There’s no greater evidence of the vitality, range, and aspirations of libraries and librarians in America today than the annual conference of the American Library Association (ALA). As invigorating as it is chaotic, the four-day event (longer if you attend the preconferences) combines the business meetings of the association, committee meetings, award events, meetings of affiliate organizations, a huge exhibit floor, and a whole lot of professional programs.

But perhaps the biggest challenge for those attending ALA is finding good programs. That may be because some of the best programs are now held at division-level events (such as the excellent conference held by the Public Library Association this past April). Or maybe online venues are sucking up the most innovative content these days? Or it could just be that with the exhibit floor, the awards banquets, the publishers’ breakfasts and teas, the Unconference, scores of readings, dozens of receptions, celebrity appearances, Kitchen Table Conversations, the Gaming Lounge, the Zine Pavilion, and the free samples of vegan tom yum goong at the What’s Cooking stage, many of the programs at ALA feel vestigial, like the appendix: still with us, but no one is exactly sure why.

What follows are my (as always) highly subjective program picks. Note: All events are in the Orange County Convention Center unless otherwise noted, and last-minute changes are always possible. Be sure to check the final ALA program for any changes.

Friday, June 24


(9 a.m.–12 p.m., W109B)

A participant-guided event where you determine the topics. Could be the most useful—and timely—event at the conference, or could end up in a gripe session.

Graphic Novel Friday Forum: Fandom—All Access for Comics

(12–4 p.m., W414CD)

Once the domain of geeks and nerds, “fandom is the entry point for readers and viewers to see themselves, and if they can’t find themselves, they create representation.” In this session, explore how libraries can use fandom to establish relationships with readers, publishers, and creators.

Exploring Learning Through Making

(1–3:30 p.m., W206C)

An opportunity to investigate how maker activities enable learning and network with other makerspace folk.

Youmedia Network & YALSA Forum: Connecting Around Connected Learning

(2:30–4 p.m., Rosen Center, Salon 01/02)

Connected learning is about using digital technology to customize education to the learner; here you can hear from those using a connected learning approach. Looks like a terrific session for both public and school people who work with teens.

Emerging Leaders Poster Session and Reception

(3–4 p.m., S320A–C)

An ALA-sponsored leadership-development program that brings together library staff to work together on problems. Stop by to see what they came up with—maybe you can use it!

Saturday, June 25

InbeTween: Services and Programs for Tweens in Public Libraries

(8:30–10 a.m., W102B)

They’re a hot consumer demographic, getting plenty of attention from publishers and retailers, but should libraries market to tweens separately from children’s programming? What do you do with sixth graders who won’t use the children’s room but are too young for your teen center?

Increasing Early Literacy Skills Through Creative Outdoor Spaces

(8:30–10 a.m., W206A)

We aren’t all fortunate enough to have an outdoor space, but if you do, here’s how to modify and redesign it so that it can have an impact on early literacy skills.

Sustainable Thinking

(8:30–10 a.m., W102A)

Everything you need to know about making your library a leader in building a sustainable, resilient, and regenerative community. Required attendance for library leaders and managers.

Words, Words, Words: Increasing Young Children’s Exposure to Language Through the Words at Play Vocabulary Initiative

(8:30–10 a.m., W108)

Learn how a group of Philadelphia organizations, including the Free Library, came together to provide programming to support families and young children in closing the 30 million–word gap through fun cross-curricular, hands-on programs.

Conversation Starter: Welcoming Refugees and Asylum Seekers

(9:15–10 a.m., W414CD)

How can libraries better serve refugees and asylum seekers? Perhaps more relevant if the U.S. was actually welcoming Syrian refugees in any significant number; nevertheless, this is a problem that is unlikely to go away.

Harnessing Research and Data to Advance Readers’ Advisory Services

(10:30–11:30 a.m., S330C–D)

Readers’ Advisory (RA) is largely absent from this conference, but this looks really good: three short presentations from experts, on subjects that include using the data we have in RA, examining the current research on reading, and how Big Data is changing what we know about the literary landscape.

Nuts & Bolts of Supervision

(10:30–11:30 a.m., W206C)

Attention, new or aspiring managers! Wondering how to handle unmotivated employees, absent management, or patrons who blur the line of legally acceptable conduct? Come hear the answers to these—as well as your own—questions.

