Librarians Head for the Hill to Rally for Reading

ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., attracts 26,000 enthusiastic professionals.

July 27, 2010

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Librarians and their supporters spoke loudly and clearly about the value of libraries during the American Library Association’s 2010 Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., June 24–29.

On Library Advocacy Day, June 29, some 2,000 librarians and library supporters registered for a rally at Upper Senate Park, according to Emily Sheketoff, executive director of ALA’s Washington Office, which organized the demonstration. The rally featured such speakers as young-adult author Lauren Myracle, U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ALA President Camila Alire, and ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels.

Following the rally, ALA members and supporters met with members of Congress and their staffs to drive home the needs and concerns of the libraries in their communities facing local budget shortages at a time of increased library use. They urged funding for the Library Services and Technology Act at $300 million for FY2011, funding for Improving Literacy Through School Libraries at $100 million, as well as support for net neutrality and the Access to 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

Nearly 20,000 conference attendees participated in more than 2,400 sessions and meetings during the Annual Conference. Attendance figures were: 19,513 registrants and 6,688 exhibitors, for a total of 26,201. In 2009, the Annual Conference in Chicago drew 22,762 attendees and 6,179 exhibitors, for a total of 28,941. And in 2008, the Anaheim, California, conference attracted 16,295 attendees and 5,752 exhibitors, for a total of 22,047.

Securing the future of libraries through advocacy was a central theme of this year’s conference. U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan met with the board of directors of ALA’s American Association of School Librarians and elected leaders from state school library organizations affiliated with AASL. Cassandra Barnett, AASL president, opened the informal session with a statement emphasizing how school libraries and school librarians have taken the lead in the implementation of the five key priorities set out in “A Blue Print for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.” Secretary Duncan praised libraries and librarians for their achievements. He emphasized the need for school librarians to actively push Congress for the passage of the jobs bill. “Use your loud librarian voices” for lobbying, he said.

Perhaps anticipating Duncan’s words, librarians at the Annual Conference focused on ways to get their messages across. Advocacy was also the focus of two key programs developed by Camila Alire and her task force, “Surviving in a Tough Economy: An Advocacy Institute Workshop” and the “Frontline Advocacy Train the Trainer Program.”

A joint program sponsored by AASL and the Association for Library Service to Children, “Grassroots 2.0: New Technologies,” brought together three experts on delivering effective library messages to legislators. Curtis R. Rogers of the South Carolina State Library presented a slideshow of social media resources that librarians can use to promote the library and engage lawmakers. Jonathan Godfrey, communications director for the House Judiciary Committee, said that the United States is up against the worst economy in 70 years. “Libraries don’t automatically get a free pass because they take care of children,” he said. “You need to scratch and claw for every bit of federal funding to keep your branches open and librarians employed.” Stephanie D. Vance of Advocacy Associates, a consultant to the ALA Washington Office, emphasized the importance of building coalitions. “Identify coalitions that will most influence your member of Congress,” she said. “For example, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) loves bicycles. He listens to cyclists. Get some librarians who ride bikes to deliver your message.”

Another issue central to today’s libraries was addressed when the Intellectual Freedom Committee and Committee on Legislation presented “Privacy, Libraries, and the Law,” which, among other things, examined how social networking websites (especially Facebook) are changing our understanding of privacy, as well as new threats to privacy such as data mining and data brokers.

The challenge of balancing religious freedom and intellectual freedom provided the basis for a program cosponsored by ALA’s Intellectual Freedom Committee and the Association of American Publishers, “Blasphemy! When Religious Values Clash with Intellectual Freedom Values.”

A panel discussion titled “Reaching Latino Teens through Multiple Literacies: A Program for School and Public Librarians,” sponsored by the Public Library Association and the Reforma Children and Young Adult Services Committee, discussed the strategies and programs three librarians have used to reach out to and increase the literacy of Latino teenagers in their communities.

Another discussion, “News Literacy and Preservation: Finding, Using, and Losing the News,” featured Meg Smith, a specialist in local news and the lead researcher at the Washington Post for the Virginia Tech massacre story in 2007. She asserted that librarians are crucial in assessing the authority of news outlets, determining whether they are credible or the best or only sources. This is especially important when news outlets are increasingly utilizing Facebook. The program was sponsored by the Education and Behavioral Sciences Section and the Instruction Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Librarians attending the conference also gained valuable tips on the use of technology. The Office for Information Technology Policy, through the Subcommittee on America’s Libraries for the 21st Century, showcased new cutting-edge technologies. One project from the Contra Costa County (Calif.) Library is the “Library-a-Go-Go” initiative, which featured a fully automated touch-screen book-lending machine that operates along the lines of an ATM.

