Amid temperatures that neared 110 degrees, attendees gathered last week for the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas. As the show winds down today, all indications are that it will be remembered as a strong one.
Official attendance figures were not available at press time, but ALA officials said the early numbers were on pace to surpass expectations. While attendance won't come close to last year's show in ALA's hometown of Chicago, the numbers appear to be on pace to exceed the 2012 show in Anaheim, which drew 20,134 attendees.
In her opening introduction, outgoing ALA president Barbara Stripling spoke of the hundreds of talks, author appearances, presentations and professional sessions that represent “the best new ideas” for a library profession experiencing rapid, often technology-fueled change. “I know you are all familiar with the phrase ‘what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,’” Stripling told attendees. “But I hope when you return home you’ll want to share with your friends and colleagues all the wonderful, inspirational things you learned during this conference.”
That tech-fueled change was on full display in author and game designer Jane McGonigal’s engaging opening keynote on Friday, June 27. A designer of alternate reality games, McGonigal touched on themes from her 2011 bestseller (and PW starred) Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, and spoke of how gamers are changing the world.
Despite their reputation in some quarters, gamers are, in fact, “super-empowered hopeful individuals," McGonigal argued. Games bring joy to people, increase confidence and resilience. And games engage people, particularly important, she noted, as some 81% of respondents to a Gallup survey reported they were not engaged by their jobs. Another important fact about gamers is that there are a lot of them: McGonigal said there are now more than one billion gamers worldwide, who together represent some significant brain power. Gamers' intellectual bandwidth is now being collectively harnessed to help solve scientific problems through games like Foldit, a scientific “protein folding” game, which earned thousands of gamers an author credit in the journal Nature.
But McGonigal’s most compelling example came in 2011, when she worked with the New York Public Library on a game that brought together 500 individuals to write a book overnight, using 100 historical treasures in the NYPL’s collections. The final result, 100 Ways to Make History, was so compelling, that NYPL officials pledged to “defend the book for as long as New York City is standing,” and they put the book in the rare books collection, with the Declaration of Independence, and the Gutenberg Bible.
“Can you help scientists solve problems, can you help your community redesign public spaces, can you write a book in one night? All of these epic goals are more possible,” McGonigal concluded, “because of gaming.”
Transformation was a key theme at ALA 2014 and, indeed, change was in the air. On Tuesday, Courtney Young, head librarian at the J. Clarence Kelly Library at Penn State Greater Allegheny will be sworn in as the new ALA president, taking over for Barbara Stripling. Young is only the fifth African American president in the history of ALA, and she is the first “Generation X” librarian to be elected to the post.
Change is also coming to the ALA’s Digital Content Working Group. After three years, and some hard won progress on the e-book issue, the group will get two new co-chairs. Erica Linke, associate dean of libraries at Carnegie Mellon University and Carolyn Anthony, director of the Skokie (Ill.) Public Library, will take over for Columbia University’s Robert Wolven and Cuyahoga’s Sari Feldman.
Also, after chairing the first three years of the ALA’s Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, former Seattle librarian (and PW contributor) Nancy Pearl told attendees that she will be stepping down. (A replacement for Pearl has not yet been announced.)
In one of the highlights of the conference, the 2014 Carnegie Medals went to Donna Tartt, for her novel The Goldfinch, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, for her book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.
PW will have more coverage this week, as the conference wraps up today, with a small number of events set for Tuesday.