ALA Annual Conference Draws 22,000 to Anaheim

ALA Annual Conference Draws 22,000 to Anaheim

The Anaheim Convention Center.

The Anaheim Convention Center was the setting for ALA’s 129th Annual Conference.

Sunny California skies and the dazzle of Disneyland greeted some 22,000 librarians and library lovers in Anaheim for the American Library Association’s 2008 Annual Conference and Exhibition. Commencing June 26 and running through July 2, the conference kicked off with an opening session featuring political pundit Ron Reagan, son of late President Ronald Reagan, who brought the crowd to its feet with stinging observations about “what’s going on in Washington.”

Calling librarians “the curators of civilization protecting freedom from the impulses of authoritarian governments,” Reagan lashed out at the Bush administration, citing the president’s “failure of imagination” and saying, “If you cannot imagine a better future, how are you going to create one?” He decried the administration’s intrusions on privacy and human rights. For the first time in history the United States government has sanctioned torture, he asserted. “This is not only unconscionable, it is illegal.”

The Auditorium Speaker Series featured 10 authors, including actress and children’s author Jamie Lee Curtis, who spoke passionately about her writing, the importance of education and good parenting, and the difficulties she had as a less-than-stellar student. “I couldn’t spell ‘library,’” she said, “and that tells you everything you need to know about my academic life.” Decrying the easy access to pornography that the internet allows children, she also talked about the need for a conversation about family values. “I don’t like the fact that ‘family values’ has been co-opted as some conservative agenda.” Prior to her speech, Curtis read her new book, Big Words for Little People, to a group of children assembled from the ALA conference child-care center.

The Auditorium Speaker Series also featured conversations with The Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini and legendary entertainer Diahann Carroll. Interviewed by past ALA president Sarah Long, Carroll chatted about her forthcoming autobiography and joked about her long and illustrious career in show business and how difficult it is to remain on top as one ages. She said she was grateful for her childhood library in New York City where there was a librarian “who cared about my questions.” Interviewed onstage by Roberta Stevens of the Library of Congress, Hosseini said he has librarians to thank for the word-of-mouth popularity of his novel. “It really got started when librarians started picking the book for communitywide reading programs,” he said.

Civil rights leader Vernon Jordan; self described “civil servant” (library worker) Don Borchert, author of Free for All: Oddballs, Geeks, and Gangstas in the Public Library; Greg Mortenson, cofounder of the nonprofit Pennies for Peace; bestselling authors Stephen Cannell and Dean Koontz; and pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton rounded out the Auditorium Speaker roster. The series also included an in-tandem presentation by astronaut and scientist Sally Ride and Tam O’Shaughnessy, Ride’s coauthor and partner. They talked about their line of books designed to encourage, especially among girls, the study of science and engineering.

ALA President Loriene Roy, the first Native American to be elected to that office, presented a program highlighting the creative work being done in Indian tribes across the nation. Hosted by Native American actor Wes Studi, the program included films by claymation artist Roy Boney Jr. and previews of the forthcoming We Shall Remain, a five-part public television documentary that will air next year. Roy is working with WGBH television in Boston to develop companion learning materials that will be distributed to some 17,000 libraries across the country. Roy also was one of the driving forces behind a special 2008 “Many Voices, Many Nations” program, an annual event celebrating libraries’ role in celebrating diversity in literature. This year’s event focused on Native American performers and included 2007 National Book Award–winning author Sherman Alexie, musician and playwright Arigon Starr, and Choctaw Nation storyteller Tim Tingle.

The Association’s highest award, Honorary Membership, was bestowed on children’s author Pat Mora for her work in creating the annual El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day) celebration; Effie Lee Morris for her pioneering work in children’s services and racial desegregation, and Peggy Sullivan for a 50-year career that has included leadership roles in libraries of every type and serving as president and executive director of ALA. Dozens of awards were presented at the conference and at the annual awards reception, followed by the inauguration of 2008–09 ALA President Jim Rettig.

Among other important conference events was a preview of OCLC’s new public library study titled From Awareness to Funding. OCLC Vice President Cathy De Rosa said the research showed that the library’s most committed funding supporters are not the heaviest library users and that perceptions of librarians are an important predictor of library funding support. To raise public willingness to actually fund libraries, the marketing message has to change, the study indicates. Voters who see the library as transformational as opposed to informational are more likely to increase taxes in its support and they do not necessarily want a trade-off with financial support for other public services.

The Anaheim conference also featured a daylong Advocacy Institute, topped by a panel discussion with the “Spokane Moms,” as they have become known—three Washington mothers who took the school library crisis in their district into their own hands and are turning local persuasion into a national crusade. Lisa Layera Brunkan, Denette Hill, and Susan McBurney shared their lobbying techniques and echoed many of the conclusions in the OCLC study. The 20th-century mindset was “libraries matter,” they said, but the 21st-century emphasis must be on the role of modern libraries in contributing to global competitiveness, workforce readiness, national competence, and how libraries make or save state dollars. They were honored in Anaheim with the 2008 Crystal Apple Award from ALA’s American Association of School Librarians.

Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure opened their doors to ALA-goers for the annual Scholarship Bash fundraiser, while the annual and increasingly elaborate Book Cart Drill Team World Championship added a touch of library magic to the proceedings at the convention center. This year’s competition was won by the Well-Stacked Sci-Brarians, representing Santa Monica (Calif.) Public Library.

The Well-Stacked Sci-Brarians, winners of the Book Cart Drill Team World Championship.

The Well-Stacked Sci-Brarians of Santa Monica Public Library, winners of the Book Cart Drill Team World Championship.

Traffic was heavy in the Anaheim exhibition hall, where the “LIVE! @ your library” Reading Stage featured some two dozen poets and fiction writers. American Libraries sponsored “Speaking Technically,” a panel discussion with experts from seven major library database publishers talking about their new products and ideas for enhanced services. A feature based on the session is scheduled to appear in the August issue of the magazine, along with a full report on the Annual Conference.

Attendance at the conference was down from last year’s record of 28,635 in Washington D.C., but well above the 16,974 who attended the 2006 Annual Conference in New Orleans.