With the Libraries Are Essential program, the U.S. Book Show embraces a simple truth: public libraries are vital institutions. More than just a key marketplace for publishers and authors, public libraries are anchors in their communities, key to our democracy, and crucial supporters of the basic elements necessary for a strong literary culture: literacy, education, equal access to information, access to broadband, diversity and inclusion, and information literacy.

Sponsored by OverDrive, Libraries Are Essential will run from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET on the opening day of the U.S. Book Show, Tuesday, May 25. The program will be presented in two 90-minute sections, separated by a short break, and will feature an array of library leaders from around the nation.

The morning session (11 a.m.–12:45 p.m. ET) will explore the state of the profession and library education, and the future of library spaces in light of the pandemic and our nation’s social and racial justice awakening. Participants will discuss key topics, including new programs and services, budget and economic concerns, worker safety issues, equity, diversity and inclusion, and how library buildings may need to change following this historic public health crisis. This session will include a discussion with R. Crosby Kemper III, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The afternoon session (1–2:30 p.m. ET) will focus on digital developments in public libraries. Though the digital content market for libraries and publishers has been complex from its inception, the pandemic has led to an unprecedented jump in digital circulation. This session will explore what we have learned from the extraordinary digital pivot of the last year—and what comes next for libraries and publishers in a postpandemic world. The afternoon will conclude with a keynote from sociologist Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life.

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Program details and the full lineup are below.

Libraries Are Essential

Program I: 11 a.m.–12:45 p.m. ET

Opening Remarks, with Cohosts Andrew Richard Albanese and Sari Feldman

PW senior writer Andrew Richard Albanese leads the magazine’s library coverage. Albanese has covered the publishing and information technology fields for more than 21 years and is a former associate editor of American history at Oxford University Press, a former editor at Library Journal, and author of The Battle of $9.99: How Apple, Amazon and the Big Six Publishers Changed the E-book Business Overnight.

PW columnist Sari Feldman is the former executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Cleveland and a past president of both the Public Library Association (2009–2010) and the American Library Association (2015–2016). She is currently an ALA policy fellow focusing on digital library policy.

Special guests

Tracie D. Hall, executive director of the American Library Association. She has previously served as director, culture program, at Chicago’s Joyce Foundation and is a former deputy commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for the Chicago, where she oversaw the Arts and Creative Industries Division.

Julius C. Jefferson Jr., president of the American Library Association. He is the section head of the research and library services section in the foreign affairs, defense, and trade division at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, where he leads a team of research librarians who provide public policy research assistance to members of Congress and staff.

Patty Wong, city librarian for the Santa Monica (Calif.) Public Library and president-elect for the American Library Association (set to take office in June 2021). Wong is a Library Journal Mover and Shaker and a recipient of the ALA Equality Award in 2012. In addition to her role as board member for a number of nonprofit institutions, Wong is also adjunct faculty for the School of Information at San Jose State University, where she has taught since 2004.

Discussion: Toward a New Normal in Libraries

No doubt, many Americans are weary of hearing the phrase “new normal.” But in the wake of this historic public health crisis, as well as the massive economic disruption it caused, political chaos, and a long overdue social and racial justice awakening, one thing is clear: libraries cannot simply go back to what once passed for normal. In this discussion, the panelists will take stock of this unprecedented moment for libraries and librarians.


Nicole A. Cooke, Augusta Baker Endowed Chair and associate professor at the University of South Carolina. Cooke was awarded the ALA’s Equality award in 2016 and was the 2019 ALISE Excellence in Teaching Award recipient. She has edited and authored several books, including Information Services to Diverse Populations and Fake News and Alternative Facts: Information Literacy in a Post-truth Era, and is a cohost of the PW-hosted Skillset podcast.

R. David Lankes, director of the University of South Carolina’s School of Information Science. Lankes wrote The Atlas of New Librarianship and The New Librarianship Field Guide, and he’s a cohost of the PW-hosted Skillset podcast. He advocates for libraries and their essential role in today’s society—work that earned him the American Library Association’s Ken Haycock Award for Promoting Librarianship in 2016. His new book, Forged in War: How a Century of War Created Today’s Information Society (Rowman & Littlefield), explores how our ideas of information and knowledge are influenced by an increasingly militarized worldview.

