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ALA REWIND: ALA Session Sampler 2021
Posted On June 25, 2024
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Information Today.

For the second year, the ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition was a virtual event, full of live and on-demand sessions, interactive exhibitor pages, poster sessions (many presented with audio narration), and more. Held June 23–29, the conference offered talks on a variety of topics. Here are a few.


“#BlackGirlMagic: Amplifying Black Voices Through Storytelling” featured a conversation about the new book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic, edited by Lilly Workneh (head of digital content at the Rebel Girls entertainment brand) and with a foreword by CaShawn Thompson (who created #BlackGirlMagic). Workneh and Thompson discussed the origin of Black Girl Magic as a concept. Thompson first came up with the hashtag in 2013. She saw that Black women were craving a term that described them in a positive way to counteract the negativity in the media, especially social media, and knew that hashtags drive conversations. The hashtag has now been used more than a million times.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is the fourth volume in the Rebel Girls book series, and Thompson helped select which women were featured in it. All of the writers were Black women, and about 60 female and nonbinary illustrators from all over the world worked on it. The book showcases 100 women split into four categories: champions, creators, leaders, and innovators. Workneh and Thompson shared some of their favorite stories in the book, such as those covering Amanda Gorman, Ida B. Wells, Marsai Martin, Issa Rae, Ethiopian empress Taytu Betul, Octavia E. Butler, and the humanitarian Clara Hale.

Thompson defined Black Girl Magic as an inherent state of being for Black women and Black girls. They are born with it, and it manifests in myriad ways depending on where they are in the world, how they were raised, etc. She called it a birthright and a legacy, noting that when Black women can become their very best version of themselves, the world wins.


In “Celebrating Fifty Years of Stonewall Book Awards,” panelists explored the history of LGBT+ literature and shared books that have been nominated for the ALA Rainbow Round Table’s Stonewall Book Awards since 1971. John D’Emilio (University of Illinois–Chicago) stated that the 1950s–1960s was the worst time period to be LGBT+; oppression was intense, and the literature was lacking. Lesbian pulp fiction—cheap paperbacks written by heterosexual men for heterosexual men—was popular, and there were very few academic works (and what was published was negative). Novelists did break through, D’Emilio noted, such as Valerie Taylor, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg, and Martin Hoffman (author of The Gay World). After the Stonewall rebellion in 1969, militant books came out, including Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown.

Books in the 1970s finally featured serious academic study, covering LGBT+ history throughout hundreds of years. Christine Jenkins (University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign) talked about young adult (YA) books. The first LGBT+ YA book was 1969’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip by John Donovan. In the 1970s and 1980s, books featured silhouettes on the covers, not wanting to show LGBT+ characters in anything but the shadows. Stonewall-era books were about teens, but geared to adults, such as how to help parents deal with their children coming out.

As the years passed, there started to be books published directly for the YA audience. Covers explicitly started to show LGBT+ romance. The Stonewall Awards were originally for ages 18 and older, but there were books nominated that younger people would be interested in, so now there is an award category for YA titles. Jamie Campbell Naidoo (University of Alabama) spoke about the children’s award category, which was established in 2010. The first U.S. children’s book with overt LGBT+ content was 1979’s When Megan Went Away by Jane Severance, and it didn’t send a positive message about same-sex families. Naidoo shared some notable honorees: George by Alex Gino was a groundbreaking book for trans kids; the first children’s graphic novel to win was Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne; the first children’s book with a bisexual main character was Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee in 2017; and the first children’s book with an aromantic, asexual protagonist was Rick by Alex Gino in 2020.

Dontaná McPherson-Joseph (Oak Park Public Library) covered the graphic novel award category, noting that we now get stories of people whose sexuality or gender identity isn’t the crux of the story. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel in 2006 was the first graphic novel to win a Stonewall Book Award. McPherson-Joseph noted that there has been a surge in poetry collections in the awards recently. In 1993, Essex Hemphill was first Black person to win the award, which was for his book Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry. Rae-Anne Montague (Chicago State University) shared that the Stonewall Book Awards have “evolved and grown considerably.” She explained the history of the Rainbow Round Table and shared the first book to get the award: Patience & Sarah by Isabel Miller.

Montague noted that there are plenty of places to find LGBT+ literature: LGBT+ organizations, small presses, and other awards such as the Lambda Literary Awards, for example. She reiterated that the numbers and quality of LGBT+ books have increased and that attention to intersectionality has been growing.


“Food Access and Literacy in the Public Library: Leveraging Community Partnerships” was presented by Darcy Coover of Charleston County Public Library in South Carolina. She discussed how the library has had successful food access and food literacy programming to combat food deserts—which are defined based on population density and distance to a food store—and food insecurity—a lack of consistent access to food necessary for a healthy life. The two circumstances overlap, but people experiencing them have different needs. She shared a few programs that were developed through community partnerships with organizations such as the Charleston County School District and the local Lowcountry Food Bank.

In 2020, the Summer Feeding program served 11,500 meals to 2,850 kids and teens. During summer break, the school district delivers meals (hot lunches three times a week and shelf-stable breakfasts and lunches for nondelivery days) to seven library locations that are in areas with high poverty rates. Children younger than 18 can pick up two meals for every day of the week. Kids Café provides afterschool snacks. In the 2020–2021 school year, the program served 1,800-plus afterschool snacks to children, and Coover expects the number to increase this year when students go back to school in person.

The program is offered by Lowcountry Food Bank, and the library got involved: Snacks such as fruit, muffins, yogurt, and cheese were packaged by the food bank and then picked up by library workers to be delivered to various locations—currently, five library branches in areas with the most food insecurity.

This past year, the library also started doing pop-up produce giveaways with Lowcountry Food Bank. The library provides the walk-up or drive-through sites at or near its branches, and the food bank provides the produce. Both organizations’ staffers are on hand to help. People can visit to pick up reusable grocery bags of fresh fruits and vegetables (they can take as many bags as they need to feed their families). Another program, called Free & Fresh, offers a community refrigerator at one library branch in a rural area. From the fridge, residents can take produce that has been provided by various community partners.

The library hosts nutrition and cooking literacy programs, such as the 6-week Cooking Matters course, which focuses on kitchen skills, how to read nutrition labels, budgeting, and other key tasks. It is taught by Lowcountry Food Bank workers. There is also the Charlie Cart Project, a fully functional mobile kitchen on wheels. The food bank parks it at one of the library branches for 3–4 weeks. Library staffers create a curriculum for all ages that is based on recipes to use in the kitchen. There’s a full lesson plan for each recipe, which focuses on the science or history behind it; every recipe uses ingredients that are in season. The lessons also teach about knife handling, cooking methods (stir-frying, roasting, etc.), and new foods and flavors.

Coover concluded her presentation with advice on how to implement similar programming at your library: Rely on the experts who are in your community, and ask them if they want to do what they’re already doing with (and/or at) the library. Figure out small ways to start something you’re interested in trying—for example, do one produce giveaway and collect data. You can always scale up a program after you see what works. The obvious place to start is the local school district—see if it is doing summer lunches, and add yourself as a site. Then go to your local food bank—it already knows how to transport and distribute food, and you can help it reach more people in need than it might normally. Keep track of who it is you’re helping so community organizations see your value. You can also get in touch with the National Gleaning Project for reducing food waste, your local chamber of commerce, and local service organizations. If you have local farms, see if they would be willing to work with you. Your state health department will have information about food deserts and food insecurity in your area so you will know where to focus your efforts.

Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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