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Celebrating Diversity at ALA Midwinter
Posted On February 17, 2015
Despite the threat of a blizzard, more than 7,000 librarians descended on Chicago’s McCormick Place for the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting, held Jan. 30–Feb. 3. Hundreds of flights were canceled on Feb. 1 due to the snowy situation, but attendees made the best of it—Oxford University Press hosted a Super Bowl beer-and-pizza tailgate party in its booth, and innovator Mick Ebeling kept spirits up during his ALA President’s Program on the power of DIY technology and his Not Impossible foundation.

The conference officially opened with a lively discussion on the role of graphic novels in education during the ERT/Booklist Author Forum. Cece Bell (author of El Deafo), Françoise Mouly (the New Yorker’s art director), Jeff Smith (author of Bone), and Gene Luen Yang (author of American Born Chinese) spoke about their first encounters with comics and graphic novels, debated the merits of the medium being known as for “all ages,” lauded graphic novels as teaching tools, and discussed how the medium contributes to diversity in children’s literature. The consensus was that graphic novels are a form of visual literacy no different from classic paintings and that students can benefit from graphic novels in a variety of ways (such as when they act as gateways for children who have trouble reading, as an introduction to cultures that aren’t mainstream, and as a way to explain concepts at a child’s level). Yang noted that using American Born Chinese in schools to “talk honestly about race” is “the book being used at its best.”

Design for Patrons

At ProQuest’s Intota update, Kathryn Harnish (director of product management), Jane Burke (VP of strategic initiatives), and Michelle D’Couto (senior product manager) talked about the strategy behind the library services platform. Intota grounds the traditional ILS approach in process (acquisitions, cataloging, and circulation, etc.) while retaining the essence of libraries: connecting people to resources. Its conceptual model was to conceive of services from the user level by thinking about the best delivery method and efficiency for patrons. It also focuses on providing e-resource management and usage data to librarians, integrating Summon for discovery, and delivering other tools not found in ILSs.

Intota’s second version is currently in development, and D’Couto shared its new look and functionality.

Stay on Target

Presentations don’t need to be long to make an impact. At the Jan. 31 Ignite Session, six librarian presenters spoke for 5 minutes each, using slides that auto-advanced to keep them on target. First was Angie Manfredi, who gave examples of children’s books that should be in every library’s collection: I Am Jazz, Sweetest Kulu, and others that feature diverse protagonists. Then Daniel Verbit spoke about how to avoid dead ends on library webpages. His advice was to make sure that error pages give instructions on what to do next. (For example, instead of giving a 404 error message, the error page could suggest a new search or link to the sitemap.) Everything on a library’s webpage should be findable, he said. Heidi Steiner Burkhardt suggested ways to make web writing stand out: Order content based on what the user will benefit from most, use headers and bulleted lists, and highlight keywords. Ivy Noelle Weir listed her optimal graphic novel collection for the library, including titles with diverse protagonists (e.g., Ms. Marvel and Young Avengers) for children, teens, and adults. Joe Collier and Jake Coolidge teamed up to present on their detailed map of Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery, suggesting that librarians should be doing “cool projects” by forming partnerships with people who have complementary skills to theirs. The final speaker, Edith Campbell, reiterated the importance of diversity in children’s literature, saying that librarians need to create a level playing field for all patrons by offering all kinds of books.

Advocate for Everyone

The idea that librarians should be advocates for promoting diversity was evident throughout the conference, including at a session on the history of the Americans With Disabilities Act (presenter Lennard J. Davis’ book Enabling Acts will be published in July 2015). A session on Career Online High School, a program that helps adults get their high school diplomas, featured four librarians who had recently implemented it to address the substantial number of their patrons who have not graduated (275 Degrees of Innovation: Online High School Diplomas @ Your Library). Candice Mack, Brian Cunningham, Cathy Crosthwaite, and Debra Dudek related their (mostly positive) experiences with the program and showed how it fosters a personal connection to learning at the library.

Libraries and Ebooks: Where Do We Go From Here? gave representatives from the ALA’s Digital Content Working Group (DCWG) a chance to update attendees on the organization’s recent developments in ebook lending, such as Simon & Schuster making its Buy It Now buttons optional on libraries’ websites and the DCWG having meetings with New York publishers to discuss next steps (they were “open to the idea of flexibility”). The group is starting to talk about ebook preservation, although “there’s more to do,” they said.

Next year’s conference will be in another city that’s likely to be hit with a snowstorm mid-event. Any chance the ALA meant Boston, Ga., when it scheduled the next Midwinter Meeting for Jan. 8–12, 2016?

Brandi Scardilli is the editor of NewsBreaks and Information Today.

Email Brandi Scardilli

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