I attended the American Library Association Annual Conference in Washington DC two weeks ago, and I meant to write about my experiences here, but I was distracted by the holiday weekend and by preparing to immediately leave on another trip, this time a family trip to Maine (I may write more about this trip after it’s over, as I am doing some internship things while I’m here). ALA Annual this year was my first in-person library conference, and it was a whole different experience from the many virtual conferences I have attended since starting in the library. I had a wonderful time, spent way too much money (DC is so expensive!) and met some amazing people. And I got books!! Of course.
ALA is, as I have been warned, huge, and even staying at a conference hotel meant staying half a mile away from the venue. The venue itself was enormous and confusing, and I got lost in the Exhibitor Hall looking for various stages at least twice. The Exhibitor Hall in particular was incredibly overwhelming, it was so huge. But I was able to attend a number of panels and book talks successfully, so that was important. I also was able to present my group’s poster “Digital Literacy Against Digital Violence” about the project I’ve been working on with the Preventing Digital Violence Committee. I was the only committee member attending ALA, so I presented on my own, but it was a really good experience.
I enjoyed presenting a poster in person much more than I had my previous experiences with virtual poster presentations, which become more like a type of lightning-talk, and are much less one on one. I liked being able to chat with people individually, find out where they were from, and talk about the specific questions they had about my poster. We also gave out bookmarks with QR codes for the Handbook, which wouldn’t have been possible in a virtual environment. I think those physical reminders of the project will be much more likely to bring people back to it than a mere link in a chat would be.
While I was in DC, I took the opportunity to visit the National Archives, as a sort of field trip for my internship, which was a fascinating experience. My Aunt who now lives in DC visited with me (she’s a regular visitor as a scholar herself) and one of her former students gave us a little impromptu tour. I was excited to see the founding documents, as one of my ancestors was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His signature sadly has faded too much to be seen on the original copy now, but we were able to see his likeness in the murals of the rotunda which was interesting as I’d never seen a picture of him before! As I wrote before, the security in the national archives is building is quite intense, and one certainly felt watched while we were there. But everyone was very nice, and I was able to speak later via zoom to one of the subject specialists and get a little bit more insight into how the archives and records administration collects and organizes their documents (it’s quite different from how I’m used to it being organized in our university archives!).
After I visited the Archives, I went back for two final events of my conference, however one was cancelled. I had been looking very much forward to the Drag Queen Story Time for Librarians event, but it was cancelled at the last minute. I’m not sure if it was a covid issue, a safety issue due to recent attacks on similar events, or some other reason, but I was extremely disappointed. The final event, a meet and greet for the Stonewall Award winners somewhat made up for it! I got a copy of all the award winners signed, except Malinda Lo’s (I got a copy, but she contracted Covid and couldn’t attend at the last minute, which was very sad).
The last thing I did in DC was have dinner at Annie’s Steakhouse in the Logan Circle neighborhood. It’s apparently a staple of the DC Gayborhood, with a long history of serving the gay community, so that was pretty exciting. The steak was delicious, the people were all my kind of people, and the neighborhood was well-stocked with rainbows! I walked back to my hotel rather than take a Lyft, to get a good look at the neighborhood. It was fun!
My one complaint about ALA is how expensive it is, and how that makes it rather inaccessible for lower-income librarians and library workers. It’s not just the conference itself which is expensive. My university covers the conference fees, and a certain amount of travel expenses, but even so I still ended up spending nearly $1000 to attend the conference. I was able to spend that money due to having a very low balance credit card to draw off, but I’m fairly lucky financially. How many marginalized voices are we missing at ALA because people can’t afford to attend such an expensive event held in a city as expensive as Washington DC? I wish ALA leadership would put some more thought into that (and no, a few attendance scholarships are not going to help, because there simply isn’t enough for all the people who need the help).
So anyway, that was my ALA! Did you attend? What was your favorite part?