Conference Corner: Day Two at ALA Annual Conference 2019

After the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast on Saturday, I visited the exhibits and then went to the Margaret Edwards Brunch, where M. T. Anderson was receiving a YALSA award for his books Feed and the two Octavian Nothing books.

At each seat, there was a copy of his book Feed.

Here’s the review of Feed that I wrote in 2003. I will take credit for being sure it would be a future classic! After all, it won the Margaret Edwards Award!

Here are my notes from the talk he gave after the meal:

He began at 22 years old as an office assistant at Candlewick Press.
He has been ahead of several trends by six years: Vampires, dystopian, steampunk… (Soon there should be a trend on nonfiction about World War I.)

It’s a good time to be writing for the young, and his speech was about Hope.

In the past, he’s written to leave the reader with anxiety and even panic. If we want things to be different, we need to do something.

Now he’s filled with hope and fury. There’s hope in action.

The turn of the century (when he started writing) was the time of the Death of Cute. Nothing was allowed to be innocent. The sweet had to bear the wound for the rest of us. The culture was engorged with disillusionment.

Bitter cynicism is often the sign of sensitivity.

The party that denied Darwinism became the party of social Darwinism.

He hopes his work of that period distinguishes itself with compassion.

It was the Age of Spoliation. His worries about that are: It became cliché and it could hurt kids’ sense of wonder.
If none of this has intrinsic meaning, we need to make meaning.

Don’t crush kids’ sense of wonder.

Training in happiness is as important as training in crisis.

We knew things were wrong but were too terrified to act. We were worried that kindness and generosity were a suckers’ belief. We tried to avoid thinking about it.

It’s easier to teach that nothing is good than to confront the bad.

Thirteen years of post-apocalyptic literature have brought us to a time when we don’t need to imagine a dystopian world; we live in one. Even the privileged can’t hide any longer.

The Age of Spoliation was protecting us from admitting the horror is real.

Authors who were eccentric and political in 2005 are now swamped.

The Age of Spoliation is over. Now is the Age of Action.

Teens today know the stakes. Our nation is galvanized and ready for action.

You’re here on this earth for a little while. Together, let’s make this the world you dream of.

Librarians are central in converting cheap cynicism to compassionate action.

Let’s act so the young don’t have to shun the cute, but fight for it.

After his speech, he signed the books we’d been given.

Next, I went to the exhibits and stopped by my co-worker’s poster session!

My next event was to attend the Auditorium Speaker Series with Eric Klinenberg, author of Palaces of the People being interviewed by Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden.

The book is about social infrastructure. Here are notes on their interview:

Carla Hayden: You included libraries!

Eric Klinenberg: I discovered the library later in life. And the idea of social infrastructure, which is just as important as other infrastructure.

After Hurricane Sandy, they held a design competition, and there was a proposal for a “Resilience Center” — it would be a building in every city across America, staffed with extras, stocked with resources, etc. (The whole room laughed because he described libraries.)

We’re searching everywhere for community. We walk by this place every day.

“The most amazing social infrastructure designers could ever build — it’s called the library.”

“The most extraordinary institution one could imagine is already here, the library.”

A lot of people think every problem needs a new solution. People in elite circles don’t realize all the library does.

We need libraries more than ever, but they’re still under threat.

Local leaders need to take advantage of the commitment of librarians. Think of libraries as essential social infrastructure.

Librarians are a critical part of democratic culture. Libraries are a safety net when social services are cut.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg reviewed his book before anyone had heard of him. How cool is it that a presidential candidate is talking about libraries?

The 2020 census will be online — we need libraries.

Wouldn’t you love to ask all candidates about libraries?

CH: Plant the Library Question! [If you’re ever in a town hall with a presidential candidate, ask them about libraries!]

EK: Libraries help people elevate themselves. The public library is still a place where massive numbers of people are going all the time to make something more of their lives.

He told about Virtual Bowling at Brooklyn Public Library.

Think of how many relationships happen because of the work you do in the library every day.

CH: It helps having someone not part of the library be an advocate.

EK: We need to bring the message to Congress.

The truth is that the library has transformed. The library is dynamic and has modernized.

Across the country, our infrastructure is out of date. Libraries are critical social infrastructure.

In libraries, people have experiences that aren’t pre-scripted. Something about the radical inclusiveness of the library is important.

His book is a story of librarians as much as libraries.

CH: Being a public librarian means you are empowering people.

EK: Librarians are critical actors in a social experiment.

What makes our communities work? When this incredibly powerful institution is there and invested in, things work.

Find language that works well. Shout it from the rooftops.

There’s a growing realization that democratic institutions are at risk.

There are not many places that invite communities to discuss issues together. Tech companies invest millions in social infrastructure. Meaningful social engagement happens in a physical space.

Data don’t speak for themselves. Just throwing numbers doesn’t do the trick.

There are different kinds of data: REcord what’s happening and explain it with qualitative data. After we have the numbers, we have to have a powerful narrative. We are wired for story.

Put together a story, based on good evidence, for why libraries deserve better.

Conference Corner: PLA Member Welcome Breakfast

The second day of ALA Annual Conference 2019 began with the PLA Member Welcome Breakfast — where I received the 2019 Allie Beth Martin Award. This award is given for “extraordinary range and depth of knowledge about books or other library materials; and distinguished ability to share that knowledge.”

I agree with the Newbery Honor winners that it’s a real treat to be given an award that doesn’t require a speech. In many ways, my work on the Newbery committee this year made my knowledge of books easier to come by, but I felt like the award also gave me some credit for the Sonderbooks website I’ve worked on since 2001. Who knew they gave an award for being obsessed with books?

