Editorial September 2014


Photograph of Mark Cummings

It was 102 degrees the day we reached Las Vegas for the start of the ALA Annual Conference, on its way to 111 by the end of the weekend. Ordinarily weather like this would be the main topic of conversation, but there was so much to talk about in that desert paradise that even the heat seemed somehow irrelevant: the daunting walks between venues, the throngs, the incessant noise, the improbable architecture, most of all the sense that if you weren’t enjoying yourself—as virtually everyone else seemed to be—it was your own fault.  Las Vegas, a town specifically built to be anything, everything other than wherever you came from, a town adroit at masking even our own thoughts from ourselves (what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas), came through with an event that managed to convince most in attendance that they had had a good time.

Actually, I wish I knew more about what happened while we were there.  Most of my time at these conferences is spent in staff meetings, presenting budgets, listening to policy discussions, and, of course, guiding the conversations at the editorial board meetings of both Choice and Resources for College Libraries.  One of my colleagues assures me that the overall mood was “looking up,” by which he was presumably referring to more than the aerial performers at a nearby booth, and in fact there did seem something upbeat about the crowds in the exhibit hall during my admittedly brief visits there. And while none of our annual conferences can compare in attendance with those held in Chicago, nonetheless, at 18,626, this year’s overall attendance topped that of Anaheim (2012) by about a thousand.

What I can say about my time at the conference is that the people I spoke with exhibited an optimism about the future of the profession that I had not heard in several years.  Perhaps it was the perception (unfounded?) that the worst of the effects of the Great Recession are behind us, or perhaps it was simply the acceptance of a new normal, but I found people engaged in the social and intellectual struggles of our altered professional landscape with a renewed courage and a distinct absence of helplessness. It was, for all the challenges ahead, more exciting than any amount of hubbub in the streets outside.

It was 110 degrees the day I left Las Vegas and the same temperature later that afternoon in Zion Canyon, where I went to relax after the rigors of the conference. And once again, the weather seemed beside the point. You would think that contemplating the 200-million-year-old remains of a desert of Sahara-like proportions, with sandstone cliffs reaching over 8,000 feet, would be reason enough to forget that city, but in fact, I found myself unable to put aside a certain sense of excitement about what I had seen and heard in Las Vegas. Hopefully, this energy will carry us all forward in the new academic year.