Conference Report: ALA Annual 2023

I am back! I have finally returned from Chicago, and am back at my desk today. I stayed in Chicago for a bit after ALA Annual finished to visit with my family and take my son to see some of the Chicago attractions. It was a nice little mini-vacation after a long conference, but I’m glad to be back.

And what a conference it was! I was kept so busy with ticketed events and organizing meetups and things, I feel like I barely saw the conference. But I did meet a ton of great people and make a ton of great connections (if I met you at Annual this year, this is your shout out! I’m so glad I got to run into you!). The first thing I did was Preservation in Action, which is apparently every year at Annual. It was an amazing experience. We worked with some oversize items in the archives of the Puerto Rican Community Center, mostly political posters and the like. It was amazing to get to do some of the preservation work that interests me. The whole day was a great learning experience!

Several posters in Spanish from the archives of the Puerto Rican Community Center.

Saturday and Sunday I had meet-ups with the Graphic Novels and Comics RoundTable and the Women and Gender Studies Section of ACRL, both partially organized by me. One was a nice group dinner with a good turn out. The other was a group visit to the Jane Addams Hull House, which I had never heard about but which I found fascinating! I didn’t know anything about Jane Addams before, but she sounds like a fascinating woman who did a truly incredible amount of work improving the lives of poor immigrants in the Chicago area. And almost as an afterthought, I discovered that she was queer! Of course, the museum didn’t say that, they were very careful just to say that she had a long-standing close relationship with another woman, Mary Smith. But just check out one of the poems she wrote to her! It’s always tricky with historical queerness, because nobody wants to overstep and use modern lenses to look at historical figures, but I think sometimes we go too far the other way too. That’s a whole post on it’s own though. Anyway, if you’re in Chicago, the Hull House is a great place to kill a few hours.

Black text on a white page inside a brown wood frame. Text reads "The 'mine' and 'thine' of wedded folk
Is often quite confusing
And Sometimes when they use the 'ours'
It sounds almost amusing.
But you and I may well defy
Both married folk and single
To do as well as we have done
the 'mine' and 'thine' to mingle.

undated poem Jane Addams to Mary Rozet Smith"
Poem from the Jane Addams Hull House

One of the activities at ALA this year was The Big Chair, where you could take a picture with the various signs protesting book bans, or you could read a passage from a banned book to be included in the Banned Books Week Youtube video they were creating. I think this was organized by ALA’s Unite Against Book Bans advocacy organization, but I’m not sure. I had a little time Sunday, and at first I was going to just take a picture, but halfway through waiting my turn, I decided to do a reading. So I read a page of “That One Summer” by the Tamaki sisters. I would have read Gender Queer, but it wasn’t on the shelf anymore when I went to look.

A white person wearing a light-colored button up shirt sitting in a giant red plush chair holding a sign that reads "Banning Books Silences Stories"
Me in the big chair!

Of course, I also did a poster presentation for the Survey on Usage and Accessibility of LGBTQ Archives. The poster turned out great, and I had a bunch of people stop and talk to me. It was a little overwhelming because the room for the posters was much smaller this year and so it got very crowded and hard to hear myself think over all the conversations. I was actually quite hoarse by the end (testosterone seems to be lessening my vocal chords’ endurance for these things), but everyone was really nice and seemed very interested. I even met a couple of guys who had been librarians in Gainesville before retirement, which was kinda cool! It was funny though, almost everyone who stopped to look at my poster saw that I was from UF/Florida and immediately asked if I was ok and how it had been doing that kind of research in Florida. 😆

Selfie of a white person wearing green glasses and a white patterned collared shirt standing in front of a poster titled "Survey of Usage and Accessility of LGBTQ+ Archival Material" with several infographics on it.
Selfie of me with my poster!

My final day of the conference was Monday, and all I did was go to a meetup with Diverse BookFinder folks organized by the Director. There were just a few of us, but we got to talk about the conference together and some future directions of the DBF, as well as plans to use connections made at ALA to further the DBF’s goals. It was a nice chill way to end the conference. Overall the conference went really well. I was staying with family and a bit far away from the conference, which I don’t think I’ll do again. The hour and a half train ride each way every day was a bit much on my already strained energy levels. I did see a lot of Chicago that way though.

I’m telling myself now that I’m not going to Annual next year. It’ll be too far away, too expensive, and there’s other smaller conferences I’d rather attend. But, well, that’s what I said about this year too so we’ll see!

3 thoughts on “Conference Report: ALA Annual 2023

  1. That sounds like a wonderful and productive trip. That’s wild about Jane Addams, that they prominently displayed that poem but didn’t use the Q-word.

    1. It’s actually fairly common for institutions to not explicitly state a queer identity for historical queer figures, often with the excuse that we can’t know how they would have identified so we can’t say. Whereas queer activists will rush to assign labels to any queer historical figure, regardless of if they would have thought of themselves as such. The answer is somewhere in the middle with things like “this person was queer because they thought/did/wrote XYZ, but they wouldn’t have identified as gay/bi/trans because those terms did not exist. Here are some terms that might have been used at that time, or there were no terms because it was never discussed.” Which is a lot to say, but I feel like if you have a whole museum you should be able to say that, and not just “she had a lifelong relationship with a woman and that was normal for college educated women of her time”. Which, I’m pretty sure not all college educated women of the early 20th century were lesbians, so I’m not a scholar of early 20th century queer history but I take a little issue with that characterization. Anyway, as you can see, I have a lot of feelings about this! XD

      1. Thank you for taking the time to explain all this. Your suggestion for how they could handle it differently seems very sound.

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