Interview with GSLIS Masters Student Katrina Spencer

katrinaspencerInterview by Tad Andracki, CCB Outreach Coordinator

From left to right: GSLIS masters/CAS alum Robin Gibson, GSLIS masters alum Marianne Martens, GSLIS masters student Katrina Spencer, and CCB Director Deborah Stevenson.

“For me, this conference was about proximity: How do we approach each other with a sensitive gaze, an attempt at mutual understanding, and genuine curiosity without fear?”

GSLIS masters student Katrina Spencer recently took an interesting trip to St. Louis, Missouri—funded in part by GSLIS and the CCB—to the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) regional conference, held at the St. Louis Public Library from October 18-20. The CCB decided to sit down with Spencer to find out more about the conference and get her tips on conferencing.


Skip to a Question

Can you tell me a little more about yourself and the work you do/are interested in doing here at GSLIS?
Tell me a little bit more about this conference. What’s it about? Why did you want to go?
Why was your trip valuable? What did you learn while at the conference?
What were some challenges or obstacles you faced while conferencing?
What were some successes or best things you took away from the conference?
What advice would you give to a first-time conference-goer?


Can you tell me a little more about yourself and the work you do/are interested in doing here at GSLIS?

I have a diverse background in academics that I think informs all of the work I do now. I’ve done graduate work in creative writing with a focus on stage play writing, as well as grad work in Spanish language, history, and culture. Now, I’m in LIS, and I think all of this previous experience speaks to what I work on now. I’m interested in translation, cultures we consider “Other,” and how those cultures are represented in children’s books.

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 Tell me a little bit more about this conference. What’s it about? Why did you want to go?

IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People, is interested in children’s literature from a global perspective. Personally, one of many themes at this conference was about representations of otherness in a global, 21st-century world. I feel that technology and access to people across the globe exceed our social understanding of each other. So for me, this conference was about proximity: How do we approach each other with a sensitive gaze, an attempt at mutual understanding, and genuine curiosity without fear? We often think about difference in terms of race, culture, color, religion, and language, but there were lots of people who were interested in inclusion from other angles like disability, sexual orientation and expression, for example.

The people at IBBY are in strategic positions to make texts that grapple with these topics available to the public—they were authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, publishers (and a lot of them were parents, and it was helpful to have people in those dual roles). They were the gatekeepers, and they have a lot of power in this arena. The book you put on display is the one that’s going to get attention, and these are the people displaying books.

“The book you put on display is the one that’s going to get attention, and these are the people displaying books.”

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Why was your trip valuable? What did you learn while at the conference?

Really, the networking opportunities at IBBY were infinite—I had the opportunity to speak with Elizabeth “Liz” Page, the executive director of IBBY, which has its headquarters in Switzerland. There were opportunities to explore publishing or interning—and everyone was approachable. I met Dr. Meena Khorana, the founder of Sankofa [a journal of African children’s literature], a resource I didn’t even know existed, and now I’m considering the possibility of doing an Alternative Spring Break placement with them. I also discovered PhD opportunities I didn’t know about. These kinds of unexpected connections were everywhere.

I also had some unexpected, jarring experiences with the venue. The conference was held primarily at the St. Louis Public Library, and apparently there’s a large, black homeless population that uses the library as a space to stay warm, connect to the Internet, and simply be indoors.  As a black person, this stood out to me in ways that it might not have to others at the conference. Contrast this situation with the fact that only about 12 of the more than 400 IBBY conference-attendees were black. I’m not sure what to do with this information, but it still makes me feel—for lack of a better word—“itchy.” It made me think about the lack of diversity among what we call “knowledge workers” and also the unemployment among seemingly able-bodied people.

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What were some challenges or obstacles you faced while conferencing?

Finding the right place to park (ha-ha)!

In terms of the conference itself, I was a newcomer. Other attendees knew each other from previous years. As a first-timer and a student, I noticed a difference in intentionality in how I and the “veterans” approached the offerings: I was more willing to meander and absorb, while others maintained more strict schedules.

Another thing was knowing how to distinguish between big names in the field from “smaller” names. I didn’t know how to make the distinction between “can’t-miss” events and ones that might have been less of a priority for me.

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What were some successes or best things you took away from the conference?

I think there were a lot of little successes from the conference: Because I was a free agent, a free radical walking around, IBBY’s now planning on doing more to reach out to newcomers at future conferences, which will be great. I’m proposing volunteer opportunities for future conferences to help defray costs of travel and registration. I’m familiar with the process of applying for GSLIS funding for conferences, a useful skill to learn early. It was cool to meet GSLIS alums like Robin Gibson and Dr. Marianne Martens who are doing work similar to my own. And now people in the field know my face.

One of the bigger things was that I’ve never prepared a poster for a conference or quite understood what they were or how they functioned. Seeing some at the conference gave me a better idea of their purpose.

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What advice would you give to a first time conference-goer?

“There’s probably a subculture of people who are doing the work you’re interested in. Find them.”

I’ve created a tip handout for this purpose that you can download. I also hosted a CCB Brown Bag, where I discussed some of these topics. That session was recorded as a Blackboard Collaborate download.

Also: I wouldn’t have known about this conference if Christine Jenkins hadn’t mentioned it to me, so my advice is to try to find a mentor who knows your interests and can help inform you about opportunities that relate to them. There’s probably a subculture of people who are doing the work you’re interested in. Find them.

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