‘Lead from where you are’: 2024 Power Up conference inspires attendees

Lucia Gonzalez, renowned children’s book author and library director, delivers the opening keynote at Power Up 2024 at the Pyle Center on the UW-Madison campus. Photo by Thomas Jilk

On March 21 and 22, a group of over 150 youth services library professionals from around the country convened in Madison for the highly anticipated 2024 Power Up: A Leadership Conference for Youth Services Managers and Staff. About a third of the attendees came from within the state of Wisconsin, while the rest made the journey from 25 states around the country to attend.

The Power Up conference—which takes place every two years and is run by the iSchool’s Continuing Education team—brings together youth services professionals for an engaging two days of workshops, keynotes and networking, offering new ideas and best practices for participants to take back to their home libraries. Power Up equips participants with leadership skills, even if they don’t hold formal management roles. The 2024 edition did not disappoint, punctuated by two compelling keynotes and packed with insightful sessions and fruitful conversations.

‘Starving for stories’

The conference kicked off with a rousing keynote by Lucia Gonzalez, an acclaimed children’s book author and former director of the North Miami Public Library. Gonzalez made a passionate case for the unique role and impact of youth librarians. “Children’s librarians have a history, a body of work, research, special skills and special resources,” she said.

Gonzalez recounted the first time she visited a library in the United States — the North Miami  Public Library — after arriving from Cuba as a young girl. Decades later, she became the director of that very same library, helping transform it from an underfunded and understaffed operation that was less than welcoming for children into a family-friendly gathering space for the local community.

Lucia Gonzalez engages the audience in her opening keynote. Photo by Thomas Jilk

“Children are starving for stories,” Gonzalez said, “And being a librarian is about sharing the oral traditions and stories of the people you serve, including children.” She inspired the audience of youth services librarians to “lead from where you are,” no matter their role within a library.

“Lucia was such a great speaker and is so passionate about what she does,” one attendee said. “You can tell she makes the perfect children’s librarian.”

The Power Up experience

Following Gonzalez’s keynote, attendees dispersed to dozens of sessions over two days, exploring trends and best practices in youth librarianship. They also gathered at a Thursday evening reception at Madison Public Library’s Central Library, getting behind-the-scenes tours from staff members and enjoying views of downtown Madison.

Power Up 2024 attendees gather at Madison Public Library’s Central Library on March 21, 2024. Photos by Thomas Jilk

Attendees, asked anonymously for their thoughts about Power Up 2024, said the conference was both inspiring and useful, offering practical takeaways to apply in their libraries.

“This was my first professional conference while working in libraries, and I had such a positive experience,” one participant said. “Every session that I attended allowed me to learn something new.”

Another said, “I traveled quite a ways for this conference and it took most of the travel and training budget for our rural library, and I still think it was absolutely worth every penny and every minute of my time. This is the first time I’ve attended a conference where every session was either inspirational or practical (or both), and I have several concrete things I plan to do with what I learned.”

Youth, technology, and learning

To close the conference, Dr. Mimi Ito, a leading researcher of children’s use of technology in learning, offered a thought-provoking exploration of the popular connected learning framework, for which she is a leading advocate. Ito, the director of the Connected Learning Lab at University of California-Irvine, described connected learning as “a kind of learning that occurs when a young person is pursuing something they’re genuinely interested in and passionate about, with supportive peers and mentors,” Ito said. As an example, she highlighted how a young person interested in video games can be supported by a teacher or a librarian who encourages them to pursue that passion by considering game design as a future career.

“I believe that all young people deserve to have the experience of connected learning, and that connected learning is the kind of learning that makes young people understand who they are and how to make their way forward in the world.”

Reflecting on the changing norms around technology for children in the age of smartphones and social media, Ito talked about the “power struggle” now occurring between young people and adults. “Technology is giving young people access to new sorts of tools and new sorts of information, which can be scary to the older generation,” Ito said. “But we’re also seeing disruption of the gatekeeping that historically grown-ups have been able to perform with new technologies.”

Dr. Mimi Ito gives the closing keynote on connected learning at Power Up 2024. Photo by Thomas Jilk

Through insightful and inspiring keynotes and interactive workshops, Power Up 2024 delivered an enriching experience for youth services library professionals from around the country. As they return to their home libraries, participants will be energized to shape more connected, impactful learning experiences for the young people in their communities. And they’ll be excited to Power Up again in 2026.

For more information on the Power Up conference, visit its website.

To learn about other continuing education conferences at the iSchool, visit this page.

With questions about Continuing Education at the iSchool, contact our team at ce-info@ischool.wisc.edu