2015 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition—historic celebrations, future-focused work

For Immediate Release
Tue, 06/30/2015


Mary Mackay

Marketing Director

American Library Association



CHICAGO — The celebratory energy fueling the 2015 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference & Exhibition, June 25-June 30 in San Francisco gave an especially productive edge to the hard work accomplished by the 22,696 librarians, library workers and library supporters (including 6,813 exhibitors) attending from all over the world.  Focused on the shared goal of “Transforming our libraries, ourselves,” attendees made the most of formal and informal opportunities—from scheduled sessions and facilitated conversations to serendipitous encounters in the Networking Uncommons and hallways—for exchanging ideas, updates, innovations and inspiration. In the Exhibit Hall, 915 companies highlighted the latest products and services, and authors both popular and new. More than 2,850 scheduled programs, sessions and events took place at the Moscone Convention Center and nearby venues.

In-depth coverage of specific Annual Conference events, speakers, awards and other highlights can be found in American Libraries and the show daily Cognotes.

The upbeat tone that characterized the whole conference was set on Friday, June 26 at the Opening General Session, which kicked off with cheers for that morning’s announcement of the historic Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. As the litigator responsible for invalidating a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) two years to the day earlier, Roberta A. Kaplan was an especially timely and inspiring speaker, and surprise guest Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives, added to the celebration. (Pelosi attended to honor managers who kept the Enoch Pratt Free Library and its branches open and engaged with the Baltimore community during the civil unrest in April 2015.)

“Show Your Pride” was a consistent conference theme, with special events and programs, a first-time GLBTQ Pavilion in the Exhibits, the wrap-up of ALA’s first time sponsoring the nationwide GLBT Book Month™, the Stonewall Book Awards Program celebrating the best in GLBTQ literature and more. Around 100 conference attendees marched with staff from the San Francisco Public Library in Sunday’s exuberant Pride Parade that passed just blocks from the conference site, while others cheered them on. Many other areas of equality, diversity and inclusion provided a focus, including the 2015 ALA Diversity and Outreach Fair that featured library services to people experiencing poverty and homelessness, among other underserved and underrepresented communities. Dozens of attendees suggested possible actions related to diversity and inclusion by completing the sentence on the Networking Uncommons wall: “In order to improve the climate of diversity and inclusion within ALA, I plan to_______.”

Some content was organized around ALA’s three strategic directions: advocacy, information policy and professional and leadership development. Attendees commented on being excited to engage in conversations, many on topics not getting much attention elsewhere. Rooms were packed for sessions on digital content, community engagement, the impact and potential of the newest technologies, digital literacy, the state of the school library, privacy and surveillance, services for makers, accessible gaming, innovative services for English Language Learners (ELLS) and immigrants, services for veterans, financial education, intellectual property and 3D printing, sustainable libraries and many more.

Well attended policy sessions hosted by the ALA Washington Office explored priorities related to privacy and surveillance, broadband, copyright reform, federal library funding and ongoing progress in ebook access and e-government services. ALA’s association-wide incubator for experimentation, the Center for the Future of Libraries, hosted librarians highlighting organization-changing innovations, while external partners, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Long Now Foundation, Google and Steelcase showed how their work and research can help libraries shape their future. Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC), the initiative that seeks to strengthen libraries’ roles as core community leaders and change-agents through tools and support, offered “Turning Outward to Lead Change in Your Community” training sessions. Eight facilitated “kitchen table” conversations encouraged small groups to focus on how ALA can work towards improving the member experience.

Much of the learning and conversation (structured and unstructured, planned and unplanned) at ALA’s face-to-face events provides important connections for subsequent collaboration, including online. Spaces at Annual Conference that intentionally foster informal learning include the Unconference, Library Camp and the Networking Uncommons, which has become a popular space for informal idea exchange and events. Multiple Conversation Starter and Ignite sessions offered short, informal presentations on hot topics.

In addition to the demonstrations and introduction of hundreds of new, updated and favorite products, technologies and titles, dozens of authors, related events and poster sessions kept the exhibit floor busy. The specialty pavilions were active, piles of ARCs were eagerly snatched up, signing lines were long and hundreds enjoyed readings and demonstrations at Book Buzz Theater and the Graphic Novel/Gaming, What’s Cooking at ALA? and PopTop Stages. New in the exhibits at this conference was Libraries Without Borders “Ideasbox,” a media center in a box that allows refugee and disaster-struck communities to “access information and reconstruct their social and civil lives.”

New titles, authors and related awards were at the heart of the conference for many attendees, discussed and celebrated in dozens of venues, starting with the Booklist and YALSA Michael L. Printz Program and Reception on Friday evening, followed by the fourth Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction announcements and celebration on Saturday. Other celebrations honored previously announced award winners and honorees, including the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, the Pura Belpré Medals, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Newbery, Caldecott and Wilder Medals and the Stonewall Book Awards.

Standing-room-only Auditorium Speaker sessions included writers, activists, thought-leaders, actors and artists Gloria Steinem, Haifaa al-Mansour, Sarah Vowell in (hilarious) conversation with Nick Offerman, Nick Offerman solo, Joshua Davis with Rick Jacobs and David Thomson, Edwidge Danticat and Sonia Manzano. At the President’s Program, Courtney L. Young presented Sarah Lewis, whose “Embrace the Near Win” was selected as one of TED Talks’ 2014 Collection of the Most Powerful Talks. The Closing General Session featured Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Robbie Robertson and Caldecott Honor winner David Shannon. Division presidents’ programs also featured some outstanding and well attended speakers. (And although not a conference speaker, Snoopy made a popular appearance to set the stage as honorary chair of Library Card Sign-up Month in September.) At the second Banned Books Video Readout Booth, attendees read a short passage from their selected banned book and spoke from the heart about why that book matters to them. (Readings will be on the dedicated YouTube channel during Banned Books Week.)

2014-15 ALA President Courtney L. Young passed the gavel to incoming President Sari Feldman, who, with the new ALA division presidents and executive board members, was presented at the Inaugural Brunch. Feldman unveiled the new multi-year ALA public awareness campaign, “Libraries Transform,“ focusing on the idea that libraries today are less about what they have for people and more about what they do for and with people.

Dozens more speakers, events and professional development opportunities including preconferences and the Spectrum Leadership Institute, contributed to the high energy of the conference. ALA association business was conducted throughout the conference, including several resolutions passed by ALA Council, each of which will be described in detail in a news release on the ALA news feed.

Channels for active communication before, during and after the conferences (including some non-attendees who use the hashtag #ALAleftbehind) include blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram and Flickr. Extensive coverage in American Libraries and the show daily Cognotes provides details. The post-conference Highlights issue of Cognotes will be available in mid-July. Available session handouts are listed in the Scheduler, and the link to Annual Conference session recordings will be sent later to full conference registrants.

Social media channels and virtual meetings will help continue the Annual Conference conversations, which will be picked up face to face again at the 2016 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Boston. Bundle registration for 2016 events opens Sept. 9, 2015. Midwinter-only registration and housing open Oct. 1, 2015. Annual Conference-only registration and housing open Jan. 19, 2016.