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ALA Annual Conference: Welcome to Washington, DC!

by on May 17, 2019

As a Washington D.C. native, I’m excited that the 2019 ALA Annual Conference will be held here and would like to extend a welcome to all those traveling from around the country and around the world. For purposes of this piece, I previewed the immense assortment of events with an eye towards those most relevant to public libraries, but also from the perspective of the resources and expertise that are unique to the DC area.

Several key themes emerged: media literacy, diversity and inclusion, technology and innovation. While all of these issues are important to the ongoing mission of libraries, they also reflect contemporary concerns over the state of political discourse as it impacts information behavior, the struggle towards more inclusive services and practices, and rapidly evolving technology shaping the future of libraries. These themes are also integral to the District of Columbia as the epicenter of government and one of the most diverse and high-tech regions in the nation. What follows is a selection of events of particular interest to public libraries, many of which draw upon unique D.C. resources.

Featured speaker Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden (Saturday) devoted much of her career to public libraries including the Chicago Public Library and the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, before being appointed Librarian of Congress by President Obama in 2016. Dr. Hayden has vastly expanded outreach and digitization efforts at the Library of Congress, combining new technology with hands-on approaches to increase the accessibility of the nation’s collection.

Collage artwork of the Capitol Building in DC
The Capitol Building by Suzanne LaPierre

Here in DC, politics and current events loom front and center. A few of the conference offerings on this theme include 173 Days of Congress: An Examination, (Saturday) during which Washington insiders and policy experts explain how early actions of the 116th Congress may impact library priorities, including net neutrality, federal funding, copyright issues and access to information. Empowering Digital Citizens: Public Programming to Fight Fake News (Saturday) utilizes ideas from Newseum Education, including the creation of media literacy programs that help participants learn techniques for nonpartisan dialog around controversial topics. Cause for Collaboration: Integrating Journalism and other Allied Professions into Library Instruction to Fight Fake News (Monday) explores how librarians are uniquely positioned to support news literacy, and how partnerships with journalists, educators, and the tech sector offer opportunities for collaboration.

History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust. Leveraging Libraries to Transform Holocaust Learning (Saturday), presented by staff of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, offers a unique opportunity for people to explore how their communities’ newspapers covered events surrounding the Holocaust. Especially relevant to public libraries with local history collections, the program encourages the development of media literacy and critical thinking about news through the evaluation of primary sources.

In the area of technology and innovation, Enabling Smart, Inclusive, and Connected Communities: The Role of Public Libraries (Saturday) explores how Smart communities integrate technological and human perspectives. Make, Prototype, Patent, Manufacture: The Full Cycle of Inventing in Library Makerspaces (Sunday) includes staff from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office providing insight into current trends in the making and patenting industry and best practices for creating a pipeline for inventors. Partnerships to Advance STEM Programming (Monday) explains how libraries across the US are developing multi-sector partnerships to enhance STEM programming. Emerging Technologies Section (ETS) Tech Showcase (Saturday) introduces a variety of library technologies with demonstrations and opportunities for hands-on experience.

In the area of inclusivity, Building Equity from the Ground Up (Sunday) focuses on conscious efforts to design services that address the needs of the diverse community. Immigrants, Refugees, and Displaced Persons in Public Libraries (Friday), explains a year-long exploration of public library programs and services to support those residents. Inequity and the Disappearance of Reference and User Services (Saturday) addresses barriers to access and introduces new models of reference and user services that embrace the needs of all users. Telling Stories, Expanding Boundaries: Drag Queen Storytimes in Libraries (Saturday) explores the public library as a site for intersection of gender expression/identity and intellectual freedom. Strengthening Libraries as Entrepreneurial Hubs (Saturday) highlights the unique role of libraries in reaching and engaging populations most in need of guidance and support.

Finally, during your stay in DC, take some time to experience world-class institutions with colleagues by touring the World Bank Library or National Museum of the American Indian (Friday), or experiencing the National Portrait Gallery (Saturday).

This piece includes only a small sample of the multitude of events available. Please feel free to add other opportunities in the comments section. I’ll be participating in the Educators Posters Session (Saturday) and hope to meet some of you then.

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