This year’s American Library Association Annual Conference, set for June 23–28 in Orlando, is going to be one hot show—literally. With average late-June temperatures in Orlando expected to be in the 90s (with high humidity), what better way to spend the day than in a nice air-conditioned room listening to an author, browsing titles on the exhibit floor, or catching a professional program? There will be plenty of chances to do all three, of course, as this year’s conference will feature more than 2,000 scheduled events, including hundreds of author appearances, and more than 700 exhibiting companies.
As librarians and publishers prepare to head to Orlando for what will be the third national library conference of 2016 (following the biennial Public Library Association conference in April and the ALA Midwinter Meeting in January), there are signs that libraries may at last be escaping the shadow of the Great Recession. Some 35% of respondents to a recent PW survey of public librarians said their collections budgets had grown over the past three years. But perhaps most importantly, libraries are successfully embracing the changes brought by the digital age, with expanded programs and services—a key objective highlighted by the ALA’s Libraries Transform initiative, a campaign to call attention to the transformative nature of today’s libraries and the critical role they play in the Internet age.
This year also marks the 140th anniversary of the first ALA Annual Conference. Much has changed since 103 librarians gathered for the first "Convention of Librarians" in Philadelphia, in 1876. But without question, the pace of change has accelerated in recent decades—so much so that this year’s program will look vastly different from even the previous ALA conference in Orlando, in 2004.
“Twelve years ago, makerspaces weren’t yet in the public library,” observes PW columnist Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains (N.Y.) Public Library. “App development and mobile responsiveness weren’t topics librarians—or anyone—had to worry about. And archivists simply didn’t have the issues they face now in the age of Big Data.”
One can only imagine what changes loom for libraries in the coming decade.
Of course, whatever new services libraries may be pushing into, books remain the bedrock of the profession. And what makes every ALA conference special for so many attendees are the authors. This year’s conference once again features a strong slate of authors, beginning with the conference’s main program and the Auditorium Speaker series. (Note: All of the featured speakers appear on stage at the Chapin Theater, Room W320).
The main program will kick off on Friday, June 24, with a keynote by Michael Eric Dyson, at the opening general session (4–5 p.m.). Named by Essence magazine as one of the 50 most inspiring African-Americans in the U.S., Dyson, a renowned public intellectual and prolific writer, is the author of 17 books, including the American Book Award–winning Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster. He is also a regular contributor to the New York Times and the New Republic, and a political analyst for MSNBC. His latest book is The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), which Salon praised as a “brilliant and complicated portrait of a brilliant and complicated president.”
On Saturday, June 25, Margaret Atwood takes the stage (10:30–11:30 a.m.). Atwood is the bestselling author of more than 40 books, including fiction, poetry, children’s literature, and essays. Her novel The Blind Assassin won the Booker Prize. In October, Atwood will publish Hag-Seed, her retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which she called “a strenuous pleasure to wrestle with.” The book is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare project, which encourages today’s acclaimed and bestselling novelists to adapt Shakespeare’s works.
Teen entrepreneur, activist, and author Maya Penn takes the stage on Saturday afternoon (3:30–4:30 p.m.). In 2008, at the age of eight, Penn founded Maya’s Ideas, a company that sells her own eco-friendly handmade clothing and accessories online, with a portion of the profits going to charity. Penn is also the founder of Maya’s Ideas 4 the Planet, a nonprofit that helps girls in developing countries. Her TEDWomen Talk is one of the most viewed of all time. And this year, at the ripe old age of 16, Penn has published her first book: You Got This! Unleash Your Awesomeness, Find Your Path and Change Your World (S&S), in which she provides a creative blueprint for teens and young adults to pursue their goals and dreams.
The program on Sunday, June 26, features Brad Meltzer (10:30–11:30 a.m.), the 2016 honorary chair of ALA’s Preservation Week. Meltzer’s bestselling books include nonfiction, suspense novels for adults, children’s literature, and comics. And Meltzer’s picture book biography series, Ordinary People Change the World, supports the idea that we can all be heroes (a theme libraries engage with every day). In September, Meltzer will add two titles to the series: I Am Jane Goodall and I Am George Washington (Dial).
