The 2019 ALA Annual Conference is shaping up to be one of the most engaging conferences in years. With celebrity activists (George Takei), literary stars (Jason Reynolds), and celebrity authors (Sonia Sotomayor), there’s plenty to dazzle and entertain. And the professional program is packed with good stuff.

If you work with readers, there are plenty of chances to discover authors at panels, lunches, on the show floor, and at social events. What you won’t find this year are many programs about technology—in fact, even the Library and Information Technology Association’s president’s program this year is about the limits of technology. And at the heart of this year’s conference are sessions about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). From programs and meetings to pre-conferences and training, the offerings devoted to EDI are far richer than ever before.

As a public librarian, I’m always looking for programs that offer something new and challenging, that will give me concrete information that I can bring back to my library, and that provide the experiences of multiple libraries. What follows are my highly subjective picks from this year’s wide-ranging program. As always, double-check the final conference program for times and locations, and for any last-minute changes.

Friday, June 21

3–4 p.m.

Emerging Leaders Poster Session and Reception
Looking for some fresh thinking about library services Check out the final projects from the 2019 class of ALA Emerging Leaders. Teams have been working on these since Midwinter! (WWCC, Room 207A)

Saturday, June 22

8:30–10 a.m.

The New Frontier: Hot Topics Engaging Older Adults
The flood of newly retired baby boomers presents a classic opportunity/challenge. These experts will focus on design concepts for inclusive library programming for older audiences. (WWCC, Room 145B)

9–10 a.m.

Marketing Gets Personal: Implementing New Technology to Drive Personalized and Preference-Driven Marketing Programs in Real-Life Library Environments
Marketing is becoming more personalized and customer focused. Hear real-life examples from two very different library systems (WWCC, Room 152B)

Pitfalls of Neutrality: What Does Inclusivity Mean in Libraries?
Librarians are committed to promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion, but how does that play actually out? A diverse group of speakers takes on one of the most contentious issues in librarianship today. (WWCC, Room 146C)

The Urgency of History: How Librarians Prepare Kids for Their Times
In our age of fakery and falsehoods, could there be a timelier program? Award-winning authors discuss the complex issues around presenting history in fiction and nonfiction, with tested, easy-to-replicate ideas to excite kids and help them develop critical-thinking skills. (WWCC, Room 150B)

10:30–11:30 a.m.

Talking with Kids About Race: A How-to Workshop
A dynamite group will present hands-on interactive activities guaranteed to work with young people. Go home and create welcoming spaces for all youth, including those in marginalized and underserved communities. (WWCC, Room 147B)

Turning Enemies into Advocates: How Empathy-Based Training Eliminated Barriers Between Youth and Our Staff
Does your staff loathe teens when they should be loving them? This session promises to take on the common front-line challenges to flipping teen enemies into advocates. (WWCC, Room 140A)

10:30 a.m.–12 p.m.

An Introduction to Implicit Bias and Microaggressions
Learn to identify how these concepts create barriers, and begin to explore ways to disrupt our biases. This training will also be presented on Saturday at 1–2:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2–3:30 p.m. (WWCC, Room 202B)

1–2 p.m.

Diversity, Equity, and Justice Talks: In and Beyond the Library
Three 15-minute presentations on diversity, equity, and inclusion will help you confront assumptions and biases while challenging norms and narratives. (WWCC, Room 146C)

Hate Speech and Libraries
This session takes its cue from a 2018 ALA controversy over a policy update, since rescinded, which stated that libraries must recognize that even hate speech is protected by the First Amendment. A year later, the issue remains complex, and contentious. Can this discussion defuse some of the polarization? (Marriott Marquis, Supreme Court)

How Everyday Relationships Build Support and Help Libraries Transform
What’s the secret to strong library support? Hear from the Cedar Rapids Public Library in Iowa—which learned its lessons the hard way but now makes advocacy a focus all year. (WWCC, Room 145B)

1–2:30 p.m.

Telling Stories, Expanding Boundaries: Drag Queen Storytimes in Libraries
Shantay, you stay! Drag queen story times are immensely popular but have also touched off resistance and controversy. Hear how librarians are using drag queen story times and dealing with the controversies. (WWCC, Room 147B)

2:30–3:30 p.m.

Make the Largest Generation of Library Users Your Best Advocates
Not only do millennials love your library; they’re likely your biggest users. Come ready to share local trends and leave with tips and tricks for libraries of any size. (WWCC, Room 140B)

Writing Boxes: How Libraries Can Create Diverse, Welcoming, Intergenerational Programming to Inspire Writing as an Integral Part of Supporting Literacy and Family Engagement
A fabulous all-star panel will provide easy and inexpensive replicable program templates to promote, encourage, and facilitate writing in libraries. (WWCC, Room 145A)

4–5 p.m.

History Unfolded: U.S. Newspapers and the Holocaust: Leveraging Libraries to Transform Holocaust Learning
This unique history project from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum offers a powerful means to promote historical thinking and media literacy using primary sources. Hear from a school librarian, a Holocaust Museum outreach specialist, and a Library of Congress reference specialist. (WWCC, Room 140B)

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee: 50 Years Strong!
The Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Come join in the celebration and learn practical and effective ways to use Coretta Scott King Award–winning books to enrich programming and instruction.
(WWCC, Room 143B)

4–5:30 p.m.

