ALA Annual Conference focuses on economy’s impact on libraries, intellectual freedom, privacy

Contact: Steve Zalusky

Manager of Communications,

ALA Public Information Office

(312) 280-1546


For Immediate Release,

July 15, 2009

CHICAGO – Nearly 29,000 librarians, library supporters and exhibitors attended the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference July 9-15, held at McCormick Place in Chicago.

The total of 28,941 included 22,762 attendees and 6,179 exhibitors. It amounted to an increase from last year’s figures from the conference in Anaheim, Calif., which attracted 16,295 attendees and 5,752 exhibitors. The attendance total also marked an increase over the 2007 conference in Washington, D.C., which drew 28,499 people.

Librarians paid tribute to the memories of former ALA President Dr. E.J. Josey and Judith F. Krug, the longtime director of the ALA's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). Both were honored throughout the conference and at the Opening General Session.

ALA President Jim Rettig announced a new year-long fundraising initiative, the Spectrum Presidential Initiative, which seeks to raise $1 million for 100 new MLIS scholarships for racially and ethnically diverse library school students through ALA’s Spectrum Scholarship Program. In addition, the ALA announced the launch of a new Web site for the public, @yourlibrary, focusing on services to families and underserved populations such as recent immigrants and job seekers. The site,, is a two-year pilot project funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Meetings and workshops were devoted to the plight of libraries during hard economic times. They included “Surviving in a Tough Economy: An Advocacy Institute Workshop,” hosted by the Committee for Library Advocacy and a session entitled “Coalition Building for All Libraries in a Tough Economy,” hosted by Jim Rettig and coordinated by the Office of Library Advocacy (OLA). The session focused on building statewide coalitions and discussed the
Library Ecosystem.

ALA programs also tackled the issue of privacy, with the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom kicking off the year-long National Conversation on Privacy. OIF also held a program, in conjunction with the ALA's Washington Office, called “Privacy in an Era of Change: Privacy and Surveillance Under the New Administration.”

The ALA President’s Program focused on access to government information. Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, discussed limits imposed on access to government information. Blanton focused on the recent actions of the Obama administration and provided recommendations for the federal government. An ALA member since 1986, Blanton said, “I’ve learned at the feet of some ALA activists for intellectual freedom and open government.” He said one of the NSA’s first FOIA requests came in 1988, asking for documents relating to the FBI’s Library Awareness Program, which asked librarians to look out for users with foreign-sounding names and accents.

The ALA has always paid special attention to the area of intellectual freedom, and one program graphically illustrated why. Librarians from the West Bend (Wis.) Community Library shared their struggles to keep library materials on their shelves. They discussed recent challenges to their young adult and GLBT materials, including a demand to burn one YA novel, Francesca Lia Block’s “Baby Be-Bop.” Panelists included a library board member who was denied reappointment and the embattled library board president. Although the books remain in the YA zone, the library board still faces possible retribution in the form of budget cuts, one of the panelists said.

Several programs focused on public awareness. The PR Forum, “Breaking through the message clutter @ your library®,” addressed how librarians can get their messages out more effectively. Panelists discussed how to reach multi-cultural audiences and use radio, letters to the editor, op-eds and social networking to reach broader audiences. Sponsored by the PR Assembly of the ALA Public Awareness Committee in cooperation with the ALA Public Information Office, the program presented panelists Tom McNamee, editorial page editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago broadcaster and media trainer Dave Baum and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman and Kevin Kirkpatrick of the Metropolitan Group, and George Eberhart, editor of AL Direct. Baum also conducted a media relations training session to train librarians on how they can garner favorable media coverage.

ALA’s Black Caucus (BCALA) held a memorial for Dr. E. J. Josey, who passed away on July 3. Dr. Josey, who served as ALA president in 1984-85, opened doors to segregated library associations and was a leading force in eliminating racial bias from library systems and professional organizations. His legacy includes the annual E.J. Josey Scholarship Award.

