CHICAGO — As libraries reinvent themselves by meeting the challenges posed by emerging technologies, they look for creative ways to engage their communities. These issues and more were examined at the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference & Exhibition, held June 27-July 2 in Chicago.
Overall attendance was 26,362, including 15,918 attendees and 6,125 exhibitors.
The weekend kicked off with a series of preconferences, including the American Association of School Librarians’ disaster recovery workshop funded by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Attendees evaluated their school library program’s disaster preparedness and built a plan to cover any identified gaps.
Chicago has been plagued by gun violence. Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina’s church, located in one of Chicago’s most troubled neighborhoods, opened a session on the topic of how libraries can make a difference.
Pfleger’s remarks were followed by a panel led by C.M. Winters, a librarian at Malcolm X College in Chicago. This seminar supported the ALA and The Harwood Institute’s “The Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities” initiative, which positions libraries as conveners and facilitators of community change.
“When somebody says to me how sad, what’s going on in our society, the first I say to them is what are you doing? I’m so tired of people just being sad,” he said. He called upon the members of the audience to be 'gamechangers' by volunteering and getting more involved in their communities. We need to put our arms around each other’s children and be neighbors to each other again.”
He urged librarians to be “first responders” in the fight to improve the quality of life in communities suffering from gun violence issues.
Two Saturday sessions further explored the theme of libraries engaging communities. ALA President Maureen Sullivan and Rich Harwood, president and founder of The Harwood Institute led a panel, the Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities, updating members on one of Sullivan’s key initiatives during her term. Sullivan said, “The role and contribution of libraries in ensuring informed and engaged communities is critical to our society and the future of our democracy. Now is the time for librarians to assume this important leadership role.”
The other session, “Community Engagement Conversation: Advancing Library-led Community Engagement, was a hands-on session led by the Harwood Institute’s Carlton Sears, past director at Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoming County (Ohio) and a Harwood certified coach, and another coach, Cheryl Gorman, Harwood vice president of national programs.
That day, ALA teamed up with representatives from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to sign a Memorandum of Understanding that will help libraries get the citizenship and immigration information they need to serve their communities.
The partnership was discussed in a panel to explore the important role public libraries play in serving immigrant communities throughout the United States. It was held Sunday and moderated by Susan Hildreth, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
The impact of the digital world on libraries was top of mind during the appearance of Dr. Mark Edwards at the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) President’s Program on Saturday. Edwards, the AASL Superintendent of the Year and recent host to President Obama during the unveiling of the White House’s ConnectED initiative, has been called the leader of a “digital revolution” in the Mooresville (N.C.) Graded School District, where 6,000 laptops were provided to all 3rd -12th Graders. Edwards said, “To be a successful school librarian requires emotional courage,” he said.
Technology was at the forefront of the Washington Update Session, which featured former Obama special assistant Susan Crawford, who focused on a broad range of information policy, including Internet law and communications law. Attendees learned about a new website, www.libegov.org, that can help librarians more easily serve the e-government needs of their communities.
Crawford pointed out the need to expand broadband access and speed in the United States. She cited a statistic indicating that 41 percent of libraries have said their bandwidth is inadequate but added that the percent is actually much higher.
“High speed Internet access is our new general purpose communications network, our replacement for the telephone, and it needs to be treated that way,” she said.