Sweet Home Chicago

July 23, 2009

Hardly anyone I know in Chicago is actually from Chicago, born and raised here that is. Most of my friends and colleagues are from someplace else, a lot of us from Michigan. I always tell people back home in Detroit that if the Midwest were a country, Chicago would be the capital, so I feel like a native here because all I’ve done is leave the hinterlands and move to the hub, which happens to be a marvelous city that has continued to surprise and delight me, even after I’d seen Paree.

I remember the first ALA Annual Conference I ever attended. It was in 1985 in Chicago. In those days, I never dreamed that one day I would actually live here. Since the library where I worked did not pay my conference expenses, I did the conference on the cheap—driving in, staying in a shared room in a low-end hotel, eating hot dogs, and generally having a grand time attending only programs that interested me and behaving like a conventioneer should: meeting people and having fun, falling in love with the city.

When I look back on other conferences in other times, it’s not fancy hotel rooms or expensive meals that bring back the fondest memories, it’s the wonderful people and the charming local venues, of which the Windy City has an abundance.

So welcome to Chicago for the 2009 Annual Conference. Whether you picked up American Libraries at the convention center or are browsing through it on the plane, I hope you find our conference preview (p. 62) helpful, along with our restaurant guide (p. 76). If you’re still thinking about not coming to Chicago for ALA, consider what even a simple “Exhibits Supreme” badge at $75 offers: all four days of the exhibits, the Opening General Session, plus the ALA President’s Program, the Closing Session, and the 10-guest Auditorium Speaker Series, which includes public television’s Wanda Urbanska on library greening (presented by AL), along with journalist Cokie Roberts and authors James Van Praagh, Michael Connelly, Junot Diaz, Melba Pattillo Beals, Lisa Scottoline, Jill Bolte Taylor, Gregory Maguire, and Tracy Kidder. Exhibits Supreme badges are available for purchase when you get here.

The year 2009 will live in infamy for the financial meltdown that has left us all wondering what other sacrifices our libraries and our associations will have to make in the months ahead, but opportunities for the future are nevertheless out there, as past ALA president Richard M. Dougherty points out this month in “Prescription for Financial Recovery” (p. 50). Budget crunches and the struggle for dwindling financial resources aside, we still have the ever-increasing needs of our patrons to look out for. To help us do that, Lesley Ellen Harris offers suggestions for handling database licensing agreements (p. 58), and Carol Smallwood encourages us to write and publish by offering tips from librarian-authors who have done just that (p. 54). But reading is not enough; you have to be here!