The Leroy C. Merritt Humanitarian Fund—established in 1970 to provide financial aid to librarians who are in jeopardy for their stand on intellectual freedom, who face discrimination, or who have been denied employment rights—celebrated its 40th anniversary with a gala dinner in the exhibition hall of the Folger Shakespeare Library. The highlight of the evening was the story former ALA President Carol Brey-Casiano told—for the first time in its entirety, she said—about an experience she described as the worst in her professional career: Shortly after the September 11 attacks in 2001, two men came into the El Paso (Tex.) Public Library where Brey-Casiano was (and still is) director, demanding to see the patron computer terminal sign-up sheets. Brey-Casiano replied that she could not release patron records without a court order and that, in any case, the sign-up sheets were shredded every night. After months of intimidation from the El Paso police because in their view she was withholding information, her Merritt Fund–funded lawyer called to say that the district attorney had decided not to prosecute.

Those attending this year’s conference were also treated to a series of speakers who entertained while also sharing valuable insights.

Thousands who attended the Opening General Session responded enthusiastically to remarks by Nobel Prize–winning author, editor, and professor Toni Morrison, whose Beloved earned the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1988.

Throughout Morrison’s powerful presentation, she left no doubt about her high esteem for libraries. “I suspect that every single author that speaks to librarians can tell you about his or her intimate, steady, and vital relationships to libraries,” she said. After charming the audience with her recollections about the libraries of her youth, she noted her respect for technology and the contemporary library, ending her speech with: “I’m grateful for your past because it is mine as well, and I am eager to help you secure your future because it is mine as well.”

The Auditorium Speaker Series offered a variety of great speakers, including popular novelist John Grisham (speech or interview), who will be the 2011 Honorary Chair for National Library Week. American Libraries presented Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, a nonprofit oral history project that honors and celebrates the lives of everyday people through listening. Other speakers who drew large audiences included Marlo Thomas, Salman Rushdie, Dennis Lehane, Nancy Pearl, who interviewed Mary McDonough; Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd Taylor; puzzle master Will Shortz; Junot Diaz, who was interviewed by ALA Office for Diversity Director Miguel Figueroa; and a first-time graphic novel panel featuring David Small and Audrey Niffenegger.

The popular ALA Annual Conference series “Many Voices, One Nation” featured readings from novelists, storytellers, and poets. Benjamin Alire Sáenz, an artist, poet, and novelist, read from his fifth book of poems, The Book of What Remains. The Live! @ your library stage in the exhibit hall featured readings by popular and up-and-coming authors, including Nickole Brown, Laurie Halse Anderson, and R. Dwayne Betts. Thanks to support from the National Endowment for the Arts, this year’s Live! stage also showcased a number of poets, including Kwame Alexander and Heid E. Erdrich.

Among the booths attracting attention in the massive exhibit hall were those located in the Technology Pavilion, including Eastman Kodak, HP BookPrep, NBC Learn, Bing, and CDW-G. Mango Languages was a hit in sweltering D.C. as T-shirted staff served mango smoothies to grateful conference-goers. Chefs in the Cooking Pavilion made an equally good impression as they displayed their skill and autographed their cookbooks.

Comedian, writer, and ALTAFF national spokesperson Paula Poundstone headlined ALTAFF’s popular Sunday evening comedy program,“The Laugh’s On Us!” which featured top comedians and authors.

The “Night of the Living Librarians” team from the University of Pittsburgh took the Gold Cart in the Sixth Annual Library Book Cart Drill Team Championship, sponsored by Demco. And Jason Griffey of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (and ALPerpetual Beta blogger) was crowned champion of the first-ever ALA Annual Conference Battledecks competition. Battledecks challenges participants to give a presentation using slides they’ve never seen before on a topic they receive only moments ahead of time. The competition was cosponsored by the Learning Round Table and American Libraries.

The subject of fun was revisited during the President’s Program, which featured Eppo van Nispen tot Sevenaer, an inspirational speaker whose speech focused on the future of media and libraries. “We’ve done an incredibly bad job in libraries of not having fun; it doesn’t have to be 24/7 serious,” he said.

Of course, there was also plenty of serious business taking place. On Friday, many conference attendees took part in the annual day-long Libraries Build Communities service effort.

On Monday, several library directors movingly described the public’s response to their participation in the American Dream Starts @ your library initiative, a program that helps libraries provide literacy services for adult English-language learners.

The successful exhibits program concluded with a rousing performance by acclaimed songwriter and performer Natalie Merchant, whose new two-CD set of songs adapted from the works of various classic and contemporary poets is called Leave Your Sleep.

