Nearly 20,000 librarians, vendors, and publishers are set to descend on New Orleans for the ALA Annual Conference, which kicks off June 22 with a keynote by former First Lady Michelle Obama. And once again, the library community gathers amid a simmering political crisis, this time over the Trump administration’s controversial policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border.
The PLA conference in March followed the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the ongoing debate over gun control and school safety. In addition, former acting attorney general Sally Yates gave the opening keynote at PLA, in which she urged librarians to stand up for truth in these unprecedented—and exhausting—political times.
In a statement this week, ALA president Jim Neal did not mince words, calling the Trump border policy “outrageous” and “devastating.” Neal called on librarians to marshal their resources in any way they can, including calling their local legislators.
“The nation’s library community is appalled that innocent children would face such emotional trauma and would be locked in mass facilities and separated from their families,” Neal said. “There is no legitimate policy or moral basis for this unconscionable action.”
Neal said the “dire situation” on the border “transcends partisan politics and requires immediate legislative and legal strategies to abolish this practice and seek to immediately reunite children with their parents and caregivers.”
Obama will be on hand to discuss her forthcoming memoir, Becoming, due out from Crown this fall. And she will take part in a conversation on stage with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden—whose relationship with the Obamas goes back to her days working as a children’s librarian in the early 1990s in Chicago. But it is unfathomable that Obama won’t address the situation on the border in her talk, especially given the ALA’s strong statement on the matter earlier this week.
In addition to Michelle Obama, this year’s ALA main speaker program features a host of great authors, including historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.
The professional program is also strong, including a summit on the digital content in libraries.
And in the wake of executive director Keith Fiels’ retirement in 2017, the ALA has also now begun in earnest an effort to solicit member input on how retool the association for the future.