What Came Home from D.C.

Memories of Annual that transcend mere notes

July 8, 2010

The last thing I did before checking my suitcase at Washington National Airport was to tuck the pink steno pad in which I’d been scribbling all conference long into the front pocket of my suitcase. Well before the end of my trip, I had tired of lugging and protecting the accoutrements of conference life, so opted to lighten my carry-on load a little more.

All sorts of things made their way home with me: a signed collage by Melissa Sweet from the Association for Library Service to Children preconference, “Drawn to Delight: How Picturebooks Work (and Play) Today”; the costume jewelry I put into my checked baggage despite all those warnings about what not to pack; and my carefully chosen purchases from the idyllic New York Review of Books booth—Terrible, Horrible Edie among them.

The pink notebook, however, was missing. It couldn’t have fallen out of a zipped pocket. I offer no conspiracy theories, despite having caught a few minutes of State of Play on late-night television in my hotel room. I ponder, only idly, the Providential Implications of what the disappearance of my conference notes might mean: Literally, it means that a large part of what I return with from Annual Conference is photos and memories.

Capital standouts

What do I remember? I retain the Harry Potter–like sense of arriving at a Metro stop and seeing first one, then more and more figures who differed from the suited, weary native commuters, and knowing intuitively that these people were, like me, ALA attendees. I recall every meal, from the coffee in hotel paper cups each morning, to the multiple trips to Five Guys, to the more elegant dinners in Dupont Circle with friends and librarians.

I can still see the various sites of D.C., the rather fearsome lions outside the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the dignified historical buildings that endure in this city. I know it was hot, but mercifully, the sensation of the air that seemed to envelop, then infiltrate and possess every cell of one’s body in a way that portended transport to a mysterious elsewhere, had receded.

I can tell you that vendors such as World Book, Scholastic, and Rosen Publishing are producing digital science-oriented resources that serve the needs and interests of younger students. Even as the products provide very real information, the interactive, multimedia features seem practically magical—from text that recomposes itself to a lower Lexile reading-measure level and pictures that, when clicked, launch videos.

I know about new books, from Sparky: The Life and Art of Charles Schulz (Chronicle Books, April 2010) to the forthcoming The Sea of Bath (SourceBooks, October 2010). I can share my admiration for the dynamism demonstrated at the ALSC preconference by digital painter William Low and the noted Timothy Basil Ering. I’ll always be charmed by the memory of Javaka Steptoe’s smile and self-effacing explanations of his powerful illustrations for books like his forthcoming Jimi Sounds Like a Rainbow: A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix (Clarion Books, October 2010), and the opening preconference remarks of librarian Wendy Lukehart. I can testify to librarians’ thunderous appreciation of authors and illustrators, whom they applauded like rock stars, followed by friendly barrages of photo-snapping and autograph-seeking.

I can also tell you that for all the high-tech wonders in evidence, everyone still believes in books. Author-illustrator Brian Selznick, in spell-binding, hilariously astute ways, argued that new technologies don’t portend the end of storytelling and the written word. Despite the mysterious disappearance of my pink notebook, with its pages of my nearly hieroglyphic handwriting, what he said rings true.

Jennifer Burek Pierce is assistant professor of library and information science at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Contact her at jennifer-burek-pierce[at]uiowa.edu.