Later on Sunday afternoon, don’t miss the ALA President’s Program (3:30–5:30 p.m.), hosted by outgoing ALA president Sari Feldman and keynoted by actor and author Diane Guerrero, best know for her work on Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. Guerrero’s memoir, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided, was recently published by Holt. When she was 14, her entire family was deported back to Colombia, while she (having been born in the U.S.) remained in Boston, taken in by other Colombian families. She is a tireless advocate and volunteer for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and in 2015 she was named a White House ambassador for citizenship and naturalization.
Monday, June 27, kicks off with a talk by 15-year-old Jazz Jennings (8:30–9:30 a.m.), one of the youngest and most prominent voices in the national discussion of gender identity. At just five years old, with the support of her parents, Jennings transitioned to life as a girl and has been in the spotlight ever since. She has a YouTube channel, a reality TV series, a children’s book, and now a memoir, Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen, published earlier this month by Crown. In the book, Jennings describes overcoming bullying, discrimination, and rejection while educating others about her life as a transgender teen. For her efforts in shaping mainstream attitudes, Jennings was recently named one of Time’s Most Influential Teens for the second time in two years. And she has also been named one of the Huffington Post’s 14 Most Fearless Teens, and a Human Rights Campaign youth ambassador.
Grab a cup of coffee and come back to the Chapin Theater later Monday morning to catch the Peete family: Holly Robinson Peete, and her 18-year-old twins R.J. and Ryan Elizabeth Peete (10:30–11:30 a.m.). Together, they authored Same but Different: Teen Life on the Autism Express (Scholastic). Through alternating fictional narratives based on their on own lives, the book preaches tolerance, love, and understanding, and explores the funny, painful, and unexpected aspects of teen autism.
The conference program closes on Tuesday, June 28, with actress and bestselling children’s author Jamie Lee Curtis (10–11:30 a.m.). Curtis will take the stage after Sari Feldman passes the gavel to the incoming ALA president, Julie Todaro, at the Closing General Session. Curtis’s forthcoming book, This Is Me: The Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From (Workman) will be published in September.
Exhibits and More
A highlight of any ALA is the exhibit floor, which features hundreds of publishers and vendors, as well as multiple pavilions and stages, where, in addition to booth signings, there will be more author appearances (check the ALA program online for the full schedule). Once again, the exhibits will open with a ceremonial ribbon cutting immediately after the Opening General Session on Friday, June 24, at 5:30 p.m., followed by a reception that includes food, drink, and entertainment.
In addition to the main speaker program and appearances in the exhibit hall, the conference features a number of special events. Please note: some of these events require tickets.
On Saturday, June 25, Congressman John Lewis, the renowned civil rights leader and coauthor of the acclaimed graphic novel series March, will make a special appearance in observance of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Lewis will be joined by his March cocreators, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, as well as William D. Adams, the NEH chairman. The event will be held from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. No ticket is required.
Later on Saturday, Newbery Medal–winning author Avi will headline the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) President’s Program (11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.). Avi, who worked for many years as a librarian at the New York Public Library, will speak of his work (some 70 books spanning all levels and genres) and his connection to readers and librarians. The program will take place in the convention center, room W205, and no ticket is required.
On Saturday evening, don’t miss the reception for the Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction. This year’s winners were the first to be announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting, and they will receive their medals, offer remarks, and mingle with attendees. Viet Thanh Nguyen took home the fiction prize for The Sympathizer, and Sally Mann won the nonfiction prize for Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs. In addition, poet Billy Collins will be a featured speaker. The reception is cosponsored by Booklist and RUSA. Tickets are $30 each ($25 for RUSA members), which includes a dessert-and-drinks reception following the program. The event will take place at the Hilton Orlando, Florida Ballroom 1–4.
On Sunday, June 26, is the 47th annual Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast (7–9:30 a.m.). Presented by the ALA Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table, the breakfast honors 2016’s best African-American authors and illustrators of books for children and youth, which were also announced at the ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, as well as the recipient of the Coretta Scott King–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. Tickets are $62.
On Sunday evening, June 26, 6–11 p.m, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) will host its annual Newbery-Caldecott-Wilder Awards Banquet, which celebrates the winners of those awards, including Jerry Pinkney, who received this year’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Award. Tickets are $94.
As always, check your program for changes. And please stop by the Publishers Weekly booth (#1341) on the show floor. We look forward to seeing you in Orlando.