What should the scholarly communications environment look like? Which strategic research questions should academic libraries pursue? How can the community eliminate barriers to services, spaces, and resources?
These themes and others are addressed in the Association of College and Research Libraries’ (ACRL) new scholarly communications research agenda, “Open and Equitable Scholarly Communcations: Creating a More Inclusive Future,” released last week. The agenda was developed over the course of a year by ACRL’s Research and Scholarly Environment Committee (ReSEC) with a high degree of involvement from the academic community—including frontline library personnel, individuals with disabilities, and people from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.
American Libraries talked with contributors Yasmeen Shorish (associate professor at James Madison University Libraries and ReSEC chair) and Nathan Hall (director of digital imaging and preservation services at Virginia Tech and ReSEC vice chair) to learn more about the action-oriented agenda, the importance of “situational openness,” and why representation and social justice are essential to scholarship.
ACRL’s new scholarly communications research agenda places a strong emphasis on EDI and social justice themes. The title of the agenda is “Open and Equitable Scholarly Communications: Creating a More Inclusive Future,” and the foreword indicates that one of the agenda’s strategic goals is to “include voices from historically underrepresented communities and those with different ways of knowing and making meaning.” Could you speak to this direction of the report?
Yasmeen Shorish: Given the goals of ACRL’s Plan for Excellence and the objectives of ReSEC, this is a natural direction for the report. I think that ReSEC leadership, notably Amy Buckland [head of research and scholarship at University of Guelph in Ontario] and Patricia Hswe [former ReSEC chair and program officer for scholarly communications at the Mellon Foundation], has been intentional in making the work we do as representative as possible. How can we discuss creating and sharing knowledge and not consider the myriad ways that humans communicate and make meaning? Without sounding melodramatic, to take a different approach would be to dilute and cheapen the richness and complexity of human culture.
Nathan Hall: By including that language in the original charge for this initiative, Buckland addressed a gap in scholarly communications dialogue, literature, and strategic planning. Other research agendas we’ve looked at were synthesized by a comparatively small number of voices from a consistent set of institutions and organizations. ReSEC saw potential for expanding research in the field by including perspectives that were more interdisciplinary, global, and diverse.
What has changed—and what has more or less stayed the same—since the research agenda was last updated in 2007?
Shorish: Certainly some themes carry through both reports—metrics, publishing modes, infrastructure. But in 2007, scholarly communication did not have as shared an understanding in librarianship as it does now. The field has matured and so has our engagement with it. We structured the new agenda so that research questions are a bit more specific, and we’ve identified promising areas of progress that can help readers learn more about the work already under way.
What was the thought behind defining “open”—for the purposes of the report—not in the context of free vs. pay content models or the definition of “open access” many in academia are familiar with, but as “removal of barriers to access”?
Hall: Many people in academia are already familiar with open access. Unfortunately, it means different things to different people. For some people, gold open access and article processing charges are the answer, maybe [for others] shorter embargo periods and green open access is the answer. “Removal of barriers to access” spells out our vision more clearly than a catchphrase that has a confusing history. While we do want to remove barriers to accessing journals and books, the report also envisions removal of barriers to the means of producing scholarship.
Does the idea of being “open” conflict with the report’s ideas of retaining and protecting intellectual rights and “intentionally limiting openness”?
Shorish: I don’t think so. This isn’t a binary, one-size-fits-all landscape. We need to apply situational openness: When is it possible to remove barriers to access and when is it ethically appropriate not to? We tried to acknowledge the spectrum of openness in the report, as a way to help bring this nuance to the fore and help people reframe how they think about openness or how they approach conversations about openness with communities.
Hall: I like how Yasmeen says “situational openness.” One example of when it is not ethically appropriate to remove barriers to access is when we’re talking about research data that is intended to be private to protect the participants, as is mandated in the National Institutes of Health Common Rule and implemented in Human Research Protection Programs. Beyond that, there are cultural works that communicate some observation or experience of reality between people. Sometimes these works are intended for a private or restricted audience for cultural or religious reasons, and to make them open for the benefit of others would be a form of colonialism.
What kind of work still needs to be done by academic libraries to better facilitate content accessibility for people with disabilities?
Shorish: On this topic, we tried to extend the conversation beyond where libraries are falling short with implementing existing standards. The agenda brings considerations of neurodiversity forward and questions how we can appropriately allocate resources to design and implement universally accessible systems.
The agenda also considers the responsibility of vendors with whom libraries contract and the positional power of libraries to set negotiation terms related to accessibility. Universal design principles have yet to be fully realized across libraries, so there is no shortage of work to be done.
The appendices of the agenda include a survey that was administered last year, which was completed by 362 library workers. Was there any data that surprised you?
