Just a few years ago, the programs for the American Library Association’s Annual Conference would blanket a city, taking up every ballroom or meeting room in nearly every hotel for miles around the convention center. But it was more like the encampment of Caesar’s army than a workable professional conference, and the net effect was to force attendees to make tough choices and mad, often unsuccessful dashes across a city to get to their next appointments.

After much discussion and input from ALA members, however, this year’s ALA conference, set for June 21–26 in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center (MCC) in New Orleans, is a whole lot tighter. The number of programs and meetings appears to have been reined in, and all of the professional programs are now in the convention center—this is a good thing!

The programs themselves are changing, too. At this year’s conference, there are more presentations focused on the human experience, including more discussions about race, racism, and whiteness; big data and personal privacy; marginalized patrons; patrons with disabilities; inclusivity; and serving immigrant and refugee populations. Gone are many of the overly technical or esoteric programs that would usually end up with a speaker or two in some far-off meeting room presenting to an audience of sweating water pitchers. Oh, and trend alert: graphic novels will be absolutely everywhere this year.

Below are some of my personal picks from this year’s professional program. As usual, consult your program or the ALA conference website for the full schedule or any last-minute changes.

Friday, June 22

11 a.m.–3 p.m.

Graphic Novel Friday Forum: Not Just Sex and Violence—Adult Graphic Novel Collections
Check this out: a free pre-conference all about graphic novels. With three successive panels—building your collection, marketing, and what makes an adult graphic novel “adult”—this event will feature a great mix of authors, artists, publishers, and librarians. (MCC, Room 353–355).

1–2:30 p.m.

Annual Conference Orientation
First time at ALA Annual? This program from the New Members Roundtable is an absolute must. (MCC, Room 34).

2–3 p.m.

Emerging Leaders Poster Session and Reception
I love a good poster session, and the Emerging Leaders have been working for months to create solutions to library problems and concerns. (MCC, Room 345).

Saturday, June 23

9–10 a.m.

African-American Pioneers in Library Leadership: Bridging the Past to the Present
Sometimes ALA Annual gives us a chance to look at the bigger picture. This session, which chronicles African-American librarians’ achievements from 1905 through to the appointment of the 14th librarian of congress, does just that, while pointing to the need for increased scholarship. (MCC, Room 283).

Nothing About Us Without Us! Engaging the Community in Creating Disability-Friendly Libraries
Two experts share their experience and explain how to make libraries more inclusive by involving people with disabilities in training, design, volunteer programs, and advisory boards. (MCC, Room 386–387).

The New Frontier: Training Older Adults for the Latest Gadgets
It’s a growing demographic! Get those seniors up to speed with more opportunities to learn, and help them obtain government resources, develop personal awareness, and maybe even get into gaming. (MCC, Room 290).

9 a.m.–Noon

Screening of "the public" and Q&A with Filmmaker Emilio Estevez
Join writer/director Emilio Estevez for a special screening of his new film "the public" followed by a Q&A moderated by Ryan J. Dowd, author of The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness. And if you can’t make this first showing, the film will be screened again at 2:30 p.m. and on Sunday at 1 p.m. (MCC, New Orleans Theater A).

10:30 a.m.–Noon

ACRL President’s Program: Beyond Resilience: Crafting a Caring Organization
This panel takes on a key question that’s relevant to all: what can we do as individuals or as organizations to create caring and healthy workplaces in our libraries? (MCC, Room 291–292).

Learning to Listen: Supporting Youth Mental Health at Your Library
Family, social, educational, and professional responsibilities can create stress in the lives of teens, many of whom lack the necessary coping skills. Learn how to identify youth who are in crisis, and how to intervene. (MCC, Room 289).

Region, Race, and Research: Perspectives from Local History
Provocative questions: How do race and region intersect, and diverge, in today’s local history projects? How are the current social and political climates impacting local history work? (MCC, Room 393).

Unpacking the Immigrant Experience: Creating a Space for New Arrivals
Discuss how to create welcoming spaces for new-arrival students in the classroom and library, considering language and culture as both barrier and opportunity. (MCC, Room 345).

When I See Myself in Comics: The power of the Comics Medium and Personal Identity
A dynamite panel will discuss how graphic novels can immediately connect readers with stories that reflect their feelings about race, gender identity, nationality, or body image. (MCC, Room 297).

12:30–1:20 p.m.

Story of Life: Graphic Biographies and Autobiographies
More comics? Yes indeed! With graphic treatments of historical figures booming, this talented panel will consider the challenges of “how to draw a life?” (MCC, Exhibit Hall: Graphic Novel/Gaming Stage).

1–2 p.m.

Big Data in Libraries: Friend or Foe?
The right of library users to keep their use of library resources private has always been sacred. But that information is increasingly being bundled, aggregated, and (usually) made anonymous for trend analyses, grant funding, and more. Is this a good or bad thing? Check out the debate. (MCC, Room 278).

Compassionate Service: Promoting Dignity for Marginalized Patrons Through a Holistic Approach
We’ve all heard about libraries that have added social workers to their staff. How’s it going? Hear the best practices, challenges, and results that libraries have seen by integrating a holistic social service program into their library’s service plan. (MCC, Room 388–389).

Let’s Talk About Race with Kids: Library Programs and Activities that Support Parents, Caregivers, and Educators in Talking to Young People About Race
A diverse panel of library and community practitioners share concrete ideas for presenting programs and activities that provide tools and support for parents, caregivers, and educators to talk with young people about race. (MCC, Room 290).

Libraries Saving Lives: Serving Immigrants and Refugees (IRRT Chair’s Program)
How librarians throughout the world are using groundbreaking models and creating dynamic spaces to engage immigrants and refugees, and how one can adapt these ideas for their own library. (MCC, Room 391).

