Debrief: ALA Virtual 2020

It’s been a long time since I last posted something. I always mean to, and then I never get around to it. Before when I would blog, it was to place value on things I was doing in a job I didn’t love. Today, I’m compelled to capture the inspiration I feel from attending ALA Virtual 2020. Inspiration feels like something to hold onto, now that COVID-19 has changed our industry—possibly even forever, depending on who you ask.

I tried writing an in-depth post, but found the task of capturing everything impossible. Instead, I’m sharing the email I sent to my entire library today. I’ve redacted specific details related to my library, and in lieu of presentation slides I’m linking to the ALSC Blog recaps where appropriate.

Hi Everyone,

Thank you to [my director and manager] for the opportunity to attend ALA’s virtual conference. I’m attaching slides and handouts from some of the sessions I attended to share what I learned.

As we head into the holiday weekend, I wanted to also highlight some of my personal takeaways:

  • First, I’ll admit it was challenging for me to get into the mindset of best practices when so many of the things discussed feel outside the scope of my current “pandemic job.” Upon reflection, I realized that just because I can’t do something now doesn’t mean I can’t learn something or adapt something or even just keep something in my back pocket for later. Things will change. You never know when a training will be useful.
  • Second, I’ll say that we as library staff have, in my opinion, the best job in the land. We are uniquely positioned to make a lasting impact on people’s lives. We’re even doing that right now, even though it might feel different. Our historical legacy is not without its problems, but I truly believe we are headed toward an even brighter future. That bright future will take work, whether at the level of ALA, [our state library organization], or within our own buildings. There is no checklist of critical reflection and action; it is ongoing.

In her incredible keynote, ALA’s new Executive Director Tracie D. Hall notes that “libraries can be an accelerant of belonging and justice.” I think we know well the idea of libraries as a place of belonging at [our library] and continue to examine our spaces and policies to be more inclusive. But the word “justice” is an interesting one that I’ve been mulling on and, until recent events, hadn’t given as much thought. How can a library be an “accelerant of justice?”

Perhaps justice in the library means interrupting youth’s “reading trauma”, as Julie Stivers and Julia Torres discuss in Healing Reading Trauma: Rebuilding a Love of Reading Through Libraries for Liberation. Perhaps justice in the library means foregoing traditional leadership models and encouraging leadership at all levels, as Mandy Nasr, et al suggest in Take the Lead: Developing Library Leadership at All Levels. Or, perhaps justice in the library means advocating for underserved populations not only as patrons but as staff and stakeholders, as Renate Chancellor and Anthony Dunbar note of E.J. Josey’s legacy in E.J. Josey’s 1964 Charge: “Keep on Pushing.”

What does justice look like at [our library]? During the pandemic? After the pandemic? I’ll leave that question with you all because I don’t think the answer is an easy one. I also think the only way we’ll even come close to answering it is if we tackle it together.


I went to so many sessions that my head started to spin, but here are a few more short posts from ALSC live bloggers—my go-to resource when I miss out on any conference sessions:

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