I attended ALA virtually, although I’d hoped to go in person, but the sudden and early appearance of my grandson upended those plans. So I’ve been availing myself of several of the sessions that were recorded and made available to all ALA registrants. I have found many very interesting and relevant sessions. ALA stepped up its programming game this year.

Opening Session: Patricia Wong interviews the Director of FCC

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. She is a powerful policy maker on information access and devoted to bridge the digital divide and close the homework gap. Rosenworcel discussed how her position in the FCC helps guide policy and that her goal is to provide equitable access to all. Equitable access is foundational. Digital formats as well as physical are now another way to provide equitable access. But access means not just providing digital content, but extends to include access to a device and broadband.  Individuals and communities need to have the technical capacity to participate in modern society, democracy and human life. Consistent, affordable and reliable access to broadband is key. This is where the FCC and library missions intersect.

Author talk: Channing Tatum

Did you know Channing Tatum is an author? Channing Tatum and Cody H. Carolin, his creative partner, were interviewed in a recorded author talk and discussed his children’s book series “The One and Only Sparkella”. Channing Tatum was inspired to write these books once he had a daughter, and recognized that she was dampening her exuberance once she started  pre-school. She would always wear glittery, sparkly costumes, but once she started school, he saw her  deciding what she should wear because she was concerned. “What are they going to think of me?”  He thought to write the book series because he doesn’t want her, or any little girl, to feel she has to dim her own light to fit in. (I might have to get those books for a certain kid in my life.)

News you can Use: Intellectual Freedom, Media Literacy, and Access to Information, A conversation with the New York Times.

  • Amy FIscus, Deputy Editor, The Morning 
  • Jim Rutenberg, Writer at Large
  • Cecilia Kang, Technology Reporter 
  • Dr. Nicole Cooke, Associate Professor, University of South Carolina

This was an interesting discussion with three journalists and a journalism professor on how members of the media address the information literacy challenge. It was noted by the moderator how librarians and journalists share a commitment to truth, and trust in information. Fiscus noted that truth and mainstream consensus are formed over time. Historically they were formed by a small group of people, all straight, white men. Kang mentioned how the pressure of deadline might make a reporter take the easy path, and rely on people who always are considered the “experts”. Experts were all traditionally  white men. With a diversified newsroom, reporters can now look outside the conventional , to get more voices heard. Finding diversity of voices/sources is hard but necessary, to make sure that all perspectives are represented in a story. The reporters all noted that they do a post mortem after each story to see if they sufficiently represented all sides and work to find more representative voices next time. When asked about concrete suggestions to fight misinformation. Kang said, a simple design idea is to make retractions more clear and obvious. Correct yourself with the same loudness you made the initial claim. Most quotable quote: Cooke who is a lifelong educator said this is at the core of why they do what they do. “Information is free but knowledge is expensive.” 

Addressing Critical Race Theory Challenges in your Library

  • Rhonda Evans: Assistant Chief Librarian, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
  • Kristen Pekoll,  Assistant Director, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
  • Deborah Caldwell-Stone, ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom
  • Shaundra Walker, Library Director, Georgia College

The library profession has recently experienced a significant increase in challenges to library materials, program, displays, reading lists and curriculum that address racial injustice, Black history, and diversity education. A prime example is the 2020 Top Ten Banned Books List, which includes titles such as Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This session discussed the increasingly important role that Critical Race Theory has played in recent library challenges. Walker noted that Critical Race Theory is a tool for explaining why things are the way they are and is one of a family of theories in legal theory. None others get critiqued or used in this way. It centers analysis of the law through the lens of race.

CRT has some boundaries: 

    • Racism is normal, embedded and invisible.
    • Interest convergence: marginalized communities are only given benefits when it converges with others
    • Whiteness as property. Transferable. Like a utility. Has value.
    • Counterstory telling, counter narratives. Promotes experiences of people of color. People of color have stories that are of value, but are not the same.

Interestingly, CRT, which is only discussed in law schools,  has been conflated with Culturally Responsive Teaching, another CRT. Culturally Responsive Teaching is related but seeks to recognize the culture of the learner and is a practice that many k-12 instructors utilize to increase inclusion in their classrooms. I have many notes about this session and am willing to discuss with others who may be interested. I’ll close with this quote from the representative from the ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom: “This is a will-full campaign of disinformation around what CRT is with the aim of vilifying materials that every student, teacher, librarian should have access to in their communities. The aim is to eliminate alternative views of US History, to vilify scholarship and understanding, to cripple public education and to drive dollars to charter schools.”   The ALA OIF is willing to help with any challenges that might be brought. The Intellectual Freedom Committee is working on a CRT toolkit which will include talking points, strategies and resources. Reach out to OIF@ala.org

BIPOC Burnout During Times of COVID: Impact of Service on Mental Health

  • Nathalie DeFelice, Rogers Honors Academy, College Advisor
  • Heather VanDyne, Fort Hays State University, Online Learning Librarian
  • Jason M. Broughton, Library of Congress, Director of National Library Service for the Blind and Disabled
  • Hilda H. LohGuan,Library Director, Alhambra Library
  • Raina Tuakoi, Youth Services Librarian, Department of Library and Recreation Services. City of Sunnyvale
  • Cindy Hohl, Director of Branch Operations, The Kansas City Public Library

This session defined burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress not successfully managed. Feelings of energy depletion, increased mental distance from one’s job, negativism and cynicism, and reduced professional efficacy.” Each of the library leaders discussed how burnout affected individuals in their libraries, and how they honored it, and tried to alleviate it. Their strategies included encouraging people to take time for themselves, being exceedingly understanding about the need to take time away from work, create a culture where people actively seek and are provided opportunities for self care. Beyond writing policy, they also demonstrated care by organizing a group walk, or just descending on a person that might be struggling and asking them to go for a coffee. Also discussed were the cultural differences that impact how willing one is to confide that they are burnt out. LohGuan said that in Asian communities, there is little discussion about mental health and a strong desire to just soldier through it. Broughton said that he was born in the south, and when a person complains of their challenges, others will respond with “well, everyone is suffering.” Whereas in the north, where he as worked much of his career, the response more frequently is “wow, you should get some help.”  This conversation was so empathetic and I appreciated the candor with which everyone was sharing their experiences. Again, I have many notes and are willing to discuss with anyone interested.

I was a different ALA than I expected, attending virtually instead of in person. But the availability of so much content after the conference was done was very helpful. And I also enjoyed the opportunity to watch more than one session that conflicted with another…something impossible to do in “real life.” The content of the conference was heavily political, I think, due to both the times we live in, and the location of the conference in DC. I will continue to review the content online and learn from others of strategies to respond to challenging issues we face.