So as many of you know, I tend to like to write theme posts about conferences rather than detail each session I attend. But for this ALA I have been struggling to find a real theme. After some reflection, I have decided that my conference has been like this city – made up of separate threads that somehow come together to make a whole. So in this post and others I write I will try to discuss some threads – they may not all become a theme but we will see how it goes.
Thread one is that ALA, despite is enormity, heat, hassle (not unlike NOLA) and the occasional session or committee meetings that become tedious ALWAYS makes me glad to be a librarian. This year that feeling came early on when the city was so clearly grateful to us both for being here now and because we were the first conference to return to ALA in 2006 after Katrina. This city has come so far since that horrible summer of 2005 and I am so proud to be a part of an organization that bet on their comeback before all others – we came in 2006, we helped rebuild then and we are still helping rebuild now. There is no city on the planet like New Orleans and to see its renaissance is truly inspiring and ALA can be proud of their support of this city and its people.
My next ‘librarians rock’ moment came during the Dan Savage speech at the opening session. His It Gets Better project is beyond inspiring but perhaps my favorite part of his speech was when he discussed the subversion of his project in that it speaks directly to teens struggling with bullying. It does not get mediated through parents, teachers or schools. He got tired of waiting for invitations to talk to middle and high school students and realized that he didn’t need an invitation to talk to these kids – he had YouTube. He took his message and the message of thousands other LGBT adults straight to the young people who most need to hear that there is light at the end of the tunnel. He made the comparison of how his project works to what librarians do every day – get information directly to people who need it without judgment and without asking why they need it. Information changes lives – on one level we all know that or we wouldn’t be in this profession – but when you hear that the information that LGBT people can overcome bullying and go on to lead joyous lives as adults can save the lives of teens who are so unhappy they can’t see another way out, you really start to see the power in information.
In a session I went to today on the missing voices in the transition from high schools to colleges we heard from teachers, a college student, a freshman comp professor and a public librarian. There was lots to think about from the session but the importance of librarians in both sides of the transition came through loud and clear. From the public librarian who turns kids on to reading and learning, to the high school librarian who helps them find sources to the college librarian who can help ease the anxiety of doing a new kind of research in a new kind of environment, we all have critical roles to play.
Finally, Stanley Nelson, the acclaimed and accomplished documentary filmmaker spoke at the Alexander Street Press breakfast this morning and his mother was a librarian and always made sure he had a book. The family took an hour a day to read and he always carries books with him wherever he goes. Sometimes we don’t know who we touch, or how we touch them but every student we come in contact with can be the next Stanley Nelson, the next Freedom Rider or even the next great leader that can bring a city like New Orleans back from the brink.