves wide-recognition among library professionals, especially since women’s rights continue to be eroded locally and globally. Here are some suggestions I have about drawing the attention of publishers and library professionals to the ABP list:

1. Social media

Tweet and FB post about these books. So many of my friends and family know that I’m on ABP, but they don’t always have an idea of what kinds of books I’m reading. I could definitely do a better job of promoting these titles, especially since our nominations are already publicly posted on the Amelia Bloomer Project blog.

2. Making the publisher connection

Okay, so I might get a bit of flack for this, and it’s not my intention to offend anyone, especially publishers! But I’ve noticed that it’s incredibly difficult to have focused conversations with marketing, sales, and editor folks on the exhibits floor during ALA. It’s hot, noisy, and just plain hectic, and who really has the time to stand there and have a serious discussion with a librarian? It’s not an ideal environment.

But if there’s no way to have a meaningful chats on the exhibits floor, how does one garner the attention of the publishers during conference? Most people would argue that it’s usually the other way around, especially where awards/selection list recognition is concerned. But that scenario works if and only if the publisher is acquainted with your list and genuinely cares about whether their represented titles appear on it.

At Midwinter and Annual, there are always events like receptions/breakfasts/dinners, etc. – while the reps are there to chat, overall, these are mostly social functions. Oh, and you have to be invited to them, which doesn’t always happen.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that the best way to attract the publishers’ attention is to be honest, passionate, and articulate about books – before you attend the conference. Actively blog and/or tweet about feminist kid/ya lit with sincerity. I could be wrong about this, but I’m sure publishers get tired of obsequious, insubstantial posts regurgitating plot points. If you have a blog (I do!), feature posts about nominated titles from the ABP list. Ask friends to guest blog about kid/ya lit + feminism. Also, author interviews are fabulous – perhaps discuss feminist themes in a body of work.

The library/publisher/author world is smaller than you know – if you write something positive (or negative), it’ll spread around, trust me.

3. Make the librarian connection

Share, share, share these lists with your colleagues. This is one of the best shots you have of promoting and legitimizing feminist kid/ya literature. Do a book display of ABP books for Women’s History Month (MARCH). Or maybe a multi-age group book club reading feminist picture books all the way up to YA.

I want to conclude by thanking all of my wonderful friends, many of whom are librarians, for supporting the work of the Amelia Bloomer Project. Your ALA/post-ALA tweets, FB likes/positive comments, blog call-outs have meant the world to me. You rock!

The 2012-2013 Amelia Bloomer Project Committee holding up the 2013 Top Ten titles.

The 2012-2013 Amelia Bloomer Project Committee holding up the 2013 Top Ten titles.

Lalitha Nataraj