Review: American Library Association Conference

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By Stephanie Jarvais

In the ever-changing world of information access, library employees must work hard to keep up with shifts in technology and best practices. While we have many opportunities for professional development throughout the year, the biggest takes place every June: The American Library Association’s Annual Conference. This year over 20,000 library professionals came together in Chicago to network, learn, teach, and meet some of the authors that fill our library shelves.

Stephanie at ALA
Stephanie with the ALA sign

This year I had the honor of attending and, as a first time attendee and relatively new Pratt Library employee, I saw it as a huge opportunity to learn and grow. In particular, came away with a great deal of insight into emerging practices for public librarians who are passionate about working with children.

One of my first sessions offered great ideas on how to create children’s programs on a budget. For example, during the Summer Reading finale we could put a bunch of props and costumes out with a camera (operated by a librarian of course) to capture their creative designs.

Another highlight session presented ways in which we can make our libraries safe places for homeless LGBT youth. One solution offered was to behave in a warm and welcoming manner and display a sign that you are LGBT friendly, whether it is a sign in the window of the library or a small rainbow magnet on our desks. I found this idea to be relevant to more than just the LGBT community because every person who visits the library is unique and should feel safe and welcomed in the library regardless of his or her background.

I also broke out of my closest areas of interest—childrens and LGBT—to learn about young adult programming and how to build ties between public librarians and school librarians. These sessions offered many valuable tools that I plan to put to use once the school year starts up again.

ALA Exhibit Hall
ALA 2013 Exhibit Hall

Programs weren’t the only draw at ALA. There was a huge exhibit hall that showcased publishers, authors, and library vendors. This was the area in which my status as a newcomer really became obvious: I left with dozens of free advanced reading copies of upcoming books and no way to carry them home! Next time I attend, I will bring a checked suitcase so I can take full advantage of the free giveaways at the exhibit hall.

Temple Grandin
Keynote speaker Temple Grandin

Many of the publishers had authors such as Mo Willems and Sarah Dessen present to sign books. I attempted to get books signed by both of these others, but the lack of cash (a lesson I will remember in the future) prevented me from walking away with signed copies from these two authors. I was able to get a book signed by Temple Grandin, after I heard her speak.

ALA also creates many networking opportunities for attendees, and I met librarians from across the country. The best encounter I had was when I was talking to a fellow librarian who was disappointed in the large number of children at her library who couldn’t check out books due to fines on their card. I explained our Read Down Fines program to her, and she is excited to share the idea with her coworkers.

The final event I attended at the conference was the Michael L Printz Award ceremony to honor the year’s best fiction or nonfiction young adult book. The winner was In Darkness by Nick Lake. Listening to the authors accept their awards was humbling and entertaining, especially because they discussed how the stories came to be. While Nick Lake was the winning author, the most enjoyable and touching speech (many of us had tears in our eyes) was Benjamin Alire Sáenz, the author of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

His speech gave an in-depth look into how his own sexuality led to the book and that he wasn’t originally brave enough to continue writing the book. Benjamin Alire Sáenz stated that after placing the book on hold the characters stuck with him and gave him the rest of the book which was released the same day as his mother passed away. For him being nominated and getting a Printz Honor allowed him to celebrate the release of his book despite the cloudy circumstances.

ALA was an enjoyable and entertaining visit that enhanced my knowledge on libraries and what I can do as a librarian to improve my library, and I am now better equipped to attend an ALA conference in the future!

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