The 2022 American Library Association Annual Conference will be a milestone event. Set for Thursday–Tuesday, June 23–28 at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center, it will be the first in-person ALA annual conference since the pandemic forced the 2020 and 2021 conferences to go virtual only. And while no one expects attendance to snap back to prepandemic levels, conference organizers say they are expecting strong attendance—and ALA couldn’t have hoped for a better host city to resume its in-person conferences. ALA events in Washington, D.C., are historically the association’s best attended, and they include its highest-attendance annual conference ever, in 2007, which drew nearly 30,000 attendees.
“It’s really exciting to really think about this opportunity for us to gather together again, to share stories, to network,” said Santa Clara city librarian and ALA president Patty Wong, speaking at last month’s U.S. Book Show. Wong noted that ALA was focused on safety, with both a vaccination requirement and a mask mandate in place for attendees, while adding that many librarians are eager to reconnect in person with their colleagues. “It’s been a difficult and challenging two years for our libraries and library workers throughout the country,” she added, “but librarians continue to be among the most resilient people we know.”
Yet another reason why the nation’s capital is the perfect setting for librarians to once again gather in-person: it is a chance to remind lawmakers of the work that libraries do, and at a critical moment when so much is in flux—library and education funding, broadband expansion and digital access policies, and perhaps most concerning, a rise in book bans and educational gag orders in many states, threatening the freedom to read.
“The increase in book bans and challenges is very sobering,” Wong said, noting that the issue will feature prominently at the 2022 conference, including sessions in support of the ALA’s new Unite Against Book Bans campaign. As it should be: the current wave of book challenges is a serious and foundational threat to libraries, noted Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, adding that the trend is unprecedented in her 20 years with ALA.
“We ended 2021 with 729 challenges to 1,597 titles, and most of those challenges were received between September and December,” she said at last month’s U.S. Book Show. “To put those numbers in perspective, the most recent year where schools and libraries were open year round and not closed because of the pandemic we received 379 challenges for the entire year. So we’ve certainly doubled and really almost tripled the number of challenges that we’re tracking.”
Also alarming, Caldwell-Stone pointed out, is what’s now being challenged and banned: it’s no longer the Captain Underpants or Judy Blume and John Green novels—the challenges today are increasingly directed at works dealing with gender identity, sexual orientation, or transgender issues, and books dealing with race, racism, and the lived experiences of people of color. “And these challenges don’t represent just challenges at the local level,” she added. “We’re seeing an organized campaign nationwide.”
PEN America’s Jonathan Friedman, who has also been tracking the rise of book bans and other legislation targeting the freedom to read, is seeing the same trends. “We’re supposed to be a society that’s governed by rules and notions of liberty and notions of free expression and the notion that students should be able to go to a school library and find a book that speaks to them and that reflects their identity,” he said at the U.S. Book Show. “That’s being taken away from us. I can’t stress enough the need to stay tuned in to this issue and to realize that it is a significant bellwether for our democracy and where we are heading as a country. What began as lists of books are now full-out bans and full-out alterations and policy changes in many states. This very well could spread to other levels of government. And this threat is only gaining momentum as we head into the 2022 and 2024 elections.”
No question, librarians rose to the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic. But as the library community prepares to gather in D.C., engagement matters, ALA leaders say, because the challenges facing libraries now are some of the most complex ever.
“The pandemic did weird things to all of us,” observed ALA president-elect Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada, adult services assistant manager at the Palos Verdes (Calif.) Library District, at the U.S. Book Show. Pelayo-Lozada, whose term as president will begin at the close of this conference, said she ran for ALA president precisely because she understands how demanding the coming years will be for libraries and wanted to help make a difference.
“You know, we just can’t go back to the old prepandemic normal, because that wasn’t great for everyone,” she said. “We have to fight the urge to go back to what felt comfortable. We have to continue to innovate as we continue living with Covid-19, with the pressure of trying to create a socially just society, and with the challenges we’re now facing over most the fundamental parts of our work.”
The 2022 ALA Annual Conference main speaker program will take place in the Washington Convention Center main auditorium (Ballroom ABC), kicking off with the opening general session and a timely guest: FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who will appear in conversation with ALA president Patty Wong on Friday, 4–5:30 p.m. One of the most important federal policymakers when it comes to information access (and a staunch library supporter), Rosenworcel will offer insight into a host of key policy issues central to the work of libraries, including the fight for net neutrality and strategies to close the digital divide.
Maria Hinojosa will open the main speaker program on Saturday, 9–10 a.m. The Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author has been widely praised for her work covering the changing cultural and political landscape in America and abroad. She is the author of Once I Was You, a memoir that shares her experience growing up Mexican American on the South Side of Chicago. S&S will publish a young readers’ edition of Once I Was You in August.
Next up will be Korean American actor and author John Cho (11 a.m.–noon). Cho’s prolific acting career has spanned two decades and includes his breakout roles in the cult comedies Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle and American Pie, and his critically acclaimed performances in the film Searching and the Netflix series Cowboy Bebop. His recently published novel, Troublemaker, follows the events of the 1992 L.A. riots through the eyes of 12-year-old Korean American Jordan.