From the Ground Up: Building a Community-Based Project Competition for Staff at All Levels

(1–2:30 p.m., S320G–H)

Here’s a great idea: the Brooklyn Public Library created a platform for staff members of any level to pitch a dream program that is assessed and voted on by stakeholders from community-based organizations, coworkers, and library-card holders. Winning proposals are funded with micro-grants and guided through by a team of internal and external project mentors. Come hear how you can create a similar model.

Lessons from Learning Spaces: What Are Patrons Really Learning?

(1–2:30 p.m., W206A)

A terrific panel takes on one of the most critical questions for public librarians: “how do we know that patrons are learning when engaged in informal activities, not just doing, and how do we communicate this learning to taxpayers, granting organizations, and patrons themselves, who increasingly seek evidence of success?”

Conversation Starter: One Number Equals Access; Integrating School ID Numbers with Public Library Accounts to Open a World of Information for Students

(1:30–2:15 p.m., W414CD)

Allowing students to use their student-ID numbers to access and check out public library resources may seem simple, but I bet it was easier to launch the Mars rover. Reps from the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library are going to tell us how do it.

Conversation Starter: Ideas Exchange; Increasing Diversity in the Publishing and Library Workforce

(2:45–3:30 p.m., Room W414CD)

In February, Lee & Low Books released the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that the publishing industry still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity. The library profession is not much different. How can we address this?

Sunday, June 26

Strengthening Relationships and Experiences with Students Through Personal Librarian Programs

(8:30–10 a.m., W108)

In personal librarian (PL) programs, academic librarians help students overcome apprehension or confusion related to libraries. Hear the experiences from a range of universities.

Family Engagement in Public Libraries Is Valued, but There Is Work to Be Done

(10:30–11:30 a.m., S320A–C)

Important data from Libraries for the 21st Century Project: It’s a Family Thing, a joint effort of the Public Library Association and Harvard Family Research Project. A must for youth librarians and publishers as well.

Not Your Granny’s Dinner Conversation: Diversity, Race, Sex and Gender

(10:30–11:30 a.m., W205)

Sexist title aside, this deep panel of publishers, authors, librarians, and scholars will take on the question, how does responsible engagement with topics such has slavery, racism, gender identity, and sexual orientation have impact on the work of writing, reading, selecting, and teaching diverse books for young people?

Library of the Future: Top Tools for Changemakers

(1–2:30 p.m., Hyatt Regency Orlando, Plaza BRG)

Low-tech tools from the worlds of design thinking and startups, such as affinity mapping, decision matrices, and prototyping, will be demonstrated, with attention to how libraries have used them.

No Room at the Library: The Ethics of Diversity

(1–2:30 p.m., W105B)

In the tradition of What Would You Do? the Ethics Committee performs three different skits and facilitates an audience discussion about ethics and inclusion in libraries. Should be lively!

Serving New Immigrants Through Partnerships and Federal Resources

(1–2:30 p.m., S320E–F)

Some 55% of immigrants use the public library at least once a week. Here are some partnerships that can help you better serve these populations.

Conversation Starter: Social Justice in Our Library; Changing Roles of Academic, Public, and Special Librarians as Community Advocates and Supporters

(2:45–3:30 p.m., W414CD)

Inspired in part by the Occupy Towson movement at Towson University, this moderated conversation will ask, how can librarians balance providing impartial reference with an actively participatory community role?

How to Implement Things When People Hate Change

(3–4 p.m., Hyatt Regency Orlando, Windemere Ballroom W)

The title says it all—let’s just hope Jason Griffey and Emily Clasper have the answers.

Monday, June 27

Great Games and Gamification in Libraries

(8:30–10 a.m., W206C)

Six public and academic librarians share how they use games in their libraries, with plenty of fresh ideas to take home.

Top Library Building Trends 2016

(8:30–10 a.m., W105B)

A panel of architects, consultants, and librarians promise to share the most exciting trends in public and academic buildings.

How the Public Grades Libraries, and Uses Libraries

(1–2:30 p.m., W103B)

Never miss Lee Rainie, the director of Internet, science, and technology research at the Pew Research Center. Here he’ll be presenting the latest usage and reading trends, along with data about how more and more Americans hope libraries will offer community-oriented and educational services.

PW columnist Brian Kenney is the director of the White Plains (N.Y.) Public Library, and former editorial director of both Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.

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