Homelessness and Libraries—An Empathy-Driven Approach
Public library staff members interact with almost as many homeless individuals as do staff at shelters. Learn how empathy and understanding, along with specific actionable advice that’s drawn from experience, makes all the difference in working with this group. (MCC, Room 260–262).

2:30–3:30 p.m.

Graphic Medicine: Narratives of Illness, Healing, and Care
Still more comics? Yes, and this panel explores the “Graphic Medicine” movement, which uses graphic novels to explore the myriad connections between patients, caregivers, and stories of healing and loss. Lots to learn here. (MCC, Room 298).

Public Library Access=Student Success: Using School Student Numbers for Public Library Resources
Two Metro Atlanta library systems came together to use student numbers so that students could easily use public library resources. They transferred data, gained parents’ permission, and promoted the partnership. School and public library workers know this is akin to climbing Everest barefoot—hear how they did it. (MCC, Room 388–38).

Space to Be: How to Increase Teen Engagement by Making Teens the Hero of Your Marketing Materials
Many libraries focus on teens’ communication preferences, but how about focusing on teen-created marketing materials and inspiring and enabling teens to be library ambassadors to one another? A simple but powerful idea. (MCC, Room 293).

4–5:30 p.m.

Fake News or Free Speech: Is There a Right to Be Misinformed?
Can “fake news”—or suppressing it—undermine our democratic way of life? An all-star cast representing different points of view will tackle the question. (MCC, Room 288).

New Dawn for Libraries: A Conversation with Dr. Carla Hayden
When Carla Hayden speaks, I listen, and I’m especially interested in how the Library of Congress is connecting with community libraries across the country. (MCC, Room 279–280).

We Welcome You to Welcome Everyone: Serving Immigrants in Public Libraries
A chance to hear from four of the biggest urban libraries about cutting-edge services to immigrants, including direct access to naturalization and administrative relief services as well as activities around financial literacy, language access and collections, health services and rights, cultural awareness, civic rights, and more. (MCC, Room 295).

Sunday, June 24

9–10 a.m.
To Tech or Not to Tech: The Debate and the Research Around Technology, Young Children and the Library
Those who work with children know this is a hot button issue: kids’ use of technology. This panel of researchers and practitioners will present major research findings about technology use for all children and their caregivers along with tips on evaluating media for diversity and inclusion, and a list of articles about technology use and children. (MCC, Room 388–389).

Transforming Spaces: Promoting Inclusion in and Through Library Interiors
This series of Ignite talks—seven-minute presentations—focuses on library interiors that help fulfill the library promise of being welcoming to all: sensory spaces, gender neutral restrooms, prayer and meditation rooms, Civic Labs, and even communal staff work spaces. (MCC, Room 283).

10:30–11:30 a.m.

Conversation as a Model of Engagement with Library Users Experiencing Homelessness
A question we all should pay attention to: how does working with people experiencing homelessness to identify their needs, instead of offering the programming library staff believe is needed, change library programming and the library itself? (MCC, Room 386–387).

Whiteness in LIS: Tracing Its Impact, Mapping Resistance
This session explores the historical and current impacts of whiteness on the profession, including at the reference desk, in the LIS curriculum, and how librarians can help dismantle racism and white supremacy. (MCC, Room 290)

1–2 p.m.

The Path Forward on Fines: Removing Barriers to Access
It’s a hot topic throughout public libraries: how library patrons are impacted by fines for overdue books and materials and efforts to forgive or eliminate such charges. Hear about the steps being taken by libraries across the country. (MCC, Room 291–292)

2:30–3:30 p.m.

Breaking Below the Surface of Racism, Whiteness, and Implicit Bias
Come away with a shared understanding of the ways in which whiteness and racial bias operate in our institutions and services, and the role we can and should play in combating it. (MCC, Room 291–292).

Brilliance, Magic, and Black Girls
As literacy leaders, we need to understand the inequities that currently exist in our society and create strategies to interrupt them. Librarians and authors will discuss what it means to be a young black girl in America, and the roles we play in empowering these girls to develop and exceed their own high expectations. (MCC, Room 294).

Monday, June 25

9–10 a.m.
Defense Against the Dark Arts: Techniques and Practices to Protect User Privacy—How Can You Protect Your Patrons’ Privacy in the Age of Big Data?
Panelists will present practices and techniques for mitigating data-related threats, including access control, aggregation, and de-identification. (MCC, Room 293).

10:30–11:30 a.m.
Seeing the Whole Community: How to Understand and Include People with Print Disabilities
Gain greater understanding of the different challenges in literacy, technology training, and information access faced by people with print disabilities, and the many resources available to better serve them. (MCC, Room 288).


YALSA President’s Program: Supporting Youth Activism in Your Library
Teens are experts on the issues facing their communities, especially youths experiencing marginalization due to racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, or other forms of oppression. Learn innovative, teen-centered programs that emphasize the development of teens’ knowledge and abilities to engage in advocacy. (MCC, Room 265–268).

1–2 p.m.

The Opioid Epidemic: How Can My Library Help?
This panel of public library workers will share ideas, resources, and specific actions libraries can take—from education to first response—to combat the opioid epidemic, which affects every community in the country. (MCC, Room 286–287).

ALSC Charlemae Rollins President’s Program: Considering All Children: A New Ideal in Evaluating and Engaging Around Books for Youth
A strong panel takes on tough questions about kids lit: What do “quality” and “excellence” really mean in literature for children? Who decides which books stand out? How are some books dismissed or made invisible? What does “American literature for children” even mean? Can’t wait for the responses! (MCC, Room 260–262).

PW contributing editor Brian Kenney is director of the White Plains (N.Y.) Public Library and a former editorial director of Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.