On Tuesday, the closing session featured author Amy Sedaris, author of the New York Times bestseller I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence, whose improvised joking with the audience ended the conference with laughter.

And on Tuesday night at the Presidential Inaugural, 2009–10 ALA President Camila Alire passed the gavel to 2010–11 President Roberta Stevens. Friends, family, and colleagues, including new division presidents, helped Stevens of the Library of Congress celebrate her inauguration. Instead of a traditional presidential speech, Stevens turned the podium over to four of her favorite authors: Marie Arana, Brad Meltzer, Sharon Draper, and Carmen Agra Deedy, who delivered moving testimonials about the value of libraries and reading in helping Stevens officially launch her “Our Authors, Our Advocates” presidential initiative.

Calling the new ALA president LC’s “golden treasure,” Arana said librarians are the people who hold the key to a more civilized society. In the areas of critical thinking, problem solving, and information and technical literacy, “there is no institution better equipped than libraries.”

Council actions

On the recommendation of ALA’s Committee on Education (COE), the Association’s governing Council adopted a resolution (Council Document #42) strongly opposing the elimination of Louisiana State University’s School of Library and Information Science in Baton Rouge, and urging the university’s board of supervisors and state board of regents to continue their support for the state’s only MLIS degree program, has graduated more than 3,500 students since 1926.

Beth Paskoff, dean of LSU’s SLIS, and Linda Smith, associate dean of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, participated in an open forum at COE’s Education Assembly.

“As we experience the worst recession in 80 years, we need to deal with the immediate challenges of downsizing and getting through tough times,” outgoing ALA Treasurer Rod Hersberger told Council. “Through prudent management of our resources, we can leverage the Association’s financial strength [to support new business development] and lay the groundwork for future success.”

Council unanimously approved an ALA FY2010 budgetary ceiling offered by Hersberger of $57.2 million and unanimously passed the 2011–2015 Strategic Plan, which outlines core organizational values, key action areas, and goals and objectives. Council also passed a resolution reaffirming equal employment opportunity for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered librarians and library workers.

Council approved six action items from the Committee on Legislation: a measure that urges Congress to commit a minimum of $100 million designated for school libraries in FY20111 and beyond to Improving Literacy Through School Libraries (CD#20.6); a resolution to include school librarians in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (CD#20.7); commending the U.S. Senate for its passage of the Faster Freedom of Information Act (S. 3111) (CD#20.8); supporting the Government Printing Office’s “Strategic Vision for the 21st Century” pilot project (CD#20.9); and supporting the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act (S. 3304) and Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2009 (H.R.3101) (CD#20.10).

Several measures from the Constitution and Bylaws Committee were approved, including changing the limit of three endowment trustees to no fewer than three nor more than six; defining the executive director’s nonvoting status and adding “voting” members to the constitution language regarding suspension of Executive Board members and Executive Board quorum language (CD#25.1).

Council also gave the go-ahead for the establishment of a Retired Members Round Table, offered by the Committee on Organization, as well as a measure to increase the composition of the Conference Committee to include a representative of the Accessibility Assembly (CD#27.2). A resolution on nondiscrimination in conference contracts was also passed (CD#45 revised).

Resolutions to ensure equitable access to all formats of electronic content through libraries (CD#44 revised) and urging library directors, trustees, school board members, and supervising government bodies to provide adequate funding for summer reading programs (CB#47) were approved.

Tributes were approved honoring the 40th anniversary of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association as well as the 30th anniversaries of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association and the Map and Geography Round Table.

Memorial resolutions honoring recently deceased colleagues were approved for: Frank L. Turner, Spencer G. Shaw, Marion W. Francis, Burton A. Joseph, Lillian LaVerne Lewis, Marilee Fogleson, Patricia A. Morris, Lillian Moore Bradshaw, Suzanne J. LeBarron, and Grace-Ellen McCrann.

Convening as the ALA–Allied Professional Association, the ALA-APA Council heard a report from Executive Director Fiels about the receipt of a $590,000 Institute of Museum and Library Services grant.

“I am pleased to report that APA will have a positive financial result this year with a net positive of $25,000,” ALA-APA Treasurer Rod Hersberger said, recommending approval of the FY2011 budgetary ceiling of $243,878 (APACD#4.2).

Read more at americanlibrariesmagazine.org/ala10.

American Libraries Editor and Publisher Leonard Kniffel, Associate Editors Pamela A. Goodes, Greg Landgraf, and Sean Fitzpatrick, AL Direct Editor George M. Eberhart, and Steve Zalusky of ALA’s Public Information Office all contributed to this report, with photos by Curtis Compton courtesy of Cognotes.