“There is no doubt that we have weathered quite a storm,” said Public Library Association president, Carolyn Anthony, kicking off the 2014 conference in Indianapolis, Ind. “And I am not just referring to the polar vortex.” Public libraries have faced “a storm of technology changes, budget cuts, and challenges to our relevancy,” she noted. “However, our profession has responded and become more nimble than ever,” adding the public library is now widely acknowledged to serve “many roles in the community beyond being a traditional book lender.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a 2014 library conference without an actual storm: like the blizzard and freezing temps that hit Philadelphia in time for the ALA Midwinter meeting in January, winter storm Vulcan hit Indy Wednesday, just in time for the conference, with snow and a 50 degree temperature drop, snarling travel for some, especially those coming from the North. Luckily, the impact on attendance was expected to be minimal, as the storm blew threw quickly, and the sun returned by Wednesday afternoon. With ALA annual set for Las Vegas in June, weather should finally not be an issue.
The show kicked off with author and bookstore owner Ann Patchett, who once again hosted an entertaining book discussion, as she did at the 2013 ALA annual conference. Unfortunately, the weather made an impact here, as Patchett’s flight was delayed, and she arrived late for her appearance.
Keynote speaker, civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson, then kicked off the show’s main program with an inspirational keynote that brought librarians to a standing ovation. The founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., and an acclaimed public interest lawyer, Stevenson used examples from his life’s work to highlight personal commitments librarians make to their communities. He offered librarians four points of emphasis to think about their work.
First, was the importance of “proximity.” He urged librarians to be visible and accessible to those who need libraries most. Second, not just to “accept the narrative” but to work to change it, as this is how broader cultural change and social justice comes about. Third, he stressed “being hopeful.” Although he acknowledged that it is often easier to fall into hopelessness, he urged librarians to remain positive in the face of their challenges. And last, he stressed the need to embrace tasks that are uncomfortable, whether confronting social injustice, or finding ways to bring new constituents into the library.
The show runs through Saturday, with a professional program, exhibit hours, and a strong slate of authors, including David Sedaris, who will close the show with a keynote on March 15.