All year I’d thought of getting on the Newbery committee as validation that I made the right choice in becoming a librarian. And since I wouldn’t have become a librarian if I hadn’t gotten divorced (probably would have continued to work in libraries part-time), it was also big strong evidence that God can work even bad things together for good.

Winning this award put a capstone on those things. Yes, being a librarian is my calling! How lovely to have this reinforced!

I was allowed to invite four guests, and since the conference was in DC, they were able to come. First, with my supervisor, Gary Goodson, who wrote my nomination:

I also invited Jessica Hudson, our library director, who had the idea to nominate her people for Public Library Association Awards, and Nancy Ryan, who used to work with me at my first Fairfax County library and suggested me for the award. My co-worker Suzanne Lapierre was at ALA that day and also came along.

And Fairfax County Public Library won *two* Public Library Association awards. This group won an award for a program series about fake news.

And the speaker at the breakfast was Ann Patchett!

She did a powerpoint presentation, and promised a list of the titles she mentioned on her website,

She didn’t want to talk about her new book, which would be full of spoilers, so she talked around it, talking about her life interviewing other authors.

Interviews are great for authors, not so great for the store (more work!).

She talked about authors she’s met. She loved J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, which she got to read early and was later panned by critics. But she hadn’t read any Harry Potter books, so maybe her lack of expectations helped.

Alan Alda changed her attitude to interviewing. He says to be prepared, then leave all the preparation behind and be completely in the present.

Her book Commonwealth was an autobiographical novel. None of it happened and all of it was true.

Then she interviewed Zadie Smith, who was very kind. She said that the mother in the book is the mother I’m afraid of becoming.

So she wrote a novel about her deepest fear — becoming a horrible stepmother.

She reread Angela’s Ashes to review how to write in first person.

Then she was distracted by children’s books, writing one illustrated by Robin Preiss Gleisman. And Sandra Boynton loaned her a house to work on her novel.

But she threw it away.

Then an interview with Barbara Kingsolver told her to go back to what she threw away.

And Kate DiCamillo gave her the ending of the book — after just hearing what it was about.

And she told a super interesting story of the trials and tribulations and many attempts to get that novel right. Meanwhile, she did multiple interviews and had 10 different houseguests in the month of April alone.

Afterward, she signed Advance Reader Copies for all of us!

Conference Corner: Opening Night ALA Annual Conference 2019

After a delightful ALSC Preconference on June 21, I headed to the Washington Convention Center and was on time to hear Jason Reynolds speak at the Opening Session — though I had to listen in the Overflow Room.

He called his talk “This Is the Ridiculous and Absurd Study of Architecture,” and the structure imitated the style of his new book, Look Both Ways.

Part One: He told the story of his mother’s first funeral.

She was at an old-fashioned funeral and was fumbled as they passed the little girl over the casket. (He told it much, much more colorfully than that!) She became obsessed with death.

At 17 years old, she began studying Buddhism and Hinduism.
She eventually joined the Catholic church because it was quiet and meditative.
When Jason was 12 years old, he said he didn’t want to go to church, and she said, “Okay.”

Part Two: Sundays at his friend Aaron’s house

On Sundays he’d sleep a little later and visit his best friend Aaron’s house.
Their family had 5 kids. Nobody had time to clean.
It was a place of freedom for Jason. (Jason’s house was a place of comfort for Aaron.)
Sunday was fried chicken at Aaron’s house.
Then they’d climb on the roof and share stories and dreams.

Part Three: The Library of Alexandria

In 300 BCE Alexander the Great was in Egypt. First thing he decided to do was build a library. Biggest library on earth. At its peak, it held 400,000 papyrus documents on its shelves. They created an overflow library that shared space with a temple.
Nobody knows what it looked like or how it disappeared.
The theory that’s most true: The Roman empire came in and they got rid of anything against it and burned the books.

Part Four: Rewind. Words from his mother:

“I don’t wanna go to church.” “Okay.”
“My job is to help you find your path, not stop you from looking for it.”
“Your body is a temple.”
“Anything that makes you feel bigger than your burden is sacred.”

Part Five: Principles

Come as you are.
All are welcome.
Turn away no one.
Build community.
Enact service.

Share stories to build community.
Narrative is what we use to fortify us.
Something’s the matter when people try to stop the narrative flow.

Every sacred thing suffers persecution.

Think about this:
Maybe what librarians truly are is architects.
Maybe we’re building walking, talking libraries.
Telling each other stories is storing books in our personal stacks.
Imagine training young people to actually be safe spaces.

The role of an architect:

1) Build a building that pays homage to you.
2) Build a building that services the world.

We’re creating walking, talking libraries.

He’s preaching to the choir — but choirs need to practice.


After that inspirational message, I went back to my car to get my wheeled bag (I have a doctor’s note) and hit the exhibits after the first wave of the Running of the Librarians had subsided.

I had some fun:

And I picked up some loot:

Finally, I headed to a restaurant right next to where I’d parked, where the complete Newbery committee was being treated to a nice dinner with the two Honor authors, Catherine Gilbert Murdock and Veera Hiranandani. It was the first we’d seen each other since January.

Here’s my place card:

We were at two tables, with an author at the center of each:

They spoke to us after dinner:

And traded tables during dessert:

After eating, they signed books for all of us.

Lali showed off her beautiful tattoo from the cover of The Night Diary.

Here are our two honor winners, Veera and Catherine:

And here are most of us with the authors (Alas! Abby, Eric, Pam, and Sue got cut out):

It was a joyous night!