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ALA Conference 2011: A Preview

"The best reading, for the largest number, at the least cost."

With ALA coming up at the end of this month, we thought it might be beneficial to provide some context and previews for those of you headed there for the first time. Here are some things to keep in mind as you head down to NOLA:

The ALA Conference is older than the New York Public Library

After trying to find footing for nearly 20 years, the first official ALA Conference was held October 4-6, 1876 in Philadelphia at the Centennial Exposition. This was also when the ALA itself was founded. 103 librarians met (13 of whom were women, woohoo!) at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in order to create an Association that would “enable librarians to do their present work more easily and at less expense.”

Oh, and if you’re wondering, the NYPL opened in 1895.


As in, bigger than (you can decide for yourself if “greater than” also applies). The final BEA attendance number for 2011 has been posted at 23,067, while ALA 2010 squeaked past it with 25,444 attendants. This is especially surprising given ALA’s nomadic nature; in the last 10 years it’s been held everywhere from Washington D.C. (2010) to Anaheim (2008), Chicago (2009) to Boston (2005). And though BEA has been held in New York City for the past 10 years, a central location to the publishing industry that attends it, BEA’s numbers are continuously a few thousand lower than ALA’s every year. Maybe librarians are just more travel-friendly? ALA’s attendance numbers, however, are on the downswing, so we’ll be sure to keep an eye out for a report of this year’s attendance numbers post-conference.

ALA has all kinds of resources for first timers

  • ALA Ambassadors: For those of you who checked “I am a first time registrant of the ALA Annual Conference” on your registration form, you were automatically signed up to be welcomed by an ALA Ambassador who will answer your questions and help you make connections. (Why doesn’t BEA have this??)
  • Conference 101:  Long time ALA members will answer first-timers questions about how to read the conference programs and navigate the exhibit booths, so that you can make the most of your experience. Friday, 1:00-3:30PM
  • 101 Programs: The ALA recommends that first timers attend at least one 101 program, which will introduce you to the various divisions of the ALA and the basics of the conference. Check out page 23 of the Preliminary Program for more details.

Some very cool people are going to be there

Here are some who we’re most excited about:

  • Sue Gardner is a busy woman–in addition to being ALA President, she is also Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. She’ll be discussing Wikipedia‘s evolution and future at the ALA President’s Program Annual 2011. Sunday, 3:30-5:30PM
  • Molly Shannon is best known for her hilarious antics on Saturday Night Live, but this September marks the release of her debut children’s book Tilly the Trickster (Abrams). She will be speaking at the Closing General Session. Tuesday, 9:00-10:00AM

You can actually see some of New Orleans

ALA is close to the French Quarter, too

Just because ALA is held in a convention center and hotels doesn’t mean that while you’re there doesn’t mean you’ll be staring at windowless walls and getting washed out by florescent lights the whole time. ALA has kept its host city in mind, and has included several events that integrate New Orleans into the conference. Some examples:

  • Libraries Build Communities: Many of the libraries destroyed during Hurricane Katrina have still not been rebuilt or replaced. ALA is devoting an entire day for volunteers to help rebuild libraries and other community buildings. Make sure to sign up ahead of time with event code ALA6. Friday, 8:00AM-5:00PM
  • MINE: As part of their film program, ALA will be showing the documentary MINE (Film Movement), which documents the relationship between people and animals in New Orleans during and after Katrina. Friday, 8:00PM

And lastly, don’t forget: there’s a lot of fun to be had!

If it’s your first ALA, you may feel pressured to absorb as much information as you can. But if your brain ever gets a little too tired, you can check out these events:

  • Mystery Panel: Not that two authors–J. A. Jance and Harlan Coben, to be exact–talking about mysteries will require any less brain power than the other panels, but it might be a little more… mystifying. Saturday, 8:00-9:00AM
  • Live! @ your library Reading Stage: Remember how relaxing it was when your mom would read to you before bed? Upgrade to the actual authors at the Reading Stage, where this year’s readers will focus especially on poetry. Saturday & Sunday 11:00AM-4:00PM, Monday 11:00AM-2:00PM
  • Now Showing @ ALA Film Program: In addition to MINE, screenings will be held of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, Saturday 6:00PM; ALSC Presents: “Library of the Early Mind”, Saturday 8:00PM; and SSRT Feminist Task Force Presents: “Pink Saris“, Sunday, 6:00PM.
  • Seventh Annual Book Cart Drill Team World Championship: Teams of costumed librarians perform dances with decorated book carts. What could be more hilarious!? (We’ll try our darndest to track down photos from this year to show you). Sunday, 4:00-5:30PM

For more details, check out page 10 of the Preliminary Program.

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