Conference Reflections: Meeting the Challenges

We can all agree, 2020 presented challenges we never expected. Libraries everywhere were asked to reimagine what youth services looked like in response to the pandemic and the CLEL Annual Conference was no exception. As we pivoted to an online platform, some things remained the same, like our commitment to providing high quality professional development and early literacy resources to libraries across the state. CLEL also continued to offer scholarships to the conference, and it is our pleasure to share the recipients’ reflections on this year’s conference.


Angela McCaffery

Youth Services Coordinator

West Custer County Library

Westcliffe, CO

I usually look forward to CLEL. It’s a time for me to learn about librarianship and early literacy. It’s a time for me to focus on my job and leave family life for just a couple of days. It’s a time for me to network and talk with other library workers about things they are struggling with in their libraries and hear about things that have worked for them. This year I did not look forward to it. Not only do I detest online meetings, I am burnt out on them. I feel awkward enough networking in person so it’s nail pulling to do it online. Instead of being able to enjoy a little solitude on the drive to the conference, listen to the speakers in person and be able to reflect, I attended the conference on my phone and took notes while keeping my toddler from crawling on the table, trying to keep her semi entertained and also absorb the presentations. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just the way it is right now.


Lyndsay Brendsel

Library associate

Westminster Public Library

Westminster, CO

Due to the nature of the pandemic, CLEL had to reimagine and work hard to make this exciting opportunity happen. The dedication of the steering committee allowed for another first: the first virtual CLEL conference! I can only imagine the work that went into pulling off such a feat! While I personally had some technical issues in the beginning (most likely due to user error), the Whova platform was a great choice for this event. It allowed for multiple sessions to occur at the same time, interactive chat during sessions, and an opportunity to converse with colleagues from around the country, and even Canada! . . .Another first that I am personally grateful for is the ability to go back and watch the recorded sessions. Choosing between sessions used to be one of the down sides of the conference. I hope this begins a trend, even when we are able to meet up in person again, of recording the sessions and having them available after the event.


Katherine Bunker

Library Associate, Centennial Park Library

High Plains Library District

Greeley, CO

Sawubona. “I see you. I see your gifts and your needs. You are important to me and I see you.” Janet Damon’s 2020 Virtual CLEL Conference’s Keynote Address, Books, Joy, and Justice for All! opened with this meaningful Zulu greeting which set the tone for the entire day. Even though hundreds of us joined the conference remotely from thirty-eight different states and two Canadian provinces, our speakers welcomed us, encouraged our contributions, and made us all feel appreciated in the work we do with our youngest patrons.


James Stetson

Youth Services Librarian

Montrose Regional Library District

Montrose, Colorado

When it came to connecting, the app and organization of the conference steering committee really came through. By building in time during each conference day (2 days) for virtual morning and afternoon hangouts, those who wanted to connect that way and just chitchat were given the space to do it. The messaging feature on Whova allowed participants to create their own chatrooms for other conversations. I enjoyed being able to setup an online conversation about rural library needs and resources in order to glean more ideas from other small libraries across the continent. Further, the fact that the conference webpage and all its content will be up for a whole year means we can revisit the sessions we liked and also view others that we didn’t get to see, on top of continuing to message our colleagues.


Julia Makowski

Youth Services Coordinator

Buena Vista Public Library

Buena Vista, CO

Even through the online platform the conference left me feeling like I was a part of a community. I found friendly folks who eagerly shared resources and offered helpful insight. I giggled reading about the key wardrobe items of a good librarian in a chat room. I found inspiration from speakers who dazzled me with their ideas and commitment to creating valuable opportunities for their patrons. Overall, I loved it!

There was also much to learn from our presenters, keynote speakers, and fellow participants. Be sure to check out part two of our conference reflections, Bringing the Learning Home.