Shorish: I was pleased that more than 800 people started the survey, but wish more of them had completed it! The drop off in respondents occurred when the survey asked what is needed to create compelling research projects. This got me thinking that maybe our respondents aren’t as confident in thinking about the researcher perspective vs. their own perspectives. That isn’t so unusual—as one would be more confident about oneself—but it was surprising that so many people skipped over all the research environment questions.
Regarding responses, it was surprising to me that so few people indicated user privacy and technical infrastructure in their top five issues affecting or influencing increased distribution and access to scholarly outputs of all forms.
How do you want librarians to use this research agenda? What are some practical actions mentioned in the report that you’re hoping academic libraries will undertake in their communities?
Hall: It’s intended to be a call to action to pursue the research questions further. It’s sort of a catalog of the current “known unknowns.” If researchers and practitioners examine these areas more closely, we’ll see better library programs and services for communities of users, and broader and deeper fulfillment of the American Library Association’s Core Values.
Shorish: While it is a research agenda, and we do want people to undertake projects to help address what has been identified, I hope that library personnel will read through this agenda and see themselves and their work reflected in the topics that are discussed. I hope that they will see how their own institutions are excelling—or not—in various areas. I hope library leaders will engage their communities, internally and externally, in discourse around these topics and find ways to grow their understanding and engagement. A first step to creating effective and sustaining change is to recognize the collective nature of our work and to pursue shared goals in that collaborative spirit. I hope this report helps people find a framework to do that.
Is there anything in the research agenda that resonated with you personally or that you think needs to be applied more fully at your own institution?
Shorish: The themes of representation and social justice resonated most acutely with me. My father was a professor of education, focused on policy studies—particularly as they related to colonizing forces and affected peoples. I learned early on that to disappear a people, you take away or delegitimize their ways of communicating their culture.
Scholarly communication is a means of communicating culture. The lack of representation across scholarly communications systems is a form of erasure. When people cannot communicate in ways that are reflective of their scholarly practices—because it does not “count” in a system, the infrastructure to share does not exist, there are no other people of a shared background, or you are inhibited from accessing knowledge because of paywalls or other barriers—these are all actions of erasure and colonization.
Hall: The aspects that deal with rethinking what counts as scholarship, which kinds of knowledge and work get incentivized, and the considerations about ethical limitations on open access resonated the most for me. Scholarly communication is traditionally focused on the written word: books, journals, theses and dissertations, and datasets that play a supporting role for those formats. My conversations with Camille Callison, who is a librarian and anthropologist at the University of Manitoba and a member of the Tahltan nation in Canada, and with Ryan Flahive from the Institute of American Indian Arts [in Santa Fe, New Mexico], really shaped the rest of my work on the research agenda. There are lots of ways to communicate knowledge and meaning between experts in a field. If we limit our focus to recorded communication that comes out of a Western European Post-Enlightenment tradition, then we ignore most of human experience while also framing it as unscholarly. I feel like there is a lot to learn if we reexamine our assumptions, values, and ethics in the context of other knowledge paradigms and formats.
Melissa Kay Walling joined the American Library Association (ALA) Member and Customer Service Office on June 17, bringing with her nearly 15 years of association experience. Most recently, as vice president of education and membership at the Association Forum of Chicagoland, she led efforts to improve membership recruitment and retention by revamping external-facing systems. She’s also held positions with the Institute of Real Estate Management and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
A former US Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana, Walling studied business administration at University of Michigan and is pursuing an MBA at University of Illinois. At ALA, she’ll lead efforts to develop, implement, and measure strategic initiatives around membership and oversee a fast-paced customer service center.
Walling answered our “11 Questions” to introduce herself to ALA members.
Coffee, tea, other?
Coffee, one cup, every day, non-negotiable.
What’s the first website or app you check in the morning?
Best career advice you’ve ever received?
“Hire for attitude.”
What drew you to librarianship/ALA?
I’m passionate about the impact that associations make in our communities, and ALA is one of the most impactful associations in Chicago.
Most distinct aspect of your personal office?
A favorite family photo from my mom’s 70th birthday celebration in Lake Placid, New York.
Fake Cheese: Cheetos, Hot Pockets … you name it, I like it.
Waitress at a Ponderosa Steakhouse in my hometown of Flint, Michigan.
What do you hope to bring to ALA and members?
I will strive to bring the best of ALA to our members every day. I believe that associations should be what their members want, how they want it, and when they want it.
If you had to choose any other profession, what would it be and why?
I would run a bed and breakfast. I love cooking (no fake cheese involved), hospitality, and connecting with others who like to travel. It’s the best blend of some of my personal passions.
Book you’re reading?
The Hundred Wells of Salaga by Ayesha Harruna Attah.
Tool used for keeping your life organized?
I am a list maker. Whether it’s the grocery list app on my phone or sticky notes at my desk, lists are the best tool that I have.
