ALA MidWinter

ALA Mid Winter 2017 is in the books! For those of you unfamiliar, The American Library Association (ALA) has two conferences each year: Annual in June and Midwinter in Jan/Feb. Midwinter is a much smaller conference, usually built around committee meetings. As with other professional conferences, this one is an important way to learn about changes and innovations in the field, to build networks and personal learning communities and to rejuvenate one’s professional soul.

My conference this year began on Friday with the ALSC Mini Institute. As someone who tends to read text more than images, I was opened to many new possibilities when the Institute began with a panel with Laura Dronzek & Kevin Henkes and Erin and Phil Stead.

I was on a WNDB panel during the first breakout session with Oralia Garza Cortes, Tim Tingle, Sarah Park Dahlen, K. T. Horning, Aisha Saeed and moderated by Ellen Oh. The panel, entitled “Why Is It So Difficult to Talk About Race, Culture and Other Marginalizations in Children’s Literature?” presented itself like another basic diversity conversation, but quickly went beyond that scope with the presence of so many experts (them, not me) and so many unique voices. In discussing the ever present debate about criticism vs. censorship, Oralia began by mentioning the censorship of marginalized people in children’s books. Sarah clarified the role of the scholar in this debate as one to provide historic and contextual information. K.T. reminded library that practitioners that while we don’t like the word ‘censor’ we too often do ‘censor’ our collections and there are many simple ways to transform our practices and policies to stop ‘censoring’. We talked of the necessity of critical, #ownvoices and the need for publishers to do more work prior to releasing a book, including the need to incorporate more diversity in their hiring and retention practices.

Tim Tingle related a beautiful, touching remembrance of his mother who had just recently passed away. There were few dry eyes in the room. I noted that If I’d heard Tim’s story and told it to the crowd gathered on his behalf, no one would have teared up. That’s the power of #ownvoices, and we need to hear those more often.

I didn’t take notes on the panel (or on the institute!) but ALA did record the session and will make it available for viewing. I spent time in the exhibit hall speaking with an academic publisher (I have a book idea, you all!) and discovering upcoming picture books.

The hall was a peculiar place to be as someone who is about to become part of a selection committee. Just like with this blog, there’s much I cannot/will not do for ethical reasons. I noticed a new trend in picture books to present the concept of how different and how alike we all are, usually through stories with animals.

You cannot help but notice the whiteness of librarianship at a conference. With such small numbers of black and brown faces, I can still feel as an outsider in this space where my own colleagues  will too often choose and action that dismisses my physical presence, as if I am invisible. No, this is not a constant occurrence, but it’s often enough that I  feel the need for a safe space sooner rather than later.

It’s a shame that librarians who need the support provided by the face to face contact of a conference are unable to afford it. Libraries are strapped and librarians are poorly paid. ALA does try to vary its location so that more people can attend, but it’s still expensive. This year, I notices more parents with children in the exhibit hall. If you’re reading this and you’re not a librarian, please know that you are able to buy a rather inexpensive pass to the exhibit hall where you can meet authors, obtains books at little to know cost and actually meet representatives from the various publishing houses. ALA is updating numerous executive documents to bring more inclusivity into library practices, but it’s not enough to just talk the talk. I think about the lack of representation at the ALSC Mini Institute, an important place to be in for children’s librarians. What if each of the ethnic caucuses were to provide scholarships just for 2 children’s librarians to attend the event? And what if in still trying to keep costs down for these librarians who rarely attend the conference, they match them with a mentor roommate? Many of these caucuses are having a difficult time attracting new members, perhaps it’s time to find new ways to bring them into the fold.

My evenings were magic! I was able to connect with a couple of my daughters friends and have wonderful meals and great conversations. I feel so blessed to have children who have friends that I can hang out with.

The awards. So much excitement there around the recognition of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, Nikki Grimes and March 3. Yet, so many books I have not read and cannot get excited about. Awards often put books in front of us that we’ve never heard of and that certainly happened this year. I was so happy for Sonia Patel being honored as a new author with Rani Patel In Full Effect (Cinco Puntos). While I’m hoping she has a new book coming out soon, I’m hoping she doesn’t have one in 2017 so that I can interview her.

ALA annual is in Chicago this year, a much more affordable trip for me because I can take the train up. My consortia often arranges for a bus to take area librarians up for a day in the exhibit hall when the conference is in CHI. I’d love to arrange for a bus to take up pre-services teachers from the College of Education and area educators. This would give them the opportunity to learn about trends in publishing, get some new books for their teaching, meet authors, wonder over to the vendor’s side of the hall and see what kinds of innovative services libraries are providing. And, perhaps they could have a few conversations with librarians during the trip that develop into learning filled opportunities for students.

It felt like a light crowd this year, and it was. There were just under 9,000 attendees while previous MidWinter conferences hosted around 11,500. Let’s innovate. Let’s integrate. Let’s keep making this an event that invigorates and brings out the best in us all.

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