During the memorial, Satia Marshall Orange, director of ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS), paid tribute to Josey by saying, “He did not mentor African-Americans. He mentored everybody. (N)one of us would be walking as tall as we walk now, if it had not been for Dr. Josey and others in that generation.”

A major milestone in intellectual freedom was reached, as the Freedom to Read Foundation celebrated its 40th anniversary and honored Judith F. Krug and the McCormick Freedom Museum . Missing from the celebration was its only executive director. Krug, who had helmed the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom since 1967, died April 11. She was nationally known as the founder of Banned Books Week.

Some 525 librarians and library supporters attended the celebration in the new wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. It included a posthumous presentation of the William J. Brennan Award to Krug by Robert M. O’Neil of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Free Expression. Michelle Litchman, Krug’s daugher, accepted the award on behalf of her mother. Author Judy Blume presented the Founder’s Award , saying that she planned to present it to Krug in person. “Your legacy will continue, I promise, but damn we are gonna miss you,” she said. Krug’s husband Herbert made a donation of $10,000 to the foundation. A Friday memorial service was also hold to honor Mrs. Krug.

The 40th anniversary of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards was also celebrated with a special program, “Lift Every Voice and Read.” One of the 113 award winners in those 40 years, Kadir Nelson, author and illustrator of “We Are the Ship” The Story of Negro League Baseball,” illustrated the commemorative READ poster. Nelson also participated in a program focusing on the feats of Negro League players. “Pride and Passion: The African American Baseball Experience,” hosted by the Public Information Office’s Campaign for America’s Libraries and Public Programs Office (PPO), featured a panel that included Nelson; Lawrence R. Hogan, author of “Shades of Glory: The Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball”; and author Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier in 1947.

Attendees at this year’s conference were treated to a compelling roster of speakers. The keynote at the Opening General Session was delivered by the former CEO and chairman of Playboy Enterprises, Christie Hefner, who reminisced about the founding of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards, which grew out of the magazine’s 25th anniversary celebration in 1979. “Over those three decades, not surprisingly, we honored a number of librarians,” she said. “Extraordinarily heroic people, and we got to know them through the close working relationship with the ALA, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and Judith Krug.”

Melba Pattillo Beals was the featured speaker at the President’s Program for the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Beals was one of the “Little Rock Nine,” students who faced down segregationists, the Arkansas National Guard and the governor of Arkansas to integrate Little Rock Central High School 52 years ago.

Other speakers included ABC News political commentator and National Public Radio senior news analyst Cokie Roberts, and authors Gregory Maguire, Steve Lopez, Michael Connelly and James Ellroy.

Book signings offered attendees a chance to meet many authors, including Newbery Award winner Neil Gaiman, who signed at the HarperCollins booth. Gaiman also appeared on a panel addressing censorship issues facing comic books.

Cooks and books were the order of the day during the conference’s Cooking Pavilion. Chef authors signed books and demonstrated their culinary talents. The conference also included a special taping of NPR’s popular “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!” In addition, librarians participated in the fifth annual Library Book Cart Drill Team Championship. The winner was the team from the Oak Park Public Library. Another highlight was the third annual Parade of Bookmobiles.

Librarians at this year’s conference also found time to play games, playing both board and video games at Open Gaming Night. The ALA also offered a Gaming Pavilion, sponsored by the Verizon Foundation, showcasing the link between gaming and literacy.

As the conference moved toward its conclusion, Rettig passed the torch to his successor, as 2009-10 ALA President Dr. Camila Alire took office. She was honored at the ALA inaugural ball on Tuesday, July 14.

“It is an honor to have the opportunity to lead the American Library Association. ALA embodies the hard work of all the librarians, information specialists, and library support staff who take serving the information needs of their communities very seriously,” said Dr. Alire, dean emerita at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, N.M., and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. “One of my goals is to provide another level of advocacy that articulates the not only the value of all types of libraries, but also the value of our members working in those libraries to their respective communities.”