American Library Association Annual Conference makes successful return to New Orleans

For Immediate Release
Tue, 07/05/2011


Steve Zalusky

CHICAGO - In 2006, the American Library Association (ALA) held its Annual Conference in New Orleans. It was the first major convention in the city since Hurricane Katrina.

This year, librarians made a successful return for the ALA's 2011 Annual Conference, held June 23-28 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. More than 20,000 (20,186) librarians, library supporters and exhibitors attended.

As with the 2006 conference, librarians ushered in the event by stepping up to provide community service.

More than 220 volunteers gathered on Friday for "Libraries Build Communities," a program that involved visiting 15 sites, including public and school libraries. The group shelved books, reorganized and updated collections and entered data, among other activities.

"Libraries Build Communities" started in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Coordinated by the ALA's Chapter Relations Office, the volunteer effort has since become an Annual Conference tradition.

"When the ALA first came to New Orleans in 2006, there was an unimaginable amount of work that needed to be done throughout the city," said ALA Chapter Relations Office Director Michael Dowling. "In a few short days, the ALA was able to make a difference and illustrate that libraries do in fact build communities."

Efforts to provide relief to schools were recognized at the American Association of School Librarians meeting during its President's Program Saturday. AASL, a division of ALA, recognized the Dollar General School Relief project. In five years, Dollar General made grants totaling more than $1 million to more than 113 schools to replace books, media and furniture damaged or lost in disasters.  

Disaster preparedness was the focus of an ALA Washington Office Briefing held Saturday.

"It's not a matter of if a disaster will happen; it's simply a matter of when," said Katherine Zeringue, from the FEMA Environmental Liaison Office, one of a panel of speakers.

Everyone, she said, including libraries, needs to be prepared in advance to work with response teams. "It is not FEMA's role to be the knight in shining armor," she said.

Rebecca Hamilton, Louisiana's state librarian, described how, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit in August 2005, the Louisiana State Library "was not prepared at all. Nothing that bad had ever happened before and we had no disaster plan.”

School librarians also discussed how to prepare for disaster on Friday in a preconference sponsored by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. Terry Young Jr., librarian for Jefferson Parish schools in Louisiana, was among those taking part.

The 2011 Annual Conference focused on the  major initiatives of outgoing American Library Association President Roberta Stevens. The Frontline Fundraising initiative was developed in response to the reduced resources at libraries throughout the nation. It helps all libraries develop and utilize tools and skills needed for advocacy at the local level.

On Monday, a Frontline Fundraising Town Hall was held that focused on such effective tools as annual funds, special gifts (such as memorials and tributes), major gifts and planned giving.

Another major initiative, "Our Authors, Our Advocates," invites well-known  authors, who are the natural allies of libraries, as spokespeople highlighting the key role libraries play in the economic, social and educational fabric of our nation.  Authors such as Scott Turow, Brad Meltzer, Kathy Reichs, Pam Munoz Ryan, and Sharon Draper have created public service announcements to promote the value of libraries. Some have also written opinion pieces that have appeared in daily newspapers around the country. PSAs can be downloaded at

More than 600 teens nationwide were connected to Stevens’ third initiative, the "Why I Need My Library" contest.  Teens created videos about why they need libraries more than ever.  The two grand-prize winning videos were shown at the Opening General Session.  The winners earned $3,000 in prize money from ALA for their libraries.

Danielle Driggers’ video, with original lyrics about the importance of libraries in her life, won grand prize in the category for 13 to 15 year-olds.  Driggers chose the library at her elementary school, Timber Creek Elementary School in Flower Mound, Texas, as the beneficiary of the $3,000 prize money.  She and her sister Aleah, who co-produced the video, also won $50 Amazon gift certificates.