Emma Boettcher, user experience resident librarian at the University of Chicago, was nicknamed the “Giant Killer” by Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek after beating longtime champ James Holzhauer on June 3. Two more wins over the next two days earned her $97,002, but she came in third place on June 6 and got a consolation prize of $1,000. The episodes Boettcher appeared in were filmed in March, so she had to keep silent until the shows were aired. A lifelong Jeopardy! fan, Boettcher wrote her master’s paper in April 2016 at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science using text mining to find out whether the readability of the show’s questions could predict their difficulty levels. American Libraries spoke with her on how she prepared for the show and what it was like in the studio.
When did you first try out for Jeopardy?
I first auditioned for the show when I was just about to graduate from high school. At the time, I was trying to get on the show’s College Championship. (I could audition for that as a high school student because the tournament would tape and air when I was a college freshman.) I kept taking the online test and was eventually invited to audition again for the College Championship (2013), then for regular games (2015 and 2017). A year and a half after my August 2017 audition, I got the call to be on the show.
Were you ever tempted to give up trying to get on the show?
No, not at all! The auditions themselves are pretty fun. There’s a test everyone takes individually, and then the contestant coordinators call people up three at a time to play a mock game. Despite the stakes, everyone is cheering each other on. It’s a good way to spend your morning.
Was Trivial Pursuit your favorite board game growing up, or did you have others?
Trivial Pursuit still is my favorite game.
How did you prepare for the big day?
In some ways I’d been preparing for it for years, just by watching the show and keeping track of my scores while doing so. And since my 2017 audition, I’d made more of a habit of identifying weak spots to study up on. Sometimes those were ultraspecific (distinguishing the Romantic poets Keats vs. Shelley vs. Byron) and sometimes they were more general (all bodies of water except oceans). When I got the call, I had about three weeks to ramp up the studying before the game would be taped, and I took the time to review some wagering tutorials and focus on the classic lists: Oscar winners, world capitals, US presidents.
You’ve said your best category is Shakespeare. What are some of the other categories you excel in?
I was an English major, so Shakespeare is a good category for me, but so are most other literature and theater categories. It also helped that I worked at the Orange County Public Library in Hillsborough, North Carolina, for about a year in grad school, because I shelved a lot of recent bestsellers and children’s literature—two categories Jeopardy! goes to often. And I love the wordplay categories, like anagrams, “rhyme time,” “vowel-less bible books,” or those where each correct response is made up of two US state postal abbreviations. The show tends to only bring out “initials to Roman numerals to numbers” for tournament-level play, but it’s one of my favorites.
What are your worst categories?
Music is a huge blind spot for me. In my day-to-day life I tend to listen to podcasts or obsessively listen to the same album over and over until I have all the lyrics memorized—and that album is usually a musical theater cast recording.
What was your tensest moment on the show?
Because the show is so fast-paced, there’s not a lot of time for tension to build. The only pauses come when it’s time to wager, either for a Daily Double or for Final Jeopardy! Making the decision in my first game to wager everything on the “Capital ‘A’” Daily Double (home of the annual US sailboat show = Annapolis) was a no-brainer for me, but deciding what to wager in other scenarios, particularly when it was late in the game, was tougher.
How the heck did you know that Albany, New York, was once called Beverwyck?
I can’t speak for all Jeopardy! contestants, but I was guessing a lot of the time. I doubt I have ever read that Albany was once called Beverwyck, and if I did, I don’t think I would be able to retain and recall that information when I was on the show. But because Jeopardy!’s clues are so information-packed, responding becomes more about following a hunch and seeing if there’s enough evidence in the clue to support it. The category was “Capital ‘A’” for $1,200: “In 1664 the English changed its name from Beverwyck to this to honor James, Duke of it.” I don’t recall what my thought process was then, but looking at that clue again now, my first instinct is to focus on “James, Duke of it,” where I mentally autofill “York.” That’s not the right response—it’s not a capital, and it doesn’t begin with “A.” But it’s enough to get me thinking about state capitals. Maybe not York, but New York’s capital, Albany? That’s a capital beginning with A. I can look at other things in the clue to confirm—the English were definitely in that area by 1664, and Beverwyck sounds Dutch, doesn’t it? New York used to be a Dutch colony before it was an English one. That’s still a lot of question marks, but there’s so much pointing to Albany as the correct response that I felt like I should buzz in.
What were your winning strategies for playing the game?
I didn’t have a regimented strategy. In general, I wanted to start with higher-value clues, because the Daily Doubles are more likely to be there than in the top row of the board, and I’d prepared enough to feel like I had a good chance of getting them right. I knew I could bet big on certain Daily Doubles, but there were also categories where I felt like I should stay cautious. Apart from that, I was mostly playing to keep the momentum going. Sometimes that meant staying in a category I was doing well in, but other times it meant jumping around the board to try to find something I was comfortable with.
