The American Library Association is expecting strong attendance at its upcoming 2019 Annual Conference, set for June 20–25 in Washington, D.C.—and if history is any guide, it has good reason to. The ALA Annual Conference has been held in the nation’s capital twice since the turn of the millennium, and both were blockbuster shows.
The 2007 conference in Washington still holds the ALA attendance record, drawing 28,635 attendees and more than 950 exhibitors. Three years later, the 2010 show in Washington drew nearly 27,000, the third-most-attended ALA conference, perhaps even more impressive considering that librarians in 2010 were still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis.
Can the 2019 Annual Conference compete with the association’s attendance record? This year’s conference is certainly set up to make a run at it. For one, the economy appears strong, which would surely encourage participation. Publishers, meanwhile, have been riding a wave of solid book sales. And, of course, what a time to be in Washington.
Meanwhile, the ALA itself is in the midst of a transformation, and a number of scheduled meetings on the association's future should encourage participation. As librarians prepare for this year’s conference, the organization is once again looking for a new permanent executive director to replace Keith Michael Fiels, who retired nearly two years ago, after the 2017 Annual Conference. The ALA has been fortunate to have Mary Ghikas leading the organization since Fiels’s departure, but, after more than two decades at ALA, Ghikas herself is looking to retire in January 2020—and hoping to leave behind a modernized, revamped organization.
Indeed, a glance at the 2019 ALA program reflects what should be a memorable conference: a slate of great authors and books that will captivate readers in the coming months; panels dealing with the heady cultural, societal, technological, and political landscapes libraries must navigate; and meetings and workshops grappling with all sorts of topics, including the daily challenges individual librarians face, as well as the organizational issues facing ALA, as an association of some 56,000 library workers on the front lines of a still-dawning, increasingly complex information age.
Fresh off her appearance at BookExpo, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor opens the Auditorium Speaker Series on Saturday, June 22 (8:30–9:30 a.m., WWCC Ballroom B–C). Sotomayor, named to the high court by president Barack Obama in 2009, is the author of a number of books, including the forthcoming kids’ book Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, due from Philomel in September. Sotomayor will appear in conversation with her editor, Jill Santopolo, associate publisher of Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. In addition to editing an array of high-profile authors (including Sotomayor, Chelsea Clinton, and Kamala Harris) Santopolo is a bestselling author in her own right whose titles include The Light We Lost and More than Words, as well as the Alec Flint mysteries, the Follow Your Heart books, and the Sparkle Spa series.
Later on Saturday, Hoda Kotb will take the stage (11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., WWCC Ballroom B–C). Kotb is of course the coanchor of NBC News’ Today show and has covered a wide variety of stories across all NBC News platforms. She is also the bestselling author of numerous books, including her most recent effort, You Are My Happy, illustrated by Suzie Mason, which was inspired by the nighttime routine she shares with her daughter, Haley Joy.
Saturday’s auditorium-speaker schedule will conclude with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in conversation with author and sociologist Eric Klinenberg (3–4 p.m., WWCC Ballroom B–C).Hayden reprises her role as a discussion leader at ALA conferences—last year, her guests included former first lady Michelle Obama and Archivist of the United States David Ferriero. Hayden was sworn in as the 14th librarian of Congress in September 2016 and is the first woman and the first African-American to hold the post. Klinenberg’s most recent book is Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life (Crown). In a starred review, PW called the book “effortlessly discursive and always cogent, whether covering the ways playgrounds instill youth with civic values, or a Chicago architect’s plans to transform a police station into a community center.”
Sunday’s main speaker schedule begins with a joint appearance by Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler (10:30–11:30 a.m., WWCC Ballroom B–C). Miller is a towering figure in the comics and graphic novel world, known for his gritty noir aesthetic in works including Sin City. In 2015, Miller was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame for his lifetime contributions to the industry. Wheeler is a screenwriter, producer, and comic book artist whose work includes TV series such as Empire and big-screen blockbusters such as The Lego Ninjago Movie. Together, Miller and Wheeler have teamed up to create Cursed (Simon & Schuster, Oct.), a graphic novel for which Miller will do the illustrations and that will also be released as a 10-episode Netflix original series, scheduled for 2020.
