Last month, about 7,000+ attendees from around the world participated in the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Virtual Meeting & Exhibits. From closing keynote speaker Dr. Jill Biden—the first lady of the United States—to Drs. Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, there were many awe-inspiring speakers, amazing programs, and learning sessions packed throughout January 22–26. In this blog post, I’ll highlight several takeaways from attending this virtual conference.
Takeaways from ALA Virtual Midwinter 2021:
- The opening session of the conference featured Drs. Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain, who co-edited Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019 (2021). Both highlighted the importance of recognizing the diverse experiences of Black people in America historically and in the present time. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist (2019), shared there were 80 writers and 10 poets who contributed to this project, and they covered various experiences in narratives and poems, particularly reflecting on 400 years in this book. Blain, author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (2018), highlighted some key figures and their stories—such as Elizabeth Key, who fought for her freedom in 1656 and was one of the first Black people to successfully sue the British government to secure her freedom in the colony of Virginia. They illuminated how the past continues to shape and impact the present through harrowing experiences of slavery, segregation, and racial discrimination. Their conversation was very engaging, and their new edited book should be on every library’s collection list.
- Update on the Value of Academic Libraries Initiative (ACRL): For academic librarians curious about assessment and impact of academic libraries during this time, this session covered the VAL committee’s charge, the ACRL’s Plan for Excellence, the Library Impact Grant Updates, and Library Learning Analytics Toolkit. These resources can be helpful for any academic library interested in considering new approaches to assessment. One specific resource that I want to point out is the Library Learning Analytics Toolkit. It is an important and free resource to help academic libraries interested in strategically collecting data, protecting privacy, and understanding student success data points. This toolkit also contains many resources and readings. It is worth checking out!
- The Future of Trust in the Age of Twin Pandemics of COVID-19 and Racial Injustice session was a timely and relevant session. The program moderator, Veronda J. Pitchford from Califa, started the session by explaining the three dimensions of trust on competency, honesty, and compassion. Pitchford asked, “What is trust looking like for libraries in the midst of pandemic, global issues, and unrest?” The speakers, Amanda J. Wilson from National Library of Medicine and Vanessa L. Kitzie from University of South Carolina, shared how users may perceive their libraries differently through trust. Trust shapes how people engage with information. How do your users perceive your resources, services, programs, and information from your library, particularly during this time? Kitzie asserted that trust is essential for libraries. Wilson asked, “How do we provide our information and program in a safe way?” Kitzie responded that libraries can address this by offering different modes of visibility. A major question was posed: “How do we leverage the trust imbued in libraries to begin filling the communication and information chasm dividing us all?” This session was very thought-provoking and helps us rethink how libraries must position their information, services, and resources in a way that builds community trust during these difficult times.
- Attendees were in for a treat to hear from the inaugural youth poet laureate of the United States, Amanda Gorman, who read a piece from her new upcoming book Change Sings (2021). Shortly after, first lady of the United States Dr. Jill Biden gave her closing keynote session. Her reflections and stories on her relationship with libraries, literacy, and education were uplifting messages for attendees. Dr. Biden also had an exciting conversation with ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr. As a community college educator, she revealed, “When I assign papers, the library is the first place I send my students because that’s where they learn to research.” She also shared the books that she was reading at the moment, such as The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson, and The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett.
- If you are on social media, particularly on Twitter, check out the hashtag #ALAMW21 to find other conversations and recaps of the conference experience!