Were Jeopardy! questions your first choice as a final paper for your LIS degree?
In graduate school, I split my coursework between information retrieval and user experience (UX) classes. Because I was planning to go into UX after graduation, my first thought was to do a UX-related master’s paper. But at the same time I was developing a proposal for that topic, I was also completing my final project for a text-mining class, and I realized I wanted to take that work a little further. What I loved about using the Jeopardy! clues as a dataset was that it was measuring in part the cognitive effort required to process text, which is an important concept in UX as well.
Was it hard to convince your advisor that the topic was worthwhile?
Not at all, much to her credit. I’d taken several classes taught by Stephanie W. Haas, including one on natural language processing, before asking her to be my advisor, so she knew I was passionate about the topic and would approach it with academic rigor. There were some extremely creative master’s papers that came from my cohort at UNC, which I think speaks well not just of Stephanie, but of the faculty in general who were willing to mentor students no matter what their interests.
Did your research aid you in any practical way in playing?
No, but I’m still glad I did the research, if only to have something to talk about during the contestant interview portion.
What insights did your research give you about your current library work?
I’m currently the user experience resident librarian at University of Chicago. Both my master’s paper and my UX work respond to the same question: “Why is X—a Jeopardy! clue, searching the catalog, requesting a book through interlibrary loan—so difficult?” My master’s paper tried to answer that question using text mining, but the field of user experience says that the best way to answer that question is to observe people and talk with them. Even though the methods are very different, I learned a lot from researching readability in the context of my master’s paper, and I continue to advocate for simpler language in libraries.
Is there a text-mining PhD dissertation in the works some day?
There are definitely things about my master’s paper that I want to revisit and explore further, but I don’t know if it’s a PhD-level curiosity just yet. And working in user experience for the past three years has alerted me to a lot of interesting questions in human-computer interaction as well, so any further coursework might not be in text mining at all.
Did our 2017 feature on “badass librarians of Jeopardy!” inspire you?
How hard was it to keep from telling anyone about the show until now?
People were very respectful of the fact that I couldn’t say anything about the outcome of the game, so I didn’t get too many questions about it. And I knew I’d have more fun with it if everyone else was surprised, so that also made it easier to keep it a secret.
Have things changed for you at work now that your shows are airing?
Because the show airs at 3:30 p.m. in Chicago, I watched most of the games with my colleagues, who were all incredibly supportive. Elisabeth Long, the associate university librarian for my division, even brought in cake every day that I was on. Now that we’ve all gotten used to that, I think the pressure’s on to find the next Jeopardy! player among the library staff. I’m happy to help train anyone who’s interested!
Washington, D.C., is intrinsically connected to libraries and information. It’s a city that not only holds our shared history and culture in the Library of Congress but is also home to Capitol Hill, a site synonymous with our advocacy for policy and funding. After nine years away, ALA’s Annual Conference and Exhibition returns to our nation’s capital June 20–25. This year’s conference offers a host of professional development opportunities, new ideas to help shape the future of libraries, and a full slate of author programs, interesting speakers, and special events. This preview features a small sample of what to expect. For a complete listing of events, visit alaannual.org.
Sonia Sotomayor. Photo: Elena Seibert
Sonia Sotomayor, associate justice of the US Supreme Court and author of four books, will take the stage 8:30–9:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 22, for a conversation with her editor, Jill Santopolo of Philomel Books. For more on Sotomayor, whose latest book Just Ask! is forthcoming in September, read our interview.
The Opening General Session features Jason Reynolds, author of novel in verse Long Way Down, on Friday, June 21, 4–5:15 p.m. His poetic sensibility—inspired by an early appreciation for rap—is evident in his work for YA and middle-grade readers. For more on Reynolds, read our interview.
Nnedi Okorafor. Photo: Anyaugo Okorafor
ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo will welcome award-winning novelist and comic book writer Nnedi Okorafor as her ALA President’s Program speaker 3–5:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 23. Okorafor is known for weaving elements of African culture into her science fiction and fantasy work, and has won Hugo and Nebula awards for the first book in her Binti trilogy. The program will include the ALA Awards Presentation.
The Association for Library Service to Children’s (ALSC) Newbery-Caldecott-Legacy Awards Banquet—a celebration to honor the authors and illustrators of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Children’s Literature Legacy medalists and honorees—takes place Sunday, June 23, 6–11 p.m. Advance registration is required and tickets are $96. A limited number of tickets will be available at onsite registration until noon Friday.
Colson Whitehead. Photo: Madeline Whitehead
MacArthur Fellow, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of The Underground Railroad, Sag Harbor, and the upcoming The Nickel Boys Colson Whitehead will keynote the Freedom to Read Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, June 22, 6–8 p.m. Appetizers and a cash bar will be available. Tickets are $25.
