ALA names Honorary Member

Ann K. Symons was elected to honorary membership in the American Library Association in action taken by the ALA Council on Sunday, January 22, during the Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta. Honorary membership, ALA’s highest honor, is conferred in recognition of outstanding contributions of lasting importance to libraries and librarianship.

Symons was nominated in recognition of her contributions to advocacy, access, intellectual freedom and services to the LGBTQ community. One of the most prominent school librarians nationally and internationally, she was among the first advocates for library service to LGBTQ communities. Her career has been marked by tireless service and lasting contributions to the profession and to the American people.

In 1993, Symons’s career became inextricably bound with the fight against challenges to the highly controversial book Daddy’s Roommate, written by Michael Willhoite. The book dealt openly with gay parents and became one of the most challenged books of the 1990s. Challenged in every school in the Juneau (Alaska) School District where she served as librarian, Symons successfully led the fight to retain this book in Juneau’s public schools. She and the Juneau School District were subsequently honored by being placed on the Freedom to Read Foundation’s Roll of Honor. As a result of this protracted struggle, in 1995 Symons and co-author Charles Harmon published the highly praised Protecting the Right to Read: A How-To-Do-It Manual for School and Public Librarians. The book provided public and school librarians with strategies to protect against censorship and ensure the community’s right to unfettered access to information.

Symons served as ALA treasurer 1992-1996 and was the 1998-99 ALA president. As ALA president, one of Symons’ enduring contributions was her innovative work to address the needs of the LGBTQ community. She developed a pre-conference program entitled “Gay Teens in the 21st Century” which was supported by the Margaret A. Edwards Trust. The success of this program led her to develop similar programs such as the 2015 pre-conference program “Rolling out the Rainbow Carpet: Serving LGBTQ Communities.” For over a decade she has been a sought-out speaker both nationally and internationally.

Her key presidential initiative, a new ALA intellectual freedom statement Libraries: An American Value became ALA policy during her term. Libraries: An American Value, intended to inform the public about a library’s role in the community, was the first major intellectual freedom policy adopted by ALA in nearly 20 years.

After retiring from the Juneau School District, Symons became the middle school/high school librarian at the Anglo American School of Moscow (Russia) where she served for six years. During this time she served on ALA’s Caldecott Committee as well as speaking widely at library conferences throughout Russia and myriad European countries.

Symons has been recognized with a wide range of awards, including the ALA Equality Award, the Joseph Lippincott Award, the Elizabeth Futas Catalyst for Change Award; as well as the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award.  She will receive an honorary membership plaque in June during the Opening General Session of the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago.

JoAnne Kempf
Director, Office of ALA Governance
Photo of Ann Symons
jkempf@ala.org
Office of ALA Governance