Closing out Sunday’s main speaker events is the annual ALA President’s Program, which will feature Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor (3–5:30 p.m., WWCC Ballroom B–C). Okorafor is the author of African-themed science fiction, fantasy, and magical realism for children and adults, and her works include Who Fears Death, currently in development at HBO for a TV series, the Akata books, the Binti novella trilogy, The Book of Phoenix, and Lagoon. She has also written comics for Marvel, including Black Panther: Long Live the King, Wakanda Forever. Her TED Books memoir, Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected, is scheduled for a June 2019 release.
Monday’s slate begins with NBC News reporter Mariana Atencio (8:30–9:30 a.m., WWCC Ballroom B–C). A native of Venezuela, Atencio recounts her life story in her new book, Perfectly You: Embracing the Power of Being Real (Thomas Nelson). Her awards include a Peabody Award for Investigative Journalism, the Gracie Award, and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists’ Latino Issues Award for TV/Online Journalism.
Later on Monday, George Takei will take the auditorium stage (10:30–11:30 a.m., WWCC Ballroom B–C). Takei earned fame around the world in the 1960s for his role in the TV series Star Trek, in which he played Mr. Sulu, helmsman of the Starship Enterprise. He has since gone on to become a leading figure in the fight for social justice, LGBTQ rights, and marriage equality. His upcoming graphic memoir, They Called Us Enemy (Top Shelf, July), revisits his childhood as one of 120,000 Japanese Americans imprisoned by the U.S. government during World War II.
Nigerian-American writer Tomi Adeyemi will close out Monday’s auditorium speakers (3–4 p.m, WWCC Ballroom B–C). Adeyemi’s debut West African YA fantasy novel, Children of Blood and Bone, a 2019 YALSA Morris Award finalist, has spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list. The session will be moderated by Rose Brock, professor of children’s and young adult literature and library science at Sam Houston State University in Texas; she is also the author of Young Adult Literature in Action: A Librarians Guide and the editor of Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration.
And on Tuesday, catch Emmy winner Mo Rocca at the conference’s Closing General Session (10–11:30 a.m., WWCC Ballroom B–C). This fall, Rocca will publish Mobituaries: Great Lives Worth Reliving, based on his popular podcast series. Rocca, a correspondent for CBS Sunday Morning and the host of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation on Saturday mornings, will chat with Library Journal editor Barbara Hoffert.
Exhibits and More
A highlight of every ALA Annual Conference is the exhibit floor, which features hundreds of publishers and vendors, as well as multiple pavilions and stages where there will be more author appearances. The exhibits will open with a ceremonial ribbon cutting immediately after the Opening General Session on Friday, June 21, at 5:30 p.m., followed by a reception with food, drinks, entertainment, and a host of Meet the Author appearances at publisher booths.
In addition to the main speaker program and appearances in the exhibit hall, the conference features a number of special events. Please note: some of these events require tickets (check the ALA conference website for information on ticketed events). Among the special event highlights is the reception for the Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction. The reception has become a highlight of the conference, featuring the award-winning authors and guest speakers, often delivering speeches that soar well beyond typical book-award speeches.
Now in its eighth year, this year’s event (again sponsored by NoveList) will feature Laura Lippman, the bestselling author of After I’m Gone, I’d Know You Anywhere, and Sunburn. Attendees can mingle with this year’s winning authors: Rebecca Makkai, who won the honor for fiction for The Great Believers (Viking), and Keise Laymon, who won the honor for nonfiction for Heavy: An American Memoir (Scribner). The reception will be held Saturday, June 22, 8–10 p.m at the Renaissance, Grand Ballroom South. Tickets are $40 and can be purchased in advance via the ALA conference website.
This year’s Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast promises to be extra special, as the award celebrates its 50th anniversary. The event honors the 2019 Coretta Scott King Book Award winners, including 2019 winners Claire Hartfield, who wrote A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 (Clarion), and Ekua Holmes, who illustrated The Stuff of Stars (Candlewick). Tickets are $75 and can be purchased in advance via the ALA conference website. The breakfast will be held on Sunday, June 23, 7–10 a.m. in the Marriott Marquis Ballroom, Salon 6–10.
And on Sunday evening, the Association for Library Service to Children will host its annual Newbery-Caldecott-Legacy Awards Banquet. The reception is set for 6–11 p.m at the Marriott Marquis. Tickets are $96 and can be purchased in advance via the ALA conference website.
As always, check the conference schedule online for any last-minute changes or additions. And please be sure to visit the Publishers Weekly booth on the show floor, booth 1433.