At “50 Years of the Coretta Scott King Book Awards: A Live Taping of the Dewey Decibel Podcast,” 9 a.m. on Saturday, June 22, American Libraries Senior Editor Phil Morehart will lead a panel discussion featuring past award and honor recipients Ekua Holmes (illustrator of The Stuff of Stars), Christopher Myers (illustrator of Firebird), Angie Thomas (author of The Hate U Give), and Reynolds, in his second conference appearance. For more on the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, see our feature and highlighted conference programs below.
Mo Rocca. Photo: John Paul Filo/CBS
CBS Sunday Morning correspondent Mo Rocca will speak at the Closing General Session on Tuesday, June 25, 10–11:30 a.m. Rocca spent four years as a correspondent on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. His forthcoming book Mobituaries, based on his podcast of the same name, is an irreverent but deeply researched appreciation of extraordinary people, historical epochs, sitcom characters, and even snack foods that are no more.
The Inaugural Luncheon immediately follows the Closing General Session 11:45 a.m.–2 p.m. and includes food and entertainment. Tickets are $50.
The publisher-sponsored Auditorium Speaker Series brings accomplished authors, compelling celebrities, and exciting experts to the conference. This year’s lineup includes:
Saturday, June 22
10:30–11:30 a.m. Hoda Kotb, coanchor of NBC News’ Today, has reported on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the war in Iraq, the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza, the war in Afghanistan, and the Olympics. Her latest children’s book, You Are My Happy, is about gratitude for the things that bring happiness.
Carla Hayden and Eric Klinenberg
Saturday, June 22
3–4 p.m. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden will discuss the important role libraries play in their communities with Eric Klinenberg, New York University sociology professor and author of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality. The session will address the changing in-person and online needs of library users.
Frank Miller (left) and Tom Wheeler
Sunday, June 23
10:30–11:30 a.m. Graphic novelist Frank Miller, known for his Sin City series, and Tom Wheeler, storywriter for the upcoming film Dora and the Lost City of Gold, are creating and producing the Netflix show Cursed. Based on their book of the same name, the show follows a Druid named Nimue who teams up with a mysterious man to seek vengeance against the Red Paladins, who destroyed her family and village.
Monday, June 24
8:30–9:30 a.m. A native of Venezuela, journalist Mariana Atencio fled violence and oppression in her country and made a career in both Spanish- and English-language television in the US. Her new book, Perfectly You: Embracing the Power of Being Real, is grounded in the discovery of how every person can find their own voice and purpose in a seemingly broken world.
Monday, June 24
10:30–11:30 a.m. Actor George Takei is best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the Starship Enterprise, on Star Trek: The Original Series—but his story goes where few stories have gone before. Takei, who has become a leading figure in the fight for LGBTQ rights, will release a graphic memoir about his time in Japanese-American internment camps during World War II, They Called Us Enemy (with cowriters Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker).
Monday, June 24
3:30–4:30 p.m. Author and creative writing coach Tomi Adeyemi was a finalist for the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA) 2019 William C. Morris YA Debut Award for her New York Times–bestselling novel Children of Blood and Bone. For more on Adeyemi, see our interview.
Division presidents’ programs
ALA’s division presidents host intriguing thought leaders at every Annual Conference. This year’s offerings include:
Matt de la Peña
Saturday, June 22
9:30–11 a.m. American Association of School Librarians (AASL) President Kathryn Roots Lewis will host Matt De la Peña, author of the Newbery Medal–winning Last Stop on Market Street, for her program. De la Peña will speak about the journey that has influenced his writing, with a message of inclusiveness and equity.
Saturday, June 22
10:30 a.m.–noon Library Leadership and Management Association (LLAMA) President Lynn Hoffman will present a panel discussion on approaches and strategies for managers and administrators who are responding to incidents of harassment or bias, with a focus on trust-building and challenges to equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Saturday, June 22
10:30 a.m.–noon Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) President Lauren Pressley welcomes Angela Spranger, author of Why People Stay: Helping Your Employees Feel Seen, Safe, and Valued, to the program “Equity, Diversity, Inclusion … and Leadership: Where Do We Go from Here?” Spranger will demonstrate how leaders can effectively influence and motivate teams that struggle with poor communication, collaboration, culture, change, and conflict.
Saturday, June 22
1–2 p.m. The Marrakesh Treaty establishes rules for exchanging accessible formats across borders, a plan meant to increase the traditionally low number of foreign-language Braille books available in the US. Learn more in Association of Specialized, Government, and Cooperative Library Agencies President Adam Szczepaniak Jr.’s program, “Understanding the Marrakesh Treaty: Implications and Implementation for Librarians.”
Saturday, June 22
4–5:30 p.m. In the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) program “Inequity and the Disappearance of Reference and User Services,” Ann K. G. Brown will host a discussion of the importance of reference and user services in a time when changing service models create barriers and disadvantage some users, such as first-generation college students, English-language learners, and others who may experience practical challenges to asking for information and help.
