Protests & Panels: A Librarian Goes to Washington
by Kellee Forkenbrock
I was a ball of nerves on my way to Washington, D.C. to attend the American Library Association’s (ALA) Annual Conference for the first time, but I knew I deserved to be there among the thousands of attendees. Even if I didn’t know it, the Black Caucus of the ALA (BCALA) was convinced. After participating in their Breaking Barriers symposium for library students, the organization made it possible for me and two dozen fellow students from across the country to attend. That said, the revelation did little to calm me as I settled into my seat next to my husband. As I reached for my phone to put it in airplane mode, my husband gave me a look at his screen and there was the news alert notification: Roe vs. Wade had been overturned.
And we’re headed to the nation’s capital. Wow, okay.
My frustration with the latest political news and the building anxiety already stirring in my gut was a terrible combination. By the time we landed in DC an hour later, I had decided to use my feelings about the SCOTUS ruling as an engine to ask what I can learn as a librarian to listen, understand, and connect. Reframing my focus helped me to better appreciate the opportunities that awaited me within the walls of the Washington Convention Center. If I could write here everything I gained from this experience, I’d be typing forever – so I’m going to boil it down to my three best takeaways from #ALAAC22:
The Librarians (and Their Collections!) are Evolving: Being a member of BCALA and a part of their Breaking Barriers cohort, I understood the responsibility I carried in being at the conference. It became clearer to me on Day One as I stood in the registration line. I got a broad perspective of how diverse librarianship is becoming. There were a wide range of people across genders and backgrounds, all seemingly eager to delve into the offerings of the conference. Entering the vast Exhibit Hall, I got another dose of the inclusion emerging within the field. One of the most exciting (and equally overwhelming) aspects of the ALA Conference is the sheer amount of free advanced reader copies (ARCs) the vendors were giving away. I won’t mention how many books I shipped back to my house, but I will say that the diversity of authors warmed my heart. From LGBTQIA+ young adult graphic novels to intense stories of Black and Brown people, it made me reflect on the dedication our library has in ensuring our collection is inclusive by design.
Local Businesses Have a Home in Public Libraries: Part of my work as a Public Services Librarian is engaging businesses and organizations, so I was looking forward to the two conference sessions facilitated by Libraries Build Business (LBB), an ALA initiative centered on offering services to local entrepreneurs and professionals. The first session called on libraries to collaborate with workforce partners & community members to create sustainable and diverse services for local professionals. The second session dished on how libraires can craft online courses for emerging entrepreneurs. The tips and takeaways I received from both sessions helped me to dig deeper into what our library can provide for North Liberty’s business owners. One of my bucket list wishes for our library is to be included as one of the LBB’s cohort libraries; these sessions made me feel a step closer to that goal.
Librarians Are Listening to the Community: The only thing more overwhelming than attending ALA for the first time is presenting for the first time – so I decided to do both. Along with two fellow panelists, I was a part of a roundtable discussion focused on the sustainability of library programs. I presented a recap of Lighthouse in the Library, a community-led conversation platform. The program was launched with funding from ALA’s Libraries Transforming Communities (LTC) grant, which the library was awarded in 2021. Listening to the stories of sustainability from my fellow panelists reassured me that libraries are being led by their communities, which is the way it should be. As librarians, it is our duty to listen to our neighbors and patrons. I know that is what we strive to do and being a part of this panel – and the conference – assured me that we are moving with our community in the right direction.