Librarians got hands-on experience with tools of the trade and joined zigzagging queues to meet authors and creators at the American Library Association Annual Conference and Exhibition in San Diego from June 27–July 2. Whether trying out new games or creative products to augment their book programs, considering mobile apps and tech, or learning about IP and copyright, attendees gained practical experience to take home to their branches and constituents. At the Gale booth, ALA members lined up to get professional headshots, while at the new STEAM Pavilion, attendees tested XR headsets, virtually exploring coral reefs or walking on the moon.

Special events included “The Heart of Our Story: A Celebration of Library Workers,” a June 30 program at which awards committee chair Jos N. Holman presented 20 ALA Recognition Awards to recipients and president Emily Drabinski interviewed a panel of outstanding local librarians she met on a 4,951-mile "Road to Annual" tour in her van.

Award highlights included a Medal of Excellence for international library consultant Loida Garcia-Febo and an Innovation Award for Jennie Pu, director of the Hoboken Public Library. ALA’s Library of the Future Award went to the Las Vegas–Clark County (Nevada) Library District, which developed “Free to Be Connected” internet hotspots and resources for formerly incarcerated people reentering society.

Schneider Family Book Awards for disability representation went to author Jenn Bailey and illustrator Mika Song’s Henry Like Always (Chronicle), Sally J. Pla’s The Fire, the Water, and Maudie McGInn (Quill Tree), and Mariama J. Lockington’s YA novel Forever Is Now (FSG). A $10,000 award sponsored by author Daniel Handler, the Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Who Have Faced Adversity, went to Patty Hector of Benton, Ark., “for refusing to comply with a resolution to remove books” about racism and marginalized identities.

Drabinski selected guests from across the U.S., and each talked about their creative efforts to serve varied local needs. Angela Watkins, director of the Aztec (N.M.) Public Library, serves a largely Indigenous and Latine population, in a town of about 6,000 residents at a 22.4% poverty level. In addition to providing free resources that support a Boys and Girls Club and education centers, she brought in a traveling exhibit about water scarcity and a waste management information program to inform library patrons about recycling and conservation.

School librarian Christina Gavin, a past recipient of a Lambda Literary Grant for LGBTQ Writers in Schools, works at Midwood (N.Y.) High School. Her library offers grab bags of books and surprises for students, plus a makerspace that connects reading and entertainment media with self-expression.

Gerald B. Moore, of Charleston (S.C.) County Public Library and the ALA’s Black Caucus, promotes kids’ summer reading alongside “summer feeding,” with free food resources developed in partnership with Charleston County School District and the Lowcountry Food Bank. And Kathleen Nubel, adult services librarian at Des Moines (Iowa) Public Library, touts DMPL Community Fridges, and hired an AmeriCorps worker to help manage food donations.

Their examples, from across the political map and the economic spectrum, showed how libraries meet community needs. They also suggested how to combine the book and nonbook elements at ALA’s showcases, which ranged from a podcast recording booth to a Zine Pavilion for DIY crafts to a Test Tech Pilot Playground where librarians could test robotics kits and AI tools.