Sunday, June 23
1–2 p.m. United for Libraries (UFL) President Skip Dye will host an advocacy-focused program.
Sunday, June 23
3–4 p.m. Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) President Bohyun Kim’s program will feature Meredith Broussard, assistant professor at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute of New York University. Broussard, author of Artificial Unintelligence: How Computers Misunderstand the World, will look at the inner workings and outer limits of technology as well as the eagerness that has led the public to accept and implement digital systems, even those that don’t work well.
Monday, June 24
10:30 a.m.–noon In Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) President Kristin E. Martin’s program, Marcia Chatelain, associate professor of history and African-American studies at Georgetown University, will discuss how fast-food franchises became one of the primary generators of wealth among black Americans, supplanting traditional black-owned businesses.
Monday, June 24
10:30 a.m.–noon YALSA President Crystle Martin’s program “Supporting Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion through Outcomes and Assessment” will highlight how data can inform program development, implementation, and continuous learning in a way that redresses institutional inequality and systemic power imbalances in teen services and society.
Monday, June 25
1–2:30 p.m. In the ALSC Charlemae Rollins President’s Program, “Subversive Activism: Creating Social Change through Libraries, Children’s Literature, and Art,” President Jamie Campbell Naidoo welcomes a panel that will examine activism and social change through multiple lenses.
Books and authors
Attendees will have the opportunity to hear from and meet dozens of bestselling authors and illustrators. Some of this year’s highlights include:
Saturday, June 22
11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. YALSA’s Margaret A. Edwards Brunch will feature author M. T. Anderson, winner of the 2019 Edwards Award recognizing significant and lasting contribution to writing for teens. Tickets are $39.
Saturday, June 22
8–10 p.m. The Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction Ceremony, cosponsored by RUSA and Booklist, will celebrate winners Kiese Laymon (for Heavy: An American Memoir) and Rebecca Makkai (for The Great Believers). Laura Lippman, bestselling author of the Tess Monaghan series, will be the featured speaker. Attendees are invited to mingle with the authors during dessert and a cash-bar reception. Tickets are $40.
Sunday, June 23
8–10 a.m. RUSA’s Literary Tastes: Celebrating the Best Reading of the Year will feature several authors of works that won RUSA book awards or were included on its best-of lists for adults. Breakfast is included, and book signings will immediately follow the event. Registration is required. Tickets are $15.
Sunday, June 23
9–10 a.m. YALSA’s YA Author Coffee Klatch, a speed dating–style event, features authors who have appeared on one of YALSA’s selected book lists or received one of its literary awards. Attendees will sit at a table, and every few minutes a new author will arrive to talk about their upcoming books. Tickets are $25.
Sunday, June 23
5:30–7:30 p.m. Comedian and UFL spokesperson Paula Poundstone will headline The Laugh’s on Us. The wine-and-cheese event will feature bestselling humor authors Bobbie Brown,Judy Gold,Josh Gondelman, and Gary Janetti, and a book signing will follow. Tickets are $60 in advance, $55 for UFL members, and $65 onsite if available.
Monday, June 25
8–10:30 a.m. The ALSC Awards Presentation will celebrate the Batchelder, Geisel, Sibert, and Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media awards. Continental breakfast and an opportunity to mingle with authors and illustrators precede the awards presentation, which starts promptly at 8:30 a.m.
Monday, June 24
2–4 p.m. Enjoy beverages and light snacks at UFL’s Gala Author Tea. Bestselling authors Megan Angelo, Gabriel Bump, Karl Marlantes, Kiley Reid, and Kate Elizabeth Russell will discuss their writing lives and forthcoming books, and signings will follow. UFL will also recognize the winners of the Baker & Taylor Awards during this event. Tickets are $60 in advance, $55 for UFL members, and $65 onsite if available.
Monday, June 24
8–10 p.m. At the Michael L. Printz Program and Reception, cosponsored by YALSA and Booklist, 2019 Printz Award–winning author Elizabeth Acevedo and honor book authors Elana K. Arnold, Deb Caletti, and Mary McCoy will speak about their writing. Tickets are $39. Please note that the program is on Monday and not (as in past years) Friday.
ALA works to make sure the conference experience is pleasant and accessible for all. For information on mobility assistance, interpreter services, and other accommodations, visit the Accessibility page.
ALA Store Hours
Friday, June 21: 1:30–5:30 p.m.
Saturday, June 22: 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Sunday, June 23: 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Monday, June 24: 8:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
A special pop-up ministore will operate near the registration area on Friday, June 21, 9:30 a.m–2:30 p.m.
Curating the Capital
ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services has put together a resource guide on the indigenous history of the D.C. area, as well as a list and map of businesses owned by people of color, women, and members of the LGBTQIA community.
