April 21, 2018

ALA Postpones Toronto Decision Until Friday

By LJ Staff

Given concerns about the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Toronto, American Library Association (ALA) officials have decided to postpone a decision regarding the Annual Conference, scheduled for Toronto June 19-25 as a joint conference with the Canadian Library Association (CLA). The ALA Executive Board met in an emergency conference call on April 29, six days after the World Health Organization (WHO) advised travelers to avoid all but essential travel to Toronto, and the same day WHO rescinded its advisory. ALA Executive Director Keith Fiels said the E-Board wants to take a closer look at the WHO decision, and will meet Friday to decide whether to stay in Toronto or move the conference to another city over the same time period.

ALA officials, put on the defensive after the WHO’s initial warning April 23, said they would be guided by the health and safety of the members. As of April 29, no new case had developed outside hospitals in 20 days, twice the incubation period for SARS. Toronto officials, mindful of the huge economic consequences, lobbied hard for the WHO to lift the travel warning and also to get ALA to continue with the city’s largest conference, more than 25,000 people. Also, the Canadian Library Association on April 25 declared, “Toronto continues to be a safe and attractive venue to host the joint Annual Conference.”

Fiels said several hundred members and exhibitors had contacted ALA, in equal measure calling for the conference to be relocated or kept in Toronto. Prior to the second WHO statement, Harvard University had issued a moratorium on university-funded travel to Toronto; the University of Michigan and the city of Tucson had advised against all but essential travel to the city.

While health and safety is the primary consideration for ALA, the organization also faces potential costs. A full conference would bring in some $3 million in revenue. If ALA pulls out of Toronto, it could incur some $2.5 million in liabilities for canceled contracts. As for individuals wanting to delay decisions about attending the conference, Fiels said that hotel deadlines would be extended. “No member will be penalized by anything that’s under the control of ALA,” he said.