November 21, 2017

Annual First Look | ALA Annual 2016

The American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference ran June 23–28 at the Orlando, FL, Orange County Convention Center and nearby venues.

Gale Orlando Strong photo mosaic

Orlando strong

The mass shooting at Latin night at Orlando’s Pulse, an LGBT nightclub, a couple of weeks before the ALA Annual was top of mind for conferencegoers, leading to displays of solidarity both practical and symbolic. ALA pulled together a memorial service despite the short notice, featuring poignant speeches from leaders of ALA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA), and the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT), and a moving surprise appearance by Congressman John Lewis, fresh from leading a sit-in on the House floor in support of gun control in the wake of the killings. (Lewis was already attending the conference for “MARCH with Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell: A Celebration of [the National Endowment for the Humanities] NEH’s 50th Anniversary,” a special presentation featuring the civil rights leader and the cocreators of the acclaimed graphic novel series.)

“What is it, have we lost our way as a people, as a nation, as part of the world community? We have to say we can do better,” Lewis said. Referring to his early activism and influences, he added. “I was inspired, to get into what I call ‘in the way.’ As librarians you know the power of words, the power of ideas, that there comes a time when you say ‘enough is enough’—that you must do something.” This, he said, is what he and colleagues are trying to do in Washington in calling for action on gun control. “The best living memorial we can build in memory of the hundreds and thousands of people who have been murdered by guns is to act.”

Congressman John Lewis, center, at ALA Annual 2016

Congressman John Lewis, center, at ALA Annual 2016

Rainbow ribbons joined the armbands reading Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion offered by the taskforce of the same name. A blood drive helped replenish the supplies exhausted in helping the Pulse wounded. A special conference Read Out was co-sponsored by GLBTRT and the Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF). Vendors joined in on the exhibit floor. For example, Gale Cengage crowdsourced a photo mosaic reading “Orlando Strong” to be donated, when complete, to the Orange County Public Library, while Bibliotheca/3M invited attendees to share sentiments about why diversity matters: for each Post-it added to the wall, the company will make a $5 donation to the GLBTRT.

Bibliotheca 3M donation wall

Down but not out

Attendance was considerably down relative to last year: Some 11,602 attendees and 4,995 exhibitors totaled 16,597 people, dropping by more than a quarter compared to 2015’s total of 22,491; 15,678 attendees and 6,813 exhibitors came to Annual in San Francisco. (The numbers also fell off compared to the last time Annual was held in Orlando, in 2004, when 19,546 people came.) Nonetheless, exhibitors were happy with the crowds on the show floor, reporting that with large distances to traverse between venues and hot, humid weather outside, attendees stayed close to the center of things and engaged. (One notable exception: an opening night reception sponsored by Penguin Random House took advantage of the local attractions to bus attendees to an event at Epcot’s Chinese Pavilion, complete with fireworks).

Honoring our own

In addition to the many author and book awards presented at the conference (watch this space for coverage), the profession took the occasion to honor many of its own, among them Robert Newlen, 2016 winner of ALA’s Dewey Medal, recognizing his leadership and accomplishment in the profession and at the Library of Congress, where he serves as chief of staff; Melanie Townsend Diggs, Pennsylvania Avenue Branch manager of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library and 2016 winner of ALA’s Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity, for her extraordinary service in keeping libraries in Baltimore open during civil unrest; library consultant and ALA past president Maureen Sullivan, 2016 winner of the ALA Lippincott Award for extraordinary and sustained service to the library profession; and Kelvin Watson, newly named CIO of Queens Library and the first winner of the ALA Ernest A. DiMattia Award for Innovation and Services to Community.

ALA on track

Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of ALA, reported membership gains of 3,500, for a total of 58,919. Five divisions—Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), Association of Specialized & Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), Library Leadership & Management Association (LLAMA), Public Library Association (PLA), and United for Libraries—and seven round tables—Ethnic & Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT), Exhibits Round Table (ERT), Games & Gaming Round Table (GAMERT), GLBTRT, Retired Members Round Table (RMRT), Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT), and Sustainability Round Table (SUSTAINRT)—had increased membership compared to last year. Small and very small library memberships have rebounded, Fiels told the Council, and there has been growth in the medium and large library categories.

The Budget Analysis and Review Committee (BARC) reported lower revenue of $1.2 million, owing to results from the Midwinter Meeting, lower online sales and higher book returns and credits in ALA Editions, and lower royalties and subscription revenue in Booklist. However, Division revenue exceeded budget by $182,426, primarily in PLA and ALSC, and division expenses less than budget by $652,471 primarily in Choice, American Association of School Libraries (AASL), and ALSC. Bottom line: according to BARC, “The Association is still a financially strong and sound organization.”

ALA’s Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion presented its final report in time for the conference, a 50-page document which includes the results of three surveys and does not pull punches on the need for further action. “The majority of respondents indicate that ALA’s policies and practices do not really support economic equity, economic diversity, or economic inclusion,” the report concludes, and presents a ringing call for more ambitious action: “Embracing equity, diversity, and inclusion as core principles matters only when sufficient resources of time, personnel, and finances are made available. We must move beyond lip service or ‘checking the boxes’ to actual change.”

(The research also gives insight into why attendance might be down: the first and second reasons cited for non-attendance are finances and weather, respectively; the third and fourth object to visiting Florida because of its Stand Your Ground laws and support concerns raised by BCALA.)

After contentious discussion and a close vote, the ALA Council voted to defer for revision a resolution on gun violence affecting libraries, library workers, and library patrons to the 2017 Midwinter Conference in Atlanta. One on the creation of the Deaf Culture Digital Library was also deferred. A resolution on equity of access for all to school libraries passed, as well as one on equity for school libraries for the Department of Education making rules for ESSA, plus a resolution of appreciation to Congressional champions for support of school libraries and librarians in ESSA. Also passed were a resolution urging Congress to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty, one calling on libraries to build more inclusive communities, and one in support of the professional cataloging processing and determinations of the Library of Congress.

More coverage from ALA Annual 2016 coming soon.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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