Business and Financial Meetings
Friday, June 21
ALA Executive Board Meeting I, 8:30 a.m.–noon
ALA Finance and Audit/Budget Analysis and Review Joint Committee, 12:30–4 p.m.
Saturday, June 22
ALA Council/Executive Board/Membership Information Session, 3–4:30 p.m.
ALA Membership Meeting, 4:30–5:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 23
ALA Council I, 8–11 a.m.
ALA Planning and Budget Assembly, 1–2 p.m.
Monday, June 24
ALA Council II, 8:30–11:30 a.m.
ALA Executive Board II, 1–5 p.m.
Tuesday, June 25
ALA Council III, 7:45–9:45 a.m.
ALA Executive Board III, 2:30–5 p.m.
ALA invites members to provide input on creating the Association of the 21st century at one of its Remodel Recommendation Input Sessions with the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness (SCOE). Sessions will focus on the models recommended by SCOE and ask for participant feedback. Those who cannot make one of the following times will be invited to participate online.
Saturday, June 22: noon–1:30 p.m. and 2:30–4 p.m.
Sunday, June 23: noon–1:30 p.m. and 2:30–4 p.m.
Monday, June 24: noon–1:30 p.m.
Get Connected and Stay Informed
The ALA Annual Conference Scheduler and mobile app help you browse sessions, plan and organize your time, create a private or shareable calendar, add and update events and personal appointments, and keep track of exhibitor meetings.
This is a small selection of the hundreds of programs that will take place at Annual. See the full list at alaannual.org/scheduler, or find events related to program interests such as accessibility and universal design, intellectual freedom and ethics, and privacy on the Program Interests page.
Friday, June 21
8 a.m.–4 p.m. ALCTS will host “Change Management in Libraries and Technical Services,” a preconference that will explore change management both as a foundational concept and through specific examples and case studies such as ILS migrations, reorganizing technical services, or reallocating budgets. Tickets are $219 for ALCTS members, $269 for ALA members, and $319 for nonmembers.
Friday, June 21
8 a.m.–4 p.m. The 2017 hurricane season in Puerto Rico will serve as a case study in “Better Networking for Disasters: Improving Participation and Coordination for Disaster Response and Recovery of Cultural Heritage.” The workshop will be a mix of formal presentations, moderated panels, and a breakout session, and speakers will include preservation librarians, responders, and representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Tickets are $219 for ALCTS members, $269 for ALA members, and $319 for nonmembers.
Friday, June 21
8:30 a.m.–noon and 1 p.m.–4 p.m. ALA’s Public Programs Office (PPO) and Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services (ODLOS) will present “Beyond the Racial Stalemate.” Using a racial healing approach, facilitators will lead participants through a process of storytelling, vulnerability, and deep listening and provide them with a tool used to help uproot the flawed belief in a racial hierarchy. The two sessions of the program are identical; please register for only one. Tickets are $70 for ALA members, $75 for nonmembers.
Friday, June 21
8:30 a.m.–4 p.m. The ACRL preconference “Building Your Research Data Management (RDM) Toolkit: Integrating RDM into Your Liaison Work” will help liaisons identify existing skills and mindsets they can transfer to RDM services and create a plan for learning RDM-specific knowledge needed to serve their subject disciplines. Tickets are $255 for ACRL members, $295 for ALA members, and $335 for nonmembers.
Friday, June 21
9 a.m.–4 p.m. The Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook (N.Y.) University has developed a media literacy curriculum to help adults recognize fake news. The “Media Literacy at Your Library Training” preconference, presented by the Center and PPO, will train librarians in the curriculum, facilitate collaboration in brainstorming and developing program ideas, and help librarians develop a media literacy program plan. Tickets in advance are $150 for ALA members, $175 for nonmembers; onsite tickets are $250 for ALA members, $275 for nonmembers.
Saturday, June 22
1–2 p.m. How do you create advocates before a ballot initiative or budget request is on the agenda? In UFL’s “How Everyday Relationships Build Support and Help Libraries Transform,” the advocacy team from Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Public Library will demonstrate how it has built a community of library champions—ready to be activated when needed—through strategic communications planning, the Libraries Transform campaign, and..
Washington, D.C., is a city of many things: government, monuments, world-class museums, stunning architecture, history, and cherry trees. But until recently, its gourmet scene was known more for stodgy steakhouses than standout dining.
Today, rock-star chefs have transformed neighborhoods into epicurean destinations and turned what was once a dining drought into a wave of new restaurants, vibrant tastes, and international cuisines.
Ready to dig in? Here is a guide to the best flavors in our culinary capital, excerpted from Frommer’s EasyGuide to Washington, D.C., 2020.
Average price per person for entrée without appetizers, drinks, tax, or tip. $ under $10 $$ $11–$20 $$$ $21–$30 $$$$ $31 and up
Near the Convention Center
Busboys and Poets
2021 14th St., N.W.
