American Library Association officials reported strong attendance for the 2019 ALA Annual Conference, which concluded on June 25 in Washington, D.C. Preliminary figures put total attendance at 21,460, up sharply from the 17,599 that gathered in New Orleans for the 2018 show. That figure includes a major increase in exhibitors at this year’s conference—6,827, compared to 5,176 on hand in New Orleans last year.
Attendees were treated to a strong, diverse lineup of speakers from the show’s main stages, including bestselling poet and middle grade author Jason Reynolds, who delivered the show’s opening keynote. The auditorium speaker series included U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, bestselling Nigerian-American writer Tomi Adeyemi, NBC News reporter Mariana Atencio, sociologist and author Eric Klinenberg (who appeared with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden), Today host Hoda Kotb, comics legend Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler, author Nnedi Okorafor (best known for her African-themed sci-fi novels), and actor and activist George Takei. Emmy–winner Mo Rocca headlined the conference’s Closing General Session.
Hundreds more authors were also on hand throughout the conference’s five days, signing books on the show floor, and participating in the ALA’s award program. Among the highlights: Laurie Halse Anderson and Colson Whitehead keynoted the ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation’s 50th Anniversary gala; Kwame Alexander and Jacqueline Woodson spoke at the 50th anniversary gala for the ALA’s Coretta Scott King Awards, held at the Library of Congress; and a trio of great authors spoke at the reception for the ALA’s Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, including nonfiction winner Kiese Laymon (Heavy: An American Memoir), fiction winner Rebecca Makkai (The Great Believers), and bestselling author Laura Lippman, the reception’s featured speaker.
Perhaps the biggest headlines of the show, meanwhile, came out of the ALA Council meetings. In a resolution getting national media attention, the council voted to strip Melvil Dewey’s name from the organization’s highest professional honor, the Melvil Dewey Medal, citing Dewey’s well-documented history of racism, anti-Semitism, and serial sexual harassment.
Known by many as the “father of the modern library,” Dewey cofounded the ALA in 1876, and created the Dewey Decimal System, accomplishments that until now seemed to enable the profession to overlook his personal transgressions. But nearly 88 years after his death, Dewey’s #TimesUp moment finally came, with the only question among librarians appearing to be “what took so long?” The resolution passed “overwhelmingly” and without debate. ALA representatives told PW its awards committee will now discuss next steps.
Increasingly restricted access to e-books and digital content was a major concern among librarians at the show. With librarians losing ground on the digital content front in recent months (including embargoes placed on frontlist e-book and digital audio titles, continued high prices, and the broader adoption of two-year metered licenses), the ALA Council approved a measure to ramp up its advocacy efforts.
The “Resolution on E-book Pricing for Libraries,” brought forward by ASCGLA (the Association of Specialized, Government and Cooperative Library Agencies), a division of the ALA, commits ALA to forming a joint task force “to address library concerns with publishers and content providers.”
It also calls for the ALA to undertake a broader public awareness campaign about the barriers libraries face in providing access to digital works. And, critically, after years of pursuing access mainly through talks with publishers and vendors, the resolution calls for Congress “to explore digital content pricing and licensing models to ensure democratic access to information.”
Next up, the 2020 ALA Midwinter Meeting is set for Philadelphia, January 24–28. The 2020 ALA Annual Conference returns to Chicago June 25–30.