The American Library Association held its first in-person annual conference since 2019 in Washington, D.C., beginning on June 23, and with today and tomorrow still to come, the show's return is getting solid reviews.

As of this morning, ALA officials say preliminary attendance figures stand at just under 14,000. And while that figure is significantly lower than the 21,460 who attended the last annual conference (also in Washington D.C.) attendance was seen as more than respectable for the association's first major in-person event since Covid-19 forced the show to go virtual-only.

Publishers and vendors on the show floor were also encouraged, with many telling PW that traffic in the exhibit hall was steady, lines for books signings at publisher booths were long, and enthusiasm generally ran high, despite many librarians taking time away from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to join protests after the Supreme Court last week issued its long anticipated decision striking down Roe v. Wade, eviscerating a woman's right to choose and potentially endangering many other hard-won rights including marriage equality and even access to contraception.

In the professional program, librarians discussed a number of thorny issues facing the library community, including the ongoing battle for equitable access to e-books, health and safety issues facing library workers as well as library patrons, the ongoing threat of misinformation, and the increasing threat of book bans and other actions to undermine the freedom to read. Threats to the freedom to read took an ugly twist last week with reports of far right groups, including the Proud Boys, showing up to menace attendees at children's events at various libraries. On June 24, the ALA issued a statement condemning these acts of intimidation.

"The American Library Association condemns, in the strongest terms possible, violence, threats of violence and other acts of intimidation increasingly taking place in America’s libraries, particularly those acts that aim to erase the stories and identities of gay, queer, transgender, Black, Indigenous, persons of color, those with disabilities and religious minorities," reads the ALA statement. "America’s libraries are there for communities: communities must be there for libraries. ALA calls on community leaders and elected officials to stand with libraries and others who promote the free and democratic exchange of ideas and to stand up to those who would undermine it."

The subject came up at a number of sessions on the topic of book banning and other efforts to chill the freedom to read, including so-called First Amendment Audits, which are specifically designed to create confrontation and intimidate library staff. "It's a delicate balancing situation because there is a First Amendment right to physically access the library. The courts have established that. But there's also an equal responsibility on the part of the library administration, which includes your trustees, to make sure that people are comfortable in to the library," said Deborah Caldwell-Stone director of the ALA's office for intellectual freedom, adding that library administrators should have policies that allow for access but include "behavioral rules that address things like harassment of staff and harassment of users."

On the main stage, librarians heard from a number of authors and policymakers, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Maria Hinojosa, Korean American author and actor John Cho, actor and author Tiffany Haddish, and mega-bestselling kids horror writer R.L. Stine. On Sunday, bestselling author Celeste Ng appeared in conversation with librarian and author Nancy Pearl. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman also spoke, as did Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, a late addition to the program.

At the conference opening, FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel told ALA president Patty Wong that she remains committed to helping libraries close the digital divide, and to restoring net neutrality, which was repealed under the Trump administration.

"I support net neutrality,” Rosenworcel said when asked about the status of net neutrality. “I opposed the last administration’s effort to roll it back and I want it to once again become the law of the land.” Rosenworcel declined to elaborate on that might actually happen. Currently, the restoration of net neutrality is being blocked by lawmakers refusing to consider President Biden's pick for the remaining unfilled FCC sea, Gigi Sohn. And the clock is ticking: if the seat is not filled and control of Congress shifts after the midterm elections, the chance to restore net neutrality may be lost.

The ALA meeting continues today and closes tomorrow afternoon with a main stage session featuring 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.