It’s a bookstore, coffee shop, restaurant, theater, and community gathering place. The name refers to Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in the 1920s prior to gaining recognition as a poet. Go for the delectable breakfast of omelets and french toast, then go again for dinner to eat burgers, hot paninis, and pasta. Gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options are all available. B, L, D daily $
1334 9th St., N.W.
You won’t get much closer to an authentic Ethiopian homestyle meal than at this unassuming rowhouse restaurant in D.C.’s Little Ethiopia neighborhood. Expats proclaim the food—boldly flavored dishes from Ethiopia’s mountainous Chercher region—rivals their grandma’s cooking. The menu features classic plates of kitfo, gored gored, tibs, and tire siga, all varieties of Ethiopian dishes made with beef, as well as vegetarian salads and vegan entrees. L, D daily $
801 O St., N.W.
Convivial is just as warm, friendly, and jovial as its name suggests. Located in the heart of the historic Shaw neighborhood, this self-styled American café is spirited but not showy. Chef Cedric Maupillier presents traditional French food with a twist, including escargot “in a blanket.” Also great: roasted Parisian gnocchi with mushroom mousseline and fricassee, as well as bouillabaisse packed with sea bass, rockfish, and mussels in a saffron seafood broth. The menu changes frequently, but all the fish is sustainably sourced. The chef also supports the local Chesapeake Bay ecosystem by using invasive fish species in his dishes. L, D daily $$
Bubble waffle at Tiger Fork. Photo: Scott Suchman
1122 9th St., N.W.
In the bustling neighborhood around 9th St. NW, this rowhouse restaurant is a delightful retreat, with easy jazz music playing, crisp linens on the tables, and black-suited servers standing in wait. Chef-owner Tom Power’s combination of French, Japanese, and American tastes is working: The restaurant is continuously voted one of the best in the city. On the balanced, refreshing menu you’ll find everything from red snapper bisque to tuna tartare with crispy shallots and charcoal-grilled pork loin with bacon. The five-course tasting menu for $70 in the upstairs bar is one of the best deals in town. D daily $$$
122 Blagden Alley N.W.
Locals frequent this eatery, often several times a week, for the experience and food. One of only a handful of restaurants to earn Michelin stars in the D.C. area, the Dabney offers a small-plate menu, informed and attentive staff, and a cozy, farmhouse-style dining room. Try the delicious Eastern Shore–style chicken and dumplings or the seafood stew with a side of melt-in-your-mouth corn bread. Don’t miss desserts such as the crumble with Stayman apples or the sweet potato bread pudding. Head to the Dabney Cellar for inventive cocktails while you wait for your table upstairs. D (Tue–Sun) $$
Farmers and Distillers
600 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.
With more than 100 dishes available, it’s not hard to find something to like here. This restaurant represents an ode of sorts to the farmers who own it as well as to George Washington (“the original Founding Farmer”) and the surrounding multiethnic neighborhood of Mount Vernon. Everything from French and South American to Chinese and German cuisine is represented on the menu, which includes beer-can roasted chicken, glazed bacon lollis, and fisherman’s pasta. Reservations recommended. Brunch (Sat, Sun), B (M–F), L, D, daily $$
1015 7th St., N.W.
Across the street from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Kinship is a comfortable, sophisticated restaurant from veteran D.C. chef Eric Ziebold and partner Célia Laurent. There are three spaces in all: a book-lined lounge, a lively bar, and a minimalist dining room. Locals flock here for the modern à la carte American menu offering a little of everything: grilled Rhode Island squid, venison consommé, and crispy taro root. The menu changes frequently, but the delectable tastes and warm atmosphere won’t. D daily $$$
1090 I St., N.W.
New York chef and restaurateur David Chang brought his acclaimed Momofuku to CityCenterDC in 2015, and it’s been a star ever since. The dining room is big, loud, and just the spot for fun group dinners. The menu offers exciting takes on Chinese dishes from Chef Tae Strain. Bing, a Chinese flatbread that’s grilled to order seven different ways, is complemented by spicy cucumber salad and branzino ssäm. Try the dry-aged beef rib eye. Brunch (Sat, Sun), L, D daily $$$
Maine lobster french toast at Kinship. Photo: Kinship
777 I St., N.W., TechWorld Plaza
Veteran restaurateur Victor Albisu opened this upscale, Southwest-inspired companion to his popular chain Taco Bamba, located next door, in 2018. Taking its name from a popular Mexico City slang term meaning “cool,” Poca Madre elevates traditional foods from the Yucatán, Oaxaca, and other parts of Mexico. Think a beet and burrata tostada with a pickled beet mole, or sablefish with maduro miso. D daily $$
922 Blagden Alley N.W.
Finding a table at this trendy Hong Kong–inspired restaurant in Blagden Alