So I just got back from Chicago. The ever changing, vibrant city of cultural affluence. The art, the theater, the bustle of a lively place full of diversity; the rich, the poor, the color, the movement; all condensed into one epicenter.
And the reason I went offers sort of a testament to the theme of the city itself.
I went to the ALA conference.
Now, for those of you who read this and are not sure what the ALA conference (ALAAC) is, then let me take a moment here to inform.
ALAAC is otherwise known as the American Library Association Annual Conference and it offers another sort of epicenter. A place of learning, sharing and connecting for Librarians, Bloggers, Writers and Illustrators, Artists, Publishers and Editors, and literary experts. It is a massive conglomeration of people whose sole purpose is a life devoted in one way or another to their specific craft: books.
I know what you may be thinking. It’s a room full of geeks and nerds.
Well…yes…and thank you for the compliment.
See the thing is, we Librarians like to stick together. It stands without saying that the world is a complicated place with a lot going on. But books offer solace of sorts to the masses. Books are the place that people often go to find meaning or to escape or become informed, or just to find out that they are not alone.
And libraries have books. Lots of them.
And in those libraries are people, who protect those books and protect access to them.
That is us. We are the keepers of this knowledge.
Librarians have known this for a very long time. And from time to time we like to find each other in a common space to share our experiences, to get encouragement and inspiration from each other, and to see each other again and affirm that we are still alive and kicking. It’s something that we do quite regularly (on a yearly basis…okay…maybe twice a year……..okay who are we kidding ALL THE TIME).
But I got a funny feeling about ALAAC 2017. And my funny feeling may just be mine and no-one else’s. But my funny feeling is that this one was special. Because this one comes after a major turn of events in our social and political experience of America. It comes after the most recent election of the President and it comes at a time when people are ever-more aware of their need for empowerment and knowledge and acceptance.
I told myself that my blog would not a be a political one. I told myself that I would offer it as a place to share and gain information to literature and resources to help any others that might be interested. But it’s almost impossible to remain un-politicized.
My job is politicized.
In a place where the nerdiest and geekiest meet; in the rooms where the Librarians of America and the world come together; in a place where access to free, advanced readers from the new and upcoming authors is at its prime; there was a theme. Perhaps this theme was always there. In fact I’m absolutely sure that it was always an undercurrent of all things library related, but this time it was THE THEME.
It was a push for the right for access to information and knowledge by all people, across the board. It was a push for libraries to continue as fundamental instruments for connecting people with resources and with communities. It was a push for the education of the young, an invitation to the non-traditional library customers to “come on in,” and a fight for the broad sweeping access to literature by those who are least likely to gain access to it.
The theme was one of unrestrained and unbounded inclusivity.
Now each person who went to the ALA conference this year has their own experience of it. I believe that (and yes, I’m estimating based on memory so if someone can offer the statistics, by all means do so), the former ALA president Dr. Julie Todaro, said that the conference had approximately 1,500 presentations with additional meetings adding up to 2,500. That didn’t include the exhibitors. So, obviously, my experience of this was different to any other conference-goer at any given time.
However, the sentiment was clear. From opening speakers, Chicago Mayor Raheem Emmanuel, and CEO of tech organization Girls Who Code Reshama Saujani, through to closing speaker Hilary Clinton, the role of libraries and Librarians in encouraging inclusivity was at the forefront of everybody’s consciousness. It was Emmanuel who stated that “This is not the time to be cutting back on funding for our public institutions like our libraries.” But this sentiment was carried by Saujani who said that she “…believes that you (librarians) are our nations most important public servants.”
In hearing John Lewis speak, I was reminded of great works of literature (like Lewis’, Aydin’s and Powell’s novels March 1, 2 and 3), and also reminded, as Lewis stated, that “we are all living in the same house…the world house.” As Nicola Yoon said so well, “we respond to the complexity of the world as it is…we think that people that don’t look like us aren’t like us and that is not true.” Or, as Louise O’Neill said “I truly believe that culture can change culture.”
This was certainly a sentiment expressed by Sarah Jessica Parker who said that she: “was struck…by the incomparable power of books…to cultivate empathy” and “if a library is the heart of a community then a librarian keeps the heart beating.” Or as Brian Banyon said: “There is no other institute in this society that takes people from the beginning to where we need to go.” Or what about Tony Marx who said that “we are positioning our libraries to be the most adaptive organizations they can be. We need them now more than ever.” Or what about Luis Herrera who quite simply said: “the library is the great equalizer.”
Ron Chernow in his ever-eloquent and passionate presentation claimed that “truth is a precious commodity these days,” and Rick Riordan reminded us as authors, librarians and just plain decent people that it is important to say to each other “I see you.” We even heard from Hilary Clinton, who said that she believes that “libraries and democracy go hand in hand,” that “books help us the understand each other (and) shatter stereotypes,” and that “libraries are on the front line to defend truth and reason and evidence and fact.”
But it goes on.
Because it feels like more. It feels like ALAAC 2017 gave a voice to a collective body; a sort of grassroots movement which is acting in favor of sustainable futures for libraries and the continued freedom of access to information and knowledge by all. It feels like the various works of literature and art seen at ALAAC 2017, but also throughout the city of Chicago at the present time, is a commentary of the people. And the people seem to want knowledge to be accessible across the board.
The literature that came home with me from ALAAC 2017 is a showcase of diversity from LGBTQ writers such as Meredith Russo and Robin Stevenson, through to works about various people of color, such as Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down, Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Warrior and Erika L. Sanchez’s I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter. To picture books featuring beautiful and diverse characters; Hey Black Child, Malala’s Magic Pencil and Before She was Harriet, to name a few; to works that push us beyond our realm of comfortability, such as Omar El Akkad’s American War.
ALAAC 2017 was also a time to make our voices heard. Dr. Julie Todaro encouraged us to “commit to significant sustained involvement at the local level” and we all supported the American Association of School Librarians at ALAAC this year.
The new ALA President Jim Neal said that “Librarians are beacons and rockstars” and “libraries transform communities.” Speaking of which there is a whole ALA campaign, in case you didn’t know, called Libraries Transform, get the scoop here. We had the opportunity to stand up against censorship through the Stand for the Banned booth which recorded and will show the videos on the Banned Books Week Youtube Channel. ALAAC 2017 even featured gender neutral bathrooms, because that’s how we roll.
I could not even begin to express all of the above sentiments myself. It took a collective group of “nerds and geeks” to come together to articulate it. And boy did they ever.
I hope that ALAAC 2017 was (if you also attended) as inspiring as I found it to be. I hope that even if you were not able to be there, it still got your blood flowing, your brain thinking and your creative juices ready to use. Because we need each other, to support each other, and as Kimberly Tipton (@ReferenceGrrrl), fellow Librarian tweeted “Librarians will change the world.”
May your ARCs be awesome, your presentation notes be at the ready, and your weary shoulders be recovered from the aches and pains of carrying heavy loads.
Until next time ALAAC.