From Jan. 20 to 24, 2017, some 10,000 librarians, publishers, and vendors will descend on the Georgia World Congress Center, in Atlanta, for the 2017 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting—five days of professional sessions, meetings, and talks from an impressive lineup of authors and speakers. But on the day the conference kicks off, many librarians’ thoughts will be 600 miles north, in Washington, D.C., where Donald Trump will be sworn in as the nation’s 45th president. After a divisive campaign, what does a Trump administration portend for libraries? No one knows for sure, but many librarians are clearly anxious about what comes next. And not without reason: as a candidate, Trump didn’t exactly put forth an inclusive vision for the nation.
“Our core values as an association are clear,” wrote ALA president Julie Todaro in a November 20 message to ALA membership, citing inclusiveness, free and equitable access to information, intellectual freedom, and privacy and confidentiality. “And it is clear that many of these values are at odds with messaging or positions taken by the incoming administration.”
Todaro also conceded that ALA is also “very concerned” about the future of libraries at the legislative level. On the campaign trail, Trump suggested the U.S. must “close up” the Internet to fight terror. And as president-elect, Trump has signaled a desire to gut the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and roll back Net neutrality, and his pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, has raised concerns among school librarians. To boot, Trump regularly attacks the press and has professed not to be a book reader.
Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive, a digital library that houses the Wayback Machine, which preserves Web pages for posterity, is so alarmed by Trump’s rhetoric that he told reporters he is working to build a complete backup copy of the website—in Canada. “We don’t know what is going to happen,” Kahle told the Canadian Broadcasting Company. “[Trump’s] statements about privacy and surveillance, Net neutrality, freedom of the press, closing up part of the Internet—we should at least take him at his word at this point.”
Just hours after Trump is sworn in, on Friday, January 20, the main-auditorium speaker program will kick off with an appropriately political (and, thankfully, funny) keynote from acclaimed political comedian, author, and podcast host W. Kamau Bell (4–5:15 p.m.). Among his many roles, Bell hosts the docu-series United Shades of America and the public radio show Kamau Right Now! and cohosts the podcasts Politically Re-Active and Denzel Washington Is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period. His memoir and manifesto, The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6’4”, African-American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Black, Proud, and Asthmatic Blerd, Mama’s Boy, B-Student, and Stand-Up Comedian (Dutton), will be published in June 2017.
The Auditorium Speaker Series begins on Saturday, January 21, with a Macmillan-sponsored session featuring bestselling illustrators and children’s book authors LeUyen Pham, Susan Tan, and Scott Westerfeld in conversation with novelist and Booklist editor Daniel Kraus (10–11 a.m.).
Pham is the bestselling illustrator of the Princess in Black series with Shannon and Dean Hale and the author and illustrator of Big Sister, Little Sister and The Bear Who Wasn’t There. Tan is the debut author of Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire, a middle grade novel about a biracial Asian-American girl who dreams of becoming a famous, bestselling author. Westerfeld is the author of 18 novels (five for adults, 13 for young adults), including the worldwide bestselling Uglies series and the Locus Award–winning Leviathan series. In 2017 he will publish the graphic novel The Spill Zone, set in near future Poughkeepsie, NY.
On Saturday, January 21, Ryan Gravel, a visionary urban planner and the author of Where We Want to Live: Reclaiming Infrastructure for a New Generation of Cities (St. Martin’s), will deliver the annual Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture (4–5 p.m.). Gravel is the award-winning creator of the Atlanta Beltline, a 22-mile transit greenway that will ultimately connect some 40 diverse Atlanta neighborhoods to city schools, shopping districts, and public parks.
Sunday, January 22, will begin with Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and law professor Annette Gordon-Reed (10–11 a.m.). Gordon-Reed is the author of several books including The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (Norton) and most recently “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination with Peter S. Onuf (Liveright). Among her many honors she also counts a Guggenheim Fellowship, a MacArthur Fellowship, a National Humanities Medal, and a National Book Award.
Later on Sunday, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Kwame Alexander will join ALA president Julie Todaro as the featured speaker on the ALA President’s Program. Alexander is a poet, educator, and the award-winning author of 24 books for children of all ages, including the 2015 Newbery Medal–winning The Crossover. His latest project, Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures (National Geographic), pairs his poetry with more than 100 stunning photos of the world’s endangered animals.
On Monday, January 23, Daina Ramey Berry will deliver the keynote address for the 2017 Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance and Sunrise Celebration. Berry is associate professor of history and African-diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Her forthcoming book, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from the Womb to the Grave, in the Building of a Nation (Beacon Press), looks at how slaves were treated as commodities in early America.
And closing out the program will be actor and author Neil Patrick Harris (2–3 p.m.). Harris is a five-time Emmy Award winner and the winner of the 2014 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. His latest book, The Magic Misfits (Little, Brown), is scheduled to be released in fall 2017.
Awards and More
The highlight of every ALA Midwinter, of course, is the announcement of the coveted Youth Media Awards, which will take place from 8 to 9 a.m. on Monday, January 23. The ALA Youth Media Awards, including the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and Coretta Scott King awards, are recognized worldwide as the most prestigious awards celebrating children’s and young adult literature and media.
And on Sunday, January 22, from 5 to 7 p.m., the ALA’s adult book awards, the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, will be announced. The 2016 nominees in fiction include Michael Chabon for Moonglow (Harper), Zadie Smith for Swing Time (Penguin Press), and Colson Whitehead for The Underground Railroad (Doubleday), which recently took home the National Book Award.
For nonfiction, the finalists include Patricia Bell-Scott for The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice (Knopf), Matthew Desmond for Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown), and Patrick Phillips for Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (Norton).
And don’t forget the exhibitors—more than 400 vendors and organizations will exhibit at ALA Midwinter, showing off a range of new library products, services, books, online services, tools, and technologies, in addition to the author readings, signings, and professional presentations held at multiple pavilions and on stages on the show floor. The exhibit hall opens with a reception on Friday evening, January 20, immediately following the opening general session.