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:

2018 LGBTQIA+ Starred Review Roundup

Over at Medal on My Mind, we’ve been hard at work sifting through all the titles eligible for the Stonewall Book Award this year. I created a Goodreads list of 2018 LGBTQIA+ children’s and YA lit to track all the titles. Then I decided it would be fun to embark on a little research project and concurrently track the number of those books that receive starred reviews. I’m no statistician, but it’s been super interesting to see how our choices for Stonewall compare with what the journals rank highest. Not to mention the types of stories, the kinds of identities, and the authors who are prized most.

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What Has Alec Been Up To?

Me at Crater Lake National Park during Ride the Rim 2018.

I’m sure you probably felt the same way but, boy, was this summer busy! So far, fall is forecasting a similar frenzy. But I’m a bit more optimistic that I’ll inch closer to some semblance of work/life balance without Summer Reading looming overhead. Though, to be honest, it’s still there because I’m already in the midst of planning next year’s Summer Reading. Out of sight, but certainly not out of mind…

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Saying Goodbye to Storytime

draw the line
Image credit: Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi (Roaring Brook Press, 2017)

Have you ever had the opportunity to take your dream job but then turned it down? I did recently. I turned down an opportunity to be our system’s Early Literacy Librarian, and I’ve been grappling with that choice ever since (hence the above photo). The short story is that I’m switching gears on this blog to focus on school-age programming. Read on for the long version.

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