Robust crowds showed for the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference, which took place in Chicago June 28-July 2. Total attendance topped more than 26,000, dramatically higher than 2011 and 2012, which both came in at about 20,000.
In addition to the greater total attendance, ALA’s recent initiative to condense programming into fewer, closer locations meant more bodies physically on site, garnering grateful shout-outs from several attendees on Twitter. The combination of more attendees and fewer competing venues also led to excellent traffic in the exhibits, several vendors told LJ, and a sense of intensity that attendees welcomed.
A dark cloud on the conference’s horizon, however, is the worrisome fiscal state of ALA itself. Despite the recent passage of a dues adjustment mechanism pegged to the Consumer Price Index and furloughs for ALA staff, outgoing treasurer James Neal’s report emphasized a projected deficit of $1.9 million (according to Pam Hickson-Stevenson, Ohio Chapter Councilor) and indicated a continuing lack of needed revenue for the organization, particularly in shortfalls from ALA’s publishing arm, which is being out-performed by the recently acquired Neal-Schuman publishing business. Membership numbers have also fallen. The treasurer’s report has not yet been posted, but according to ALA NMRT Councilor Susan L. Jennings’ description of the session, ALA is looking at continuing education online, electronic publishing, and mergers and acquisitions to address this issue, as well as new technologies and systems (hardware and software). In the meantime, to achieve a balanced budget, the Budget Analysis & Review Committee (BARC) had to include a ten percent reduction in staffing (through attrition), eliminate staff development funds, and give senior management a ten percent salary cut.
Among the trending themes and announcements were further integration of library services from various vendors. These included EBSCO’s expanded partnership with Innovative Interfaces, which incorporates catalog functionality within the EBSCO Discovery Service; ReadersFirst announcing that it’s soon to issue its first buying guide for libraries choosing ebook vendors; and OverDrive’s phase 2 API, which helps achieve some of ReadersFirst’s goals, such as being able to handle authentication, checkouts, and holds through the library’s ILS.
Also on many lips was streaming video— Eileen Korte, licensing manager at the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC), told LJ that every academic librarian who visited MPLC’s booth asked about an umbrella license for streaming video. Unfortunately, one is not yet available, but many companies are beginning to offer streaming content for libraries, including OverDrive, which will launch a new service in a few weeks with content from Paramount, and Freegal/Library Ideas.
ALA also marked the launch of LibraryReads, a national “library staff picks list”, and the almost-instantly-funded LibraryBox Kickstarter (with 24 days to go at press time, donations had totaled over $17,000. More stretch goals are expected soon.) Major grants were announced, including more than a quarter million dollars from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to OCLC’s Webjunction to connect patrons to information about the Health Insurance Marketplace, and $1 million to the Chicago Public Library from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work with the Aarhus Public Libraries in Denmark and design firm IDEO on creating innovative library services and programs. And of course, the program was filled with hot topics from library marketing to maker spaces to MOOCs, STEM programming, and new authors and books.
Privacy is always a hot topic for librarians, but this ALA saw it kicked up a notch, thanks to the recent revelations of widespread warrantless data collection and retention by the National Security Agency (NSA). (Also responsible for teaching much of the non-library world the definition of the word “metadata.”) In addition to the “We Told You So” panel, which featured Michael German, senior policy counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and a former FBI agent—and whistleblower—privacy and how librarians can protect it was a major component of LITA’s Top Tech Trends panel as well. ALA Council passed a resolution in support of whistleblower Edward Snowden, who brought the NSA revelations to light. However the resolution was not the one originally sent to the Council by the membership; after a heated debate, according to Jennings, this was “one of the first times that ALA Council has rescinded a resolution by replacing it with another. ALA Council passed the substitute resolution brought forward by the Intellectual Freedom Committee and the Committee on Legislation.”
Other Council resolutions passed suggested that the Declaration for the Right to Libraries be given the highest ALA staff priority; asked ALA groups to refrain from having public prayers during meetings, but said they may observe moments of silence; commended the Freedom to Read Foundation “for recognizing videogames as a nonprint medium in libraries worthy of First Amendment protections,” reaffirmed ALA’s commitment to basic literacy; recognized the Government Printing Office as the lead agency in preserving the digital lifecycle of digital government documents; supported librarians that are sued for doing their professional duty; and recognized the contributions of libraries and library staff during natural disasters.