Confronting White Nationalism in Libraries: A Panel Discussion
How are youth recruited into the white nationalist movement? Join educators, librarians, and civil rights activists for recommendations on how to recognize the threat and respond to questions of intellectual freedom that may arise as we work to preserve an inclusive democracy. (WWCC, Room 151B)

Inequity and the Disappearance of Reference and User Services
Here’s a great—and important—question: are the changes in reference and user services creating barriers to use, especially among those not in the majority? (WWCC, Room 147B)

Social Unrest, Democracy, and Librarianship in the 21st Century
A panel will focus on social injustice and diversity issues within the library profession, highlighting how to deal with social injustice, what the impact is for our profession, and how to handle diversity (or lack thereof) in professional and personal settings. (WWCC, Room 144A)

Sunday, June 23

9–10 a.m.

Changing the Service Culture of Your Library
Building a new service culture happens when staff is invested and engaged and understands the direction of the library. Florida’s Orange County Library System will share its success in transforming its service culture. (WWCC, Room 140A)

New Destinations in the Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement of People of Color to the Library Profession
In spite of multiple diversity initiatives, the recruitment, retention, and promotion of people of color in libraries is lagging. (WWCC, Room 150A)

Nourishing Literacy: Cooking with Youth in Your Library
One of my favorite new initiatives is the Culinary Literacy Center at the Free Library of Philadelphia, which provides innovative and accessible public programming to children and adults throughout Philadelphia. Come hear ideas and insights for applying engaging culinary activities in library settings of all kinds. Get cooking! (WWCC, Room 146C)

Wholehearted Librarianship: Finding Hope, Inspiration, and Balance
Join professor Michael Stephens for an exploration of the importance of accessible, welcoming, and responsive library environments that invite open and equitable participation. (WWCC, Room 147B)

10:30–11:30 a.m.

Book Club Central: How to Book Club
If you work in a book-club-crazy community, you need all the help you can get from Stephanie Saba and Sarah Ostman, authors of Book Club Reboot, who will discuss book club tips and how to engage with authors. Also, learn about using the ALA’s Book Club Central resources in your community. (Marriott Marquis, Monument Room)

Counting on Trust, Trusting the Count: Census 2020
The 2020 Census, touted as being the first online census, is generating rising levels of mistrust due to a process that is both politicized and divisive. (WWCC, Room 146B)

Censorship Beyond Books
Librarians are well-versed when it comes to the right to read books, but what about protecting the right to access information and services beyond books, including staff-generated content? (WWCC, Room 158A–B)

3–4 p.m.

LITA President’s Program with Meredith Broussard: Artificial Unintelligence
Journalist and professor Meredith Broussard makes a case against what she calls technochauvinism—the belief that technology is always the solution. Come learn why self-driving cars don’t really work, and why social problems still persist in every digital utopia. I love that the Library and Information Technology Association is offering a panel on the limits of technology. (WWCC, Room 146A)

4–5 p.m.

Are You Going to Tell My Parents? The Minor’s Right to Privacy in the Library
Surprise! In the U.S., even minors have First Amendment rights, which means they have a right to privacy and confidentiality in what they read and view in the library—a right that is often contentious, and often gets ignored. (WWCC, Room 152A)

Creating a Community Profile to Learn More About Your Current and Potential Patrons
Community profiles can provide an in-depth data dive into your community and offer knowledge about population shifts over time. (WWCC, Room 150A)

Monday, June 24

9–10 a.m.

Beyond Collection Development: Creating Queer-Inclusive Elementary School Library Programming
A super-well-organized presentation on a sensitive topic too many librarians are eager to avoid: creating queer-inclusive elementary school library programming. Learn ways to dismantle barriers. (WWCC, Room 143C)

Controversial Speaker Planned for Your Library Event? Things to Consider
Have a speaker coming that might end up being more contentious than you originally thought? This panel has been there: it includes disinvited speakers, public relations experts, and librarian management. (WWCC, Room 140B)

10:30–11:30 a.m.

Author in Focus: Why James Baldwin Always Matters, Presented by the National Book Foundation
What if everyone read James Baldwin? Certainly Baldwin’s writings—diving into sexuality, politics, race, love, police brutality, religion—are more relevant now than ever. (WWCC, Room 150A)

You Learned to Plan Programs Where?! Findings from NILPPA, ALA’s National Study of Library Public Programs
For many of us, programs have evolved from something we do to our core business. The ALA Public Programs Office will share some fascinating findings. (WWCC, Room 151B)

1–2 p.m.

ALSC Charlemae Rollins President’s Program: Subversive Activism: Creating Social Change Through Libraries, Children’s Literature, and Art
High energy! Activism and social change will be examined through multiple lenses: first from two scholars, then from acclaimed children’s book author-illustrator Yuyi Morales. (WWCC, Room 147A)

1:30–2:15 p.m.

Conversation Starter: If You Build It, They Will Come: How a Handful of Determined Librarians Brought Together
14 High Schools, 30 Workshop Sessions, and Jason Reynolds to Create a Dynamic Literary Conference Focused on Reluctant Readers

The title says it all. Learn what it took to plan, fund, promote, and realize a district-wide conference focused on literature and literacy (WWCC, Room 152B)

4–5 p.m.

The Quick and Dirty Guide to Disability Etiquette and Understanding, Building Your Awareness, and Library Know-How, and Getting All Your Awkward Questions Answered
Focus on learning about disabilities, disability cultures, and the library experiences and needs of these community members. Presented with ALA attendees who self-identify as disabled. (WWCC, Room 144B-C)

Augmented, Mixed, and Virtual Reality Programming in Libraries
AR and VR are hugely compelling, and libraries are discovering new ways to work with them. California, Nevada, and Washington have launched statewide initiatives to integrate extended reality (XR) systems and programming into libraries. Learn about XR setup, installation, and staff training with examples and assessment of what worked and what didn’t. (WWCC, Room 145B)