The Big Tent at Libraryland

This summer I attended the Annual Conference of the American Library Association for the first time. I was there as the winner of the 2016 Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize in Progressive Librarianship; my job was to present a paper on gender representation in literary publishing (forthcoming in Progressive Librarian) and, of course, to learn about the wider world of libraryland.

This year, more than 16,000 librarians descended on Orlando for Annual; you couldn’t eat dinner anywhere near the convention center without elbowing a path through a strange and wonderful forest of stuffed library tote bags. The mood was optimistic, but restrained: Annual took place just two weeks after the Pulse nightclub shootings, and it was easy to see that that horrific night was much on everyone’s mind. The conference opened with a Saturday morning memorial for the victims, which included speakers from ALA leadership, representatives from the GLBT Roundtable and REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking, and a surprise visit from Civil Rights Movement icon and Congressman John Lewis. The memorial closed with a scrolling display of the Pulse victims’ names, and silence.

For the rest of the conference, you could see rainbow ribbons given pride of place on many people’s bags and shirts. There was a blood drive; there was conversation and tears. There were librarians speaking with a little extra determination in presentations with titles like “Serving Up the Subversive” and “Diverse and Inclusive Metadata: Developing Cultural Competencies in Descriptive Practices.” Doing the work as it comes to us. I’m proud to be part of this community.

One thing I take away from most of the library conferences I’ve attended is an affirmation of joy in the work. Libraries aren’t utopias, but at their best they are spaces to be enthusiastic and to explore—and you can often see that when you talk to the people who are drawn to this profession. I bought a T-shirt bearing the legend “Azkabanned Books Club” from the Harry Potter Alliance booth on the exhibition floor and heard about how the Alliance combines intense HP fandom with civic engagement and social justice work. I stood in remarkably long and remarkably cheerful lines to nab ARCs and meet Jamie Lee Curtis. I spent an energizing evening with the Progressive Librarians Guild, discussing my project of heightened visibility for marginalized voices in our library’s Anthologies section, and listening in turn to their histories of library activism. It’s a big tent, libraryland, housing some big conversations. It was a privilege for me to represent the Poetry Center Library in the ALA Annual conversation this year. 


Sarah Kortemeier is the Poetry Center's Library Specialist.