A team of southern Connecticut teens took grand prize in the 16 to 18 age category.  Their highly styled music video with original music and lyrics shows teens “chillin’ in the high school library.”  The $3,000 prize money will go to the library at New Canaan (Conn.) High School.  The team was made up of students Katayoun Amir-Aslami, Ashley Feldman, Isabelle Herde, Nick Howard, Nicola Scandiffio, Stewart Taylor, Courtney Wills and Nick Zanca.
In New Orleans, a major national public awareness initiative was launched by ALA’s Campaign for America’s Libraries. "Connect with your kids @ your library" encourages parents to use the library resources to spend quality time with their kids. A public service announcement is airing on Lifetime Networks and, Scholastic Parent & Child magazine is donating full-color ads. Libraries can download a “Connect with your kids” Family Activity Guide, a bookmark and link to the Lifetime public service announcement by visiting the "For Librarians" page on

Much of this year’s conference revolved around the future of libraries and the role of librarians in a world of ever changing technological advances.

Wikimedia Foundation Executive Director Sue Gardner, during the ALA President's Program, discussed the impact on libraries and library service posed by wikis.

The folks at Wikipedia “are lovers of the institutions of knowledge,” she said, adding that the wiki is not opposed to traditional media; and, in fact, “we want you as Wikipedians.”

Some 400 million people use Wikipedia every month. Gardner said the nonprofit survives through donations but remains radical in its belief that people have the right to access to information. “Wikipedia is where people are going to get their information,” she said, so “it behooves us all to help it be as good as it can be.”

And at the annual ALA PR Forum, Joe Murphy of Yale University Libraries encouraged librarians to capitalize on mobile technology at the library.
With smart phones outselling PCs, Americans are beginning to spend more time using mobile apps than browsing the Web via PC.  In this climate, he said, it is more important than ever to engage users through technology. “The real important literacy for librarians is flexibility,” he said. “Change is the name of our game but we don’t have to change who we are.”

The role of librarians as defenders of access to information was examined in a program discussing WikiLeaks presented by the director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Thomas Blanton.

Visitors to the convention were treated to a series of entertaining and enlightening speakers, including author and children's books illustrator William Joyce. Joyce said his career path was determined at age 5, when he learned that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy were not actually real.  It made him want to tell stories his own way.

"Drawing and making up stories became like breathing for me." he said.

Opening General Session speaker Dan Savage, author of the syndicated column "Savage Love" and editorial director of Seattle's weekly newspaper The Stranger, spoke about the growth of the "It Gets Better Project," which addresses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth - children who experience rough times and even bullying to the point of pushing them to suicide.

Savage told the audience that when he came out to his parents more than 30 years ago, he was sending the message that he would never get married, never have a child and never be a marine.

"Now, over thirty years later, I can get married, can have children and can even be a marine - not that I want to be a marine."

Outstanding public librarians were recognized during the PLA President’s Program and Awards Presentation, which featured keynote speakers TV producer and author  David Simon (“The Wire” and “Treme” ) and his wife, Laura Lippman (“Baltimore Blues”). Simon  pointed out that it is “important to experience the culture on its own terms, out in the neighborhoods of New Orleans.”

A standing ovation greeted the man Richard M. Nixon once called the “most dangerous man in America.” Daniel Ellsburg, who released  “The Pentagon Papers,” told the audience at the “War and Secrecy” program Sunday that he regrets not releasing the documents earlier because it would have made a difference by exposing lies that had been used to justify the Vietnam War.

"Unfortunately, today we don't have the Pentagon Papers of Afghanistan," he said. He added that information contained in WikiLeaks releases has inspired mass movements and protests throughout the Middle East, as people learned the truth about corrupt dictators.

As the conference drew to a successful conclusion, the ALA inaugurated a new president, Molly Raphael, former director of libraries at Multnomah County Library in Portland, Ore. and the District of Columbia Public Library in Washington, D.C.

“Libraries are so essential for learning and for life,” said Raphael. “I am honored to lead ALA as we help libraries address serious economic, social, political and technological challenges.  ALA is the only organization that speaks for all types of libraries, and we can all benefit from working together to serve our communities.  Libraries will not just survive but will thrive when those who use and value libraries join with those who work in libraries to sustain the critical roles of libraries in our society.”