Moderator: Andrew Richard Albanese

Discussion: If You Build It, Will They Come Back? The Future of Library Buildings Post-Covid-19

One of the library profession’s greatest triumphs was adapting libraries to become more social spaces in the digital age. But is another great transformation in library spaces upon us? Will public health concerns change the way people use library spaces? Will fears of circulating materials linger, valid or not? What kind of upgrades and new policies will libraries need—from ventilation systems, space limits, barriers, and spit guards to safety plans and new work rules for library staff? This panel will explore how librarians are envisioning the post-pandemic library space.


Tracy Strobel, executive director of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library. Among her accomplishments at CCPL, as deputy director she helped oversee the largest capital improvement program in the library’s history, replacing 10 branches and renovating 14 over seven years.

Felton Thomas, executive director of the Cleveland Public Library. He is overseeing a 10-year, $100 million makeover of all 27 CPL branches.

Moderator: Sari Feldman

Interview: R. Crosby Kemper III

R. Crosby Kemper III, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the independent federal agency that serves as the primary source of federal support for the nation’s museums and libraries. Prior to his role at IMLS, he was director of the Kansas City Public Library, which he established as one of the city’s leading cultural destinations and a hub of community engagement.

Program II: 1–2:30 p.m.

Discussion: A Reset for the Digital Library Market?

From its inception, the digital library market has been fraught, as publishers applied a host of restrictions to manage the impact of digital lending on sales. During the pandemic, publishers eased restrictions on digital lending, leading to a historic surge. At the same time, publishers have also seen strong sales growth. But what happens after the pandemic? What have we learned from this past year of forced experimentation? This discussion will explore the challenges and opportunities for libraries and publishers in the postpandemic digital space.

Moderator: Andrew Richard Albanese


Michael Blackwell, director of the St. Mary’s County Library in Maryland and an organizer of the ReadersFirst coalition. He has been one of the most vocal advocates for digital lending in public libraries.

Veronda Pitchford, assistant director of the Califa Group, a nonprofit membership consortium of libraries across California. She is cofounder and cochair of the ALA’s ASCLA Consortial E-books Interest Group and principal investigator for the IMLS-funded Libraries as Second Responders project, which will help train library staff to serve communities highly affected by Covid-19.

Lisa Rosenblum, director of the King County (Wash.) Library System. One of the busiest library systems in the country, KCLS consistently ranks as one of the nation’s leaders in digital circulations.

Ramiro Salazar, director of the San Antonio (Tex.) Public Library. He is responsible for the delivery of library services to almost two million residents in San Antonio and Bexar County, with a team of more than 550 employees.

Special guests

Rachel Noorda, director of publishing and assistant professor of English at Portland State University. She holds a PhD in publishing studies from the University of Stirling and has published peer-reviewed research on various book publishing projects.

Kathi Inman Berens, associate professor of publishing and digital humanities at Portland State University. Her book-publishing-related consulting and scholarship includes survey work designed to shed light on consumer behavior. Berens and Noorda will share insights from their recently released Project Panorama study, “Immersive Media and Books.”

Closing Remarks, with Cohosts Andrew Richard Albanese and Sari Feldman

This brief discussion will focus on advocacy, including what’s happening at the federal, state, and local levels in terms of library funding and policy—and how library supporters can make sure their voices are heard.

Special guests

Kathi Kromer, associate executive director of public policy and advocacy for the American Library Associa-
tion (formerly known as the ALA Washington Office). As a powerful advocate for libraries and librarians in D.C., Kromer leads the ALA’s team of public policy experts in developing policy and implementing strategies to advance the work of America’s libraries.

John Chrastka, executive director and founder of EveryLibrary, the only national political action committee for libraries. Chrastka works each election season to support dozens of local ballot initiatives in communities across the nation.

Closing Keynote

Eric Klinenberg, the Helen Gould Shepard professor of social science and director of the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University and the author of several critically acclaimed and bestselling books, including Palaces for the People.

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