National Conference of African American Librarians (August 5 – St. Louis)

My debut conference as a candidate for ALA President was the 9th National Conference of African American Librarians (NCAAL). No one can be involved in all parts of ALA and I believe that an important part of standing for election is engaging with colleagues in other parts of ALA in order to learn about their ideas and priorities.

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With Kelvin Watson, BCALA President

I want to thank Kelvin Watson, President of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), for warmly welcoming me, and Makiba Foster and Emily Guss, co-chairs of the conference planning committee, who led an impressive team that put on an outstanding event. And, not only was the conference outstanding – it was also imbued with a sense of fun and celebration!

The conference program was filled with thought-provoking sessions and speakers. Let me highlight a few:

Dr. Tukufu Zuberi, professor at University of Pennsylvania and a host of the PBS Series, History Detectives, gave an inspiring opening keynote on themes of coming to see the unseen and and naming the unnamed. The passion he displayed for his work is to me an example of what it means have life purpose and enjoy engaging with it. I’d love to invite him to speak at an ALA conferences and share more broadly his thoughts on equity and inclusion.

The panel discussion “Ferguson One Year Later: Community Perspectives – Lessons Learned” began with a presentation by Makiba Foster of a video sharing BCALA’s choosing to keep the NCAAL conference in St. Louis after the events in Ferguson. BCALA demonstrated by example – particularly in its response to the vandalism to the memorial tree that BCALA had dedicated in memory of Michael Brown, Jr. It is worth taking time to read the public statement issued by BCALA. Willie Miller covered the NCAAL Conference for American Libraries and his write-up of the details of the panel presentation is also worth reading. One of comments that is sticking with me was from Scott Bonner, director of the Ferguson Public Library, who reminded us all that “there’s no need that is too great for a library to do its best with.”

The final session that I was able to attend was “An Open Conversation with the ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion: Planning for Orlando and Beyond.” The charge of the Task Force states:

The Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion will develop a plan and strategic actions to build more equity, diversity, and inclusion among our members, the field of librarianship, and our communities.  The most important Task Force outcome is the public and honest conversation that will be generated by its plan and recommended actions.

Session co-facilitators Trevor Dawes and Andrew Jackson hosted drew out from participants a number of ideas and questions that can inform the Task Force’s recommendations. The conversation also included individual librarians sharing their experiences of isolation and other struggles within the profession. Though these issues are troubling, I also noted a forward-looking and we-can-make-this-better-together tone, which I believe bodes well for our shared commitment to addressing the issues that need addressing in order to move towards the vision of true equity and inclusion. I shared my own thoughts about how ALA needs to use technology to be more inclusive of those who are not able to attend conference and those who work in and for libraries but are not members. I was heartened to hear that this was supported by participants in the discussion and, after the discussion, I had individual conversations with a number of people who wanted to help move forward such efforts.

Finally, I want to thank the NCAAL conference planning committee for the wonderful opening reception, which featured a performance of the gripping “Sweet Jenn: A Living Exhibit” performed by Lakeetha Blakeney of Redeeming History Theatricals, as well as art fair featuring local St. Louis artists plus a DJ and some great dancing. A celebration of friendship, the arts, and library colleagues!

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