A Glimpse of the 2016 ALA Annual Conference

By Sandy Edwards

In June, I was able to attend the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida, because I was awarded an LSTA grant by the State Library of Arizona. The primary reason for me going was so that I could attend the Chapter Leaders Forum, as I am currently President-Elect of the Arizona Library Association.

At the Chapter Leaders Forum, I met officers of other State Associations. The Chapter Leaders Forum is presented by the ALA Chapter Relations Committee and Chapter Relations Office at each ALA Midwinter and Annual Conference. It provides a great opportunity for Chapter Leaders (especially incoming leaders), to meet together and discuss topics of interest. The forum provides a full agenda on a variety of topics to help prepare attendees in leading your Library Association. The agenda for the forum I attended included these presentations and discussions:

  • Bathrooms, Bibles, and Bias, Oh MY! State Associations and Cultural Legislation – presented by Susan Jennings, President, Tennessee Library Association
  • Best Practices: Advocating with Your Friends and Trustees in Maryland – facilitated by Susan Schmidt, Citizens for Maryland Libraries and United for Libraries
  • New Jersey Makers Day: How to Create in Your State – presented by Jayne Belin, New Jersey Chapter Councilor and Eileen Palmer, New Jersey Library Association Treasurer
  • Open Discussion of Topics and Issues – facilitated by Lisa Varga, Executive Director, Virginia Library Association

I found the New Jersey Makers Day presentation and open discussion of topics the most beneficial.

The major speakers at this conference embraced diversity and their love of libraries and librarians.  These speakers were Michael Eric Dyson, Margaret Atwood, Maya Penn, Brad Meltzer, Jazz Jennings, Holly Robinson Peete, Diane Guerrero, and Jamie Lee Curtis. As with any conference, there are always conflicts, so I wasn’t able to hear all of the speakers. I did hear the opening speaker, Michael Eric Dyson, who is a Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University. He proclaimed that we need diversity to live, and we depend on it for the success of society. My favorite quote of his that has stuck with me since the conference is “just because you twitter it, doesn’t mean it’s literate”!

The speakers couldn’t have been more relevant in light of the Orlando shootings two weeks prior to the conference. Multi-colored ribbons indicating “We Support Orlando” were available for attendees to wear during the conference. At the opening session, featuring Michael Eric Dyson, black arm bands with the words Equity, Diversity, or Inclusion were given out to attendees (and it was standing room only)! The armbands, conceived and designed by the ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, with support from the ALA Office for Diversity, Outreach, and Literacy Services, acknowledged the events following the Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander cases, and are intended to signify that all ALA members must commit to building equity, diversity, and inclusion across the organization, the field of librarianship, and the communities served by libraries. Other tributes and activities included a memorial service recognizing the forty-nine killed, the collection of school supplies for area school children, and assistance at a couple of summer lunch sites at Orange County library branches.

I was most interested in listening to transgender teen, Jazz Jennings, who has written Being Jazz along with a picture book, I Am Jazz. If I passed Jazz walking down the street, I would never have known she was born a boy. At an early age, she liked wearing “girl” clothes, and wanted to be a girl. Obviously, she had many struggles along the way, but she is an intelligent, smart, teenage girl who says the key to diversity and acceptance is education. People are scared of things they don’t know. However, the more people that are reached will increase the number of people educated. It’s all about learning to love yourself and who you are because everyone deserves to be happy! Librarians and educators can help by offering support and respect to those they meet to help remove fears that no one will love or respect them. Librarians can also help by sharing books with diverse characters and help to avoid repeating stereotypes.

This article touches on only a small portion of my time at the ALA 2016 Annual Conference. Other than the Florida humidity, this was a wonderful conference that I am so pleased I was able to attend! I met wonderful librarians from across the United States and Canada, and learned so much!  Thanks to the Arizona State Library for making this conference possible!

Sandy Edwards is AzLA President-Elect.

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