The American Library Association this week announced that former President Barack Obama will be the featured speaker at the 2021 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition's closing session.
Obama will speak from noon to 1 p.m. CT on Tuesday, June 29, in conversation with Lonnie G. Bunch III, the 14th secretary of the Smithsonian and first African American appointed to the role. They will be introduced by Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., president of the American Library Association. The event will be virtual, as the 2021 ALA Annual Conference is taking place entirely online in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is not the ALA’s first engagement with the Obamas, who are known to be strong library supporters. Michele Obama keynoted the 2018 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans, with a personal, and decidedly apolitical, hour-long conversation with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. And in 2005, then a junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama spoke at the ALA Annual conference in Chicago, where he delivered a memorable speech praising librarians and presciently talking about the challenges facing Americans in the digital age.
"We have to change our whole mindset as a nation. We’re living in the 21st-century knowledge economy; but our schools, our homes, and our culture are still based around 20th-century and in some cases 19th-century expectations," Obama told librarians in his 2005 speech, which was reprinted this week in American Libraries magazine. "We should make sure our politicians aren’t closing libraries down because they had to spend a few extra bucks on tax cuts for folks who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them."
The first volume of Barack Obama's presidential memoirs, A Promised Land, was published in November of 2020 by Crown, an imprint of Penguin Random House.