ALA executive director Tracie D. Hall will moderate a discussion entitled “Defending the Fifth Freedom: Protecting the Right to Read for Incarcerated Individuals” (1–2:15 p.m.). As ALA prepares to revise its Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions for the first time in 30 years, this panel will explore the right to read for those incarcerated in the U.S. Panelists will include Jeanie Austin, a jail and reentry services librarian at the San Francisco Public Library and author of Library Services and Incarceration: Recognizing Barriers, Strengthening Access; Reginald Dwayne Betts, a poet and founder of Freedom Reads, an organization working to transform access to literature in prison; Randall Horton, a professor of English at the University of New Haven and the author of several books of poetry, including Dead Weight: A Memoir in Essays; and Enrique Rivera, a bilingual outreach specialist at Multnomah County (Ore.) Library, whose passion for providing library services to incarcerated people developed after serving a six-year prison sentence as a young adult.
Grammy-winning comedian, actor, producer, and author Tiffany Haddish will then take the stage (2:30–3:30 p.m.). Haddish recently published her first children’s book, Layla, the Last Black Unicorn, cowritten with Jerdine Nolen and illustrated by Jessica Gibson. Inspired by Haddish’s life, the book tells the story of a lovable but awkward unicorn who doesn’t quite fit in with the others.
Bestselling author, short story writer, television producer, and screenwriter R.L. Stine will close Saturday’s main speaker program (4–5 p.m.). Stine is the author of the wildly popular Goosebumps series and has sold more than hundreds of millions of books worldwide. His forthcoming book Stinetinglers, a collection of 10 new stories, is due in August from Macmillan.
The main speaker program continues on Sunday with bestselling author Celeste Ng in conversation with “America’s librarian” Nancy Pearl (9–10 a.m.). Ng’s books Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere have been published in more than 30 languages and have become breakout TV hits. Her third novel, Our Missing Hearts, will be published in October and is billed by Penguin Press as a “suspenseful and heartrending novel about the unbreakable love.” Pearl is the author of the Book Lust series—four books of book recommendations—as well as the novel George & Lizzie and, with Jeff Schwager, The Writer’s Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives. Last November, she was honored with the National Book Foundation’s 2021 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman follows (11 a.m.–noon). Inspired by artists like Jack Kirby and Frank Miller, Eastman self-published his work throughout the early 1980s until he and partner Peter Laird created, wrote, illustrated, and published Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 in 1984. His forthcoming book, due out in July, is The Last Ronin (IDW), a collaboration with Laird and Tom Waltz that follows a lone-surviving mutant turtle in a dystopian New York City.
The ALA President’s Program will close Sunday’s main program (3:30–5:30 p.m.) with ALA president Patty Wong hosting a panel of authors, publishers, and literacy advocates as they explore new ways to tell Asian American stories and how to get more books into the hands of readers.
Wong will be joined by Malinda Lo, the National Book Award–winning, bestselling author of Last Night at the Telegraph Club; Jane Park, a senior content strategist for Google Kids & Families; Linda Sue Park, the bestselling author of numerous books, including most recently The One Thing You’d Save, a collection of linked poems; Philip Lee, cofounder of Lee & Low books and founder of Readers to Eaters, a program that promotes food literacy through stories about our diverse food cultures; and Christina Soontornvat, the author of more than a dozen books for children of all ages, including her most recent novel, The Last Mapmaker.
On Tuesday, the closing general session will feature author, speaker, and podcast host Luvvie Ajayi Jones in conversation with Nicole A. Cooke, Augusta Baker Endowed Chair and an associate professor at the School of Library and Information Science at the University of South Carolina. Jones will discuss her new book, Rising Troublemaker: A Fear-Fighter Manual for Teens, which was published in May.
Virtual programs, Exhibits, and More
Having now hosted a number of successful virtual conferences since the start of the pandemic, conference organizers understand how powerful the online format can be for expanding member participation in ALA conferences. And the 2022 ALA Annual Conference will feature a robust virtual component, dubbed the Digital Experience, for those who can’t be there in person.
The Digital Experience will feature simulcasts of the main stage speakers, dozens of education sessions, and some high-profile, virtual-only speakers. Sessions will also be archived for later viewing.
Among the headliners for the virtual speaker series is Channing Tatum (Saturday, 8–9 a.m.), who will talk about his first children’s book, The One and Only Sparkella, billed by Fiewel and Friends as “a charming ode to self-esteem.” Also appearing virtually will be bestselling authors Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan (Sunday, 9–10 a.m.), discussing their forthcoming book Mad Honey (Ballantine, Oct.). To view the full schedule and to register, visit 2022.alaannual.org/digital-experience.
ALA conference organizers say they are excited for the return of a bustling show floor featuring hundreds of exhibitors. The hall opens on Friday, with a reception immediately following the opening general session (5:30–7 p.m.), and will be open through Tuesday morning.
Around the booths, the show floor will once again feature a number of author meet-and-greets, book signings, and galley giveaways. In addition, the show floor will feature several stages offering an array of programs, including the Book Buzz Theater; Chapter One Stage; Diversity in Publishing Stage; Graphic Novel/Gaming Stage; The Look of Books Stage; PopTop Stage: Popular Topics, Every Day; Tech Talk Stage; and ThinkFit @ ALA Health & Fitness Stage.
And finally, check the conference website for a host of available tours and ticketed events, including the return of the reception honoring the winners of the ALA’s adult book award, the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Fiction and Nonfiction (Saturday, 8–10 p.m., at the Marriott Marquis). The reception will feature this year’s winners Tom Lin, author of The Thousand Crimes of Ming Tsu, and Hanif Abdurraqib, author of A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance, as well as Maryland congressman Jamie Raskin as keynote speaker. As always, check the online program for any last-minute changes.