ORLANDO, Florida — With an emphasis on the future of libraries, on diversity, equity, and inclusion and on library transformation driven by community aspirations, 16,597 librarians, library workers and library supporters (including 4,995 exhibitors) from across the world gathered in Orlando, Florida for the 2016 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition, June 23-28. The conference marked ALA’s 140th anniversary.
Introducing a special memorial event on June 25th for the Pulse shooting victims, ALA President Sari Feldman set the tone for the conference saying, “As one ALA, we stand together with the City of Orlando. We stand with the LGBTQ and Latino communities, and we stand on the side of hope in the face of tragedy.” Congressman John Lewis, representatives from GLBTRT and REFORMA, and ALA President-Elect Julie Todaro also spoke at the event, which ended in silence as the victims’ names scrolled on the screen. Conference attendees showed support by wearing rainbow ribbons, donating blood, reading from banned or challenged works of GLBTQ literature at the SAGE Banned Books Readout Booth, and completing the Idea Exchange sentence on the Networking Uncommons wall: “We stand with Orlando because . . .”
Equity, diversity, and inclusion were already high on the agenda with the planned release of the recommendations of the ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The Executive Board accepted the recommendations during the first business meeting of the conference. Armbands featuring the words Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion were offered to attendees at the conference’s Opening General Session. Dozens of related events and programs were shared on a list of conference recommendations compiled by the ALA Committee on Diversity. A new Diversity Pavilion was added to the specialty pavilions in the Exhibit Hall.
Author, radio show host, scholar and public intellectual Michael Eric Dyson offered inspiration and high energy as the Opening General Session speaker. In keeping with his belief that “literacy is critical to sustaining an intelligent citizenry,” he presented a vision of libraries that breaks the bounds of traditional education to liberate society from hatred.
Actress and immigration reform advocate Diane Guerrero encouraged attendees at the President’s Program to use their voices and to act for political change. Auditorium Speakers who focused on diversity, equity and inclusion included transgender teen activist Jazz Jennings, teen entrepreneur and activist Maya Penn and talk show host, philanthropist and autism awareness activist Holly Robinson Peete. Related events included the Spectrum Leadership Institute, the ALA Diversity and Outreach Fair with its 2016 theme “Libraries Transform: Outreach in Response to Civil Unrest,” and the Jean E. Coleman Library Outreach Lecture delivered by Andrew P. Jackson (Sekou Molefi Baako).
Fresh from leading the unprecedented sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives to demand gun control legislation, Congressman Lewis received several lengthy standing ovations, including at the scheduled event celebrating 50 years of the National Endowment for the Humanities, where he talked about his civil rights story and its representation in the graphic novel series March. His message of hope: “I truly believe we will get it right in America.”
With the shared goal of “Transforming our libraries, ourselves,” attendees made the most of the more than 2,500 formal and informal programs, sessions and events that took place at the Orange County Convention Center and nearby venues. From planned continuing education programs, workshops and preconferences to peer-to-peer sessions and chance encounters in intentionally informal meeting spaces such as the Networking Uncommons and ALA Lounge, attendees exchanged and discussed ideas, updates and innovations and left with plans for leading and implementing change in their home institutions and communities.
Among other Libraries Transform-related activities and programs, the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries sponsored Library of the Future sessions, connecting with innovators and change experts who helped participants explore trends that point to possible futures for library services, spaces, collections and partnerships. External partners included Steelcase, Raspberry Pi Foundation and the Harry Potter Alliance. The Knight Foundation sponsored several sessions showing how Knight News Challenge Libraries winners and partners are innovating to advance the future of libraries.
Some program content focused on ALA’s three strategic directions: advocacy, information policy and professional and leadership development. The ALA Washington Office offered updates on actions ALA is taking to prepare for the November 2016 presidential election, copyright policies and funding for job training services and programs. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) offered two sessions on the landmark ESSA legislation. A sampling of topics covered throughout the conference shows an emphasis on all types of libraries as part of the lifelong learning ecosystem, such as supporting entrepreneurs in libraries, coding for young people, STEM and STEAM, exploring learning through making, women leaders in technology and using 3D printers to help the disabled.
Seven hundred and fifty-eight companies and organizations highlighted their latest products, services and technologies in the Exhibit Hall, where traffic stayed lively throughout the conference. Piles of ARCs were snatched up, signing lines were long, poster sessions offered inspiration and hundreds enjoyed author readings and demonstrations at Book Buzz Theater and the Graphic Novel/Gaming, What’s Cooking at ALA? and PopTop Stages.
Celebrations of previously announced book and media award winners and honorees brought many additional authors to Orlando, including the Michael L. Printz Award, the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, the Pura Belpré Medals (celebrating 20 years), the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the Newbery, Caldecott and Wilder Medals, the Stonewall Book Awards and the Odyssey Award.
Library teams, library-related companies and individual librarians were recognized with awards presented at both the Opening General Session and the President’s Program. ALA’s Emerging Leaders presented the results of their 2015-16 projects at a poster session and reception.
Margaret Atwood and Brad Meltzer also appeared as Auditorium Speakers, and actress Jamie Lee Curtis was the Closing General Session speaker. ALA division presidents’ programs featured experts and innovators from a variety of fields. (And although not a conference speaker, Snoopy made a popular re-appearance to signal his second year as honorary chair of Library Card Sign-up Month in September.)
2015-16 ALA President Sari Feldman passed the gavel to incoming President Julie Todaro, who, together with the new ALA division presidents and executive board members, was presented at the Inaugural Brunch, the final event of the conference. Todaro introduced her special focus for the second year of the ALA Libraries Transform campaign—“The Expert in the Library”—with an emphasis on the invaluable role of those who work in libraries. In the one year since Libraries Transform was launched at the 2015 Inaugural Brunch, more than 3,000 libraries of all types have signed up to participate.
ALA association business was conducted throughout the conference, including resolutions discussed by ALA Council. Details will be summarized in a news release on the ALA news feed.
Channels for active communication before, during and after ALA conferences (including some non-attendees who use the hashtag #ALAleftbehind) include blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and Flickr. Annual Conference videos produced by Cognotes are on YouTube (search 2016 ALA Annual or #alaac16). The link to Annual Conference session recordings will be sent 4-6 weeks after the conference to full registrants. Social media and virtual meetings will help continue the Annual Conference conversations, which will be picked up again face to face at the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits, Jan. 20-24, in Atlanta. The 2017 Midwinter Meeting will include a new Symposium on the Future of Libraries. Registration opens Sept. 7, 2016.