YAY ALA! The Student Takes San Francisco

OMG GUYS I GOT TO GO TO ALA IN SAN FRANCISCO!!!

I’m sorry, that was undignified. But seriously, this is really awesome. By the time you read this I will have been in San Francisco for almost a week, attending the American Library Association’s Annual Conference, and I have to tell you I’m geeking out hard. Amazing people, great sessions, free books, what could be better? But I realize you don’t read HLS to hear me fangirl, so I’ll climb down for a minute and try to explain what’s got me all hyped up.

ALA Annual Meeting is massive, almost 12,000 attendees plus an army of vendors. There are TWO exhibit halls for crying out loud, and eight possible locations for sessions if you count the three conference center buildings as one. “Big” doesn’t cover it. The only downside here is that there is no possible way you could see and do everything on offer, so you’ve got be strategic with your sessions and events. But no matter what kind of librarian you are or want to be, there are sessions and demonstrations and vendors to interest you.

In my case this has been a solid mix of cataloging and reference services. Thursday started bright and early with an all-day preconference session on cataloging, metadata and coding. This was an interesting experience if a bit overwhelming by the end, and I’ve continued my technical education with smaller discussions and sessions throughout the meeting. Reference has been served partially by attending sessions, but also by talking to vendors and seeing what the new database tools and products on offer are like. I was a little hesitant to ask about these as I’m not a working librarian and thus can’t get these people any contracts, but everyone has been very welcoming.

There’s been time for fun stuff too though, not counting my exhibit hall trawling. Like most of the conference I saw Sarah Vowell and Nick Offerman speak yesterday afternoon, and later on got to meet a bunch of other HLS writers and readers at a sweet dive bar Brenna found (hi everyone!). This afternoon I caught an excellent panel of first-time authors discussing their books that kind of got me all jazzed up to finally do NaNoWriMo this year, and later on wandered over to the #critlib panel discussion for a solid examination of my own preconceptions.

But perhaps the most powerful moment, and the one that makes the conference the most valuable for me, came Friday afternoon when Carla Hayden and Melanie Townsend Diggs of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Library received the first annual Tech Logic People First Award for their leadership in the face of the April 2015 Baltimore riots. I live in Baltimore, and the Pratt is my library system. The riots weren’t quite as apocalyptic as CNN made them out to be, but they were a dark and challenging chapter in Baltimore’s already troubled history. Melanie Townsend Diggs kept the Penn Ave Branch open and sheltered her patrons while the CVS across the street was burned and looted, and she and Director Carla Hayden went on to keep the entire Pratt System open for normal hours for the duration of the unrest.

Keeping the libraries open was a powerful action that had a real impact on the communities they serve, best emphasized by the young man Dr. Hayden described who sent out job applications from the Pratt the day after the riots and wound up with three interviews. We all need libraries. Seeing these wonderful librarians and their coworkers given the recognition they deserve made me very proud that my badge says Baltimore, and it made me even more proud to be entering this profession.

And that, my friends, really sums up why you should go to ALA. The educational side is unbeatable, the free stuff is great, and I can’t deny that I have enjoyed the vendor parties. But even better than all of that, when I go back home to the East coast I’ll carry with me a feeling of fellowship and common cause, and a deep, down-to-the-core belief in the power of libraries and librarians. Being at ALA has made me sure that I want to be a librarian over everything else in the world, and that maybe, just maybe, I can be a really good one. And that is quite the feeling.

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