Spotlight on the ALA

By Tashina Gunning, Project MUSE

Early on Friday, June 27, more than 2,000,000 people descended upon the streets of Chicago for one of the grandest celebrations in the city’s history. Most of them wore red, some dressed in hockey sweaters, others opted for bikini tops on the hot summer day, but all beamed with hometown pride.

By late afternoon the crowds began to disperse in Grant Park. Trains moved revelers to points north and south of the city, while carpools returned to the suburbs carrying countless festive, albeit tired, hockey fans. In the wake of the mass exodus, some 20,000 or so of the celebrants remained in the city. While many of those 20,000 were no doubt happy observers of (and perhaps even participants in) the Chicago Blackhawk’s Stanley Cup victory parade, their pilgrimage to Chicago was for a different purpose.

They came to Chicago to learn, to attend sessions and programs, to connect with old friends and meet new colleagues at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference. They listened to Afghan-born Khaled Hosseini discuss his new book, And the Mountains Echoed, and wonder at how different his life would be had he remained in Afghanistan, rather than moving to the United States as a young man. They maintained their commitment to intellectual freedom and debated challenging issues including privacy, government transparency, and open government, with even activist and author Alice Walker wading into the Edward Snowden debate in a speech to attendees. Their assistance in helping disadvantaged patrons enroll for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act was requested via a video cast Saturday morning by none other than President Obama. They engaged with author, chef, and television personality Giada De Laurentiis in a lively question and answer session that covered topics ranging from the immigrant experience in America to her favorite cooking spices (cinnamon and red pepper flakes, if you’re curious). They heard U.S. Congressman John Lewis tell stories of his challenges and victories during the Civil Rights Movement and of his hope that his new book March, will encourage Americans to “be hopeful, be optimistic that we can make something happen.”

Although well shy of 2,000,000, the more than 20,000 librarians and 6,000 exhibitors who attended the conference this summer made for the most highly attended ALA meeting in recent years.

Those of us representing Project MUSE in the exhibit hall fielded questions and comments from current and prospective library customers alike. Librarians were excited to hear that in 2014 the University of Minnesota Press and Chinese University Press, along with seven others, would be joining MUSE’s 83 book publishers. Others were eager to learn about new journals joining MUSE next year, including titles such as Great Plains Quarterly, Islamic Africa, and the Journal of Haitian Studies. Many librarians stopped by to ask about MUSE’s recent partnership with HighWire Press as the new digital hosting and delivery platform for Project MUSE, and about our plans to continue to be a sustainable provider of high-quality scholarship for libraries, publishers, and researchers alike.

The buzz in the conference programs and exhibit hall was positive, but there was still an underlying acknowledgement that there is still much work to be done in the library community and our nation. A recurring theme heard throughout the various programs was the agreement that libraries will play an increasingly crucial role to the well-being of the communities they serve and to the nation as a whole. Despite the inevitable ups and downs ahead, attendees seemed to take the words of Congressman Lewis to heart, and are hopeful and optimistic “that we can make something happen” along the way.