2018 ALA Midwinter Meeting, Part 1 – Toxic Stress in the Library

I went to ALA Midwinter Meeting in Denver, Colorado, on February 8 through 12, and I want to blog about the conference, as usual.

But this was a new sort of conference experience. I am a member of the 2019 Newbery Committee and was to meet with my committee for the first time. To avoid any appearance of conflict of interest or bias, I wasn’t going to look for pictures with authors this time. I wasn’t going to get any 2018 books signed. I had agreed never to mention eligible books online – so that meant no pictures of all the advance reader copies I picked up.

I also knew that I didn’t really need to pick up too many advance reader copies – before too much longer, publishers are going to start mailing me finished books to consider. However, my plan is to use any advance reader copies to give to kids who come to my Newbery Book Club at the library. So I did want to pick some up, and also see if there are some titles I’m excited about. (I won’t tell you which those are!)

Now, I have a doctor’s note, written in 2011, to permit me to use a wheeled cart on the exhibits floor. I felt a tiny bit guilty using it, because it’s so old. But I had a vertebral artery dissection happen in 2011 when I slept on a plane on the way to ALA Midwinter without a neck pillow, and the plane encountered some turbulence while I was sleeping. I know that carrying books in a shoulder bag that weekend didn’t help. In fact, for the next four weeks I had a headache, centered in my neck, that I just couldn’t get rid of. Then I went back on birth control pills (to help with ovarian cysts) – and the next day had a stroke. They determined that a vertebral artery dissection was the cause, so I figured out what caused the four weeks of headaches at the same time.

Anyway, I’d been told that people who have had a vertebral artery dissection shouldn’t carry heavy loads. I wasn’t sure if it still applied. But I brought my wheeled bag (my carryon, emptied out) onto the exhibit floor. I showed lots of restraint! I only filled the bag with advance reader copies. I pretty much only took books for middle grade readers (which I’d be able to use with my Newbery Book Club), and I left the exhibits when my bag was full.

But I still had to get the bag back to my hotel room. I lifted it up the steps of the shuttle bus and lifted it onto the seat next to me. (There had also been some lifting during my flight earlier that day when I put my carryon in the overhead bin.) Whatever the reason – that night my neck was aching badly, just exactly where my vertebral artery dissection had happened seven years before. It had me awake and scared most of the night. Fortunately, when I got up in the morning, it got better. And it didn’t bother me too much the rest of the conference. But I was a lot more careful about lifting things with my right arm. And I no longer feel guilty about using that old doctor’s note!

[I also want to add that a friend who’d recently had surgery asked about how I get this permission. I told her it’s an easy process, which it is. The ALA Accessibility Services folks are very helpful and accommodating. However, there have been times in the past when I’ve seen angry posts on Twitter about people bringing rolling carts into the exhibit hall. Don’t worry, folks, if we don’t have a doctor’s note, they won’t let us in. Many disabilities cannot be seen by the casual observer. Just saying.]

On Saturday, the first full day of the conference, I decided to keep myself AWAY from the Exhibits, since I’d had such a bad night. So I decided to go to “Leadership and ALSC,” which was happening at a hotel.

“Leadership and ALSC” happens every conference, and chairs for ALSC (Association of Library Services for Children) committees attend. I went when I was chairing the Grants Administration Committee. They always have an excellent speaker, as well as getting to meet other people in ALSC leadership. Our Newbery committee chair had suggested attending this session (You do not have to actually be in ALSC leadership.), so when I was looking for a way to keep from being tempted by the exhibits, this seemed like a good idea.

First we heard from ALA’s Washington office. We expected the library budget to get zeroed out again, so we need to advocate. (Indeed it was zeroed out.) You can find helpful information at ala.org/advocacy/fund-libraries. They need our stories about grants or federal funding and the good work they have done.

Also check districtdispatch.org where the Washington office posts national concerns for libraries. We have the skill set to advocate for libraries. We are storytellers!

Then we had our main speakers, Dr. Janina Fariñas and Dr. Johanna Ulloa Giron. They spoke on “Toxic Stress in the Library: The Upstream Impact of Life Adversity on Children.”

Here are my notes:

Trauma and toxic stress pervades our experiences.

Protective factors are influences that help children bounce back: Relationships, nurturing caregivers, routines, stabilities, good books, etc.

How can we make systemic change?

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are unfortunately not rare. Signs are easily seen. ACEs include abuse, witnessing abuse, parental divorce, neglect, household dysfunction, and more.

A major study on ACEs was done that was one of the largest ever of its type. There’s direct correlation between ACEs and social, emotional, and cognitive impairment. The study showed that they impact people throughout their lifetime.

But that study mainly looked at a white population. These speakers said we also need to look at the huge stress of immigration and acculturative stress (having to adapt to a new culture).

For the speaker, when she was a child, going to the library was stressful, because she didn’t know the culture.

There’s also deportation and detention stress – fear that causes excessive stress which is prolonged over time.

Stress exists on a continuum from positive to tolerable to toxic. Toxic stress is completely overwhelming.

Microaggression stress is another kind of stress that immigrants face. It comes from behavior that’s aggressive toward an oppressed community.

What kind of microaggressions are we allowing in the library? (By definition, we’re unaware. They’re assumptions.)

Chronic stress leads to hypervigilance. And the stressful experience cycle directly affects the brain over time. The hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland all start chronically vibrating and the executive functioning parts of the brain go offline.

Equality is not the same as Equity. Equality treats all kids the same. Equity gives all kids what they need.

There is hope! Children are resilient. How can we support that?

A counterbalance to ACEs are BCEs, Benevolent Childhood Experiences. BCEs predict less stress.

How do we help develop BCEs for all?

In the speaker’s experience, books literally saved her life. Now she’s working to build cultural proficiency on behalf of vulnerable communities.

We need to hold all forms of culture and history difference in high esteem.

There’s a continuum of Cultural Competency: From racism to curiosity to competent. It’s more than ethnicity and race.

Conduct self-examination about how you are serving families in your community. How can we support people from different cultures?

Develop a no-nonsense understanding of the stresses in your community. Consider carefully where you stand on immigration. Children are now in foster care because their parents were deported. This causes fear. At least 4 out of 10 children carry stress.

Help communities reclaim their experiences. Partner with people doing this work. Choose to share power – who gets to make decisions about how libraries work?

Information is power! So public libraries have huge power in changing communities. Stand in solidarity for rights of immigrant children and students.

We are not neutral! Libraries are for those families. You are welcome here!

Then they talked about some programs going on in their own libraries. An example: World Language Storytimes. Storytimes in many languages, and the families are in charge. (They get training.)

Another program is a pen pal program with a library in Nicaragua.

Kids being able to help others is a BCE.

Another program is using a green screen to create pictures as if in another country.

And of course have multicultural books!

Another program is partnering with community experts and providing therapy services in nontraditional spaces.

They have intentionally created a very safe space for immigrant families. These programs create benevolence in the community.

The library should be in the list of protective factors for children.

We are an environmental factor. Make that a benevolent one.

Schools are heavily monitored. Can that hypervigilance relax in the library?

Assume you’re having an impact! Decide what that impact will be.

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