American Library Association Conference: Focus on Literacy and Reading

This year, the American Library Association (ALA) held their annual conference virtually. While it limited networking, it also enabled more people to attend (because of cost, travel expenses, time). Furthermore, several sessions were available online on demand, so one could potentially attend more sessions than if attending physically. I was excited to take advantage of these elements.

In terms of literacy, collaborative and community-based partnerships were foremost and central. I spoke about the role of school libraries as literacy partners: as resource providers, as reading promoters, as information and digital literacy teachers, and as collaborators who bridge the school community and the community at large.

Another fascinating session featured Reading Nation Waterfall, which targets literacy for elementary children in six Native tribes. This federal grant-based project is using Little Free Libraries as the core element, complemented with community-based literacy practices. I serve as a consultant for that project.

Another major focus at the conference was equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). There were sessions on EDI in publishing: both in terms of soliciting more diverse authors as well as providing culturally responsive content. Collection development also needs to use a critical EDI lens to provide mirrors and windows to a variegated world. Particularly with the advent of the pandemic, librarians have pivoted to more online reading, and they need to pay attention to issues of digital access; for instance, librarians need to provide e-reader devices, and locate local free wifi hotspots for readers. Librarians also emphasized the need for welcoming environments that embrace all users. Other sessions also provided – and recommended – professional development on EDI and its application in library practice.

The closing keynote featured former President Barak Obama, who validated the importance of libraries for providing a world of information and ideas that can unite us.

Submitted by Dr. Lesley Farmer

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