Librarians braved snow and freezing temps to gather in Baltimore for the American Library Association's second in-person LibLearnX conference, held January 19–22. And despite a dip in attendance, the event once again showed flashes of delivering what ALA members said they wanted most from their reimagined winter event: strong programming, hands-on learning, great authors, and time to network with colleagues and vendors.
ALA officials put total attendance for LibLearnX 2024 at 2,006, down 25% from the 2,659 reported attendance at the 2023 event in New Orleans. The decline was not unexpected, however, with the biannual Public Library Association annual conference—one of ALA’s most popular and well-attended conferences—competing for librarians’ limited travel budgets. The 2024 PLA conference is set for April 3–5 in Columbus, Ohio.
Kudos to American Libraries for an incredible job of rounding up LibLearnX 2024. You can read extensive coverage of the speakers and sessions on their Scoop blog. Among the show’s highlights: an inspiring opening reception honored the winners of the 2023 I Love My Librarians Awards. (This alone was worth the trip for me.) The main speaker program featured compelling talks from authors including Mia Armstrong, Kate DiCamillo, Antonya Hylton, George M. Johnson, Michele Norris, and Jesus Trejo. In the professional program, hot topics included defending the freedom to read, sustainability, and AI.
ALA officials hope that the lure of warm weather—and no competing PLA event—will mean bigger numbers at next year’s LibLearnX, which is set for January 24–27, 2025, in Phoenix, Ariz.
Just when you thought things couldn't get more cynical, the Oklahoman this week reports that Oklahoma's state schools superintendent Ryan Walters has named a prominent conservative social media provocateur, Chaya Raichik, the woman behind the controversial Libs of TikTok social media account, to the Oklahoma library media advisory committee. “In a media statement, Walters said he put Raichik on the advisory committee because she was on the front lines showing the world exactly what the radical left is all about—lowering standards, porn in schools and pushing ‘woke indoctrination’ on kids.”
Meanwhile, an editorial in Tulsa World reacts to Raichik's appointment. “Oklahoma children and youths need champions. They need people at the state level who understand their challenges and are willing to represent all of them,” the editorial states. “Raichik is not that person; she is a far-right conservative caricature concerned about a national profile. Walters has embarrassed the state by associating us with her, and it likely won’t be the last time he does so.”
In West Virginia, the local Parkersburg News & Sentinel reports that lawmakers in the state “could open another front in the culture wars” by looking to lift criminal liability protections for librarians and educators. West Virginia House Bill 4654 would expose librarians and teachers to penalties for making available “obscene” content to minors, defined as “anything an average person believes depicts or describes sexually explicit conduct, nudity, sex or certain bodily functions; or anything a reasonable person would find lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
Paywalled, but in Georgia, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a new bill, Senate Bill 390, is going after the ALA. The legislation “seeks to ban government funding for libraries affiliated with the American Library Association, which, they claim, is influenced by Marxist ideology.”
Over at Book Riot, Kelly Jensen leads off her must read weekly censorship roundup with another post drawn from the publication’s recent survey conducted with EveryLibrary. This post focuses in on the issue of trust, pointing out why book banners have sought to attack the ALA. “By creating a villain of the biggest professional organization for library workers, book banners pound away at the institutions that establish and uphold librarianship as a profession,” Jensen writes. “Hope is not lost, though. Returning back to the parental perceptions survey, it’s clear that even at its lowest, 4 out of 5 parents trust school librarians. Nine out of ten trust public librarians.The opportunity is here to amplify this trust parents have in their public institutions.”
Better news in Vermont, where indie paper Seven Days reports that legislators have introduced legislation to head off book bans and attacks on libraries. “H.806 is one of a few bills introduced this year aimed at library censorship; another is S.220, a bill covering several topics that was created in response to a November report on the status of Vermont libraries. S.220 contains a section on intellectual freedom. Another bill, H.807, addresses bans at school libraries only.”
And in Massachusetts, a MassLive editorial supports two new state bills also aimed at combating book banners. S.2528 and H.4229 “would prevent people from weakening libraries by using personal or political objections to wheedle local officials to censor books,” the article states.
And finally this week, the Seattle Times reports that the Washington state senate has passed a bill designed to help protect libraries. “Senate Bill 5824, passed unanimously by the Senate on Wednesday, comes in response to an effort last year to close the only library in rural Columbia County. It would make such attempts more difficult, requiring more signatures to get proposed shutdowns on the ballot and then allowing a larger population of voters to decide a library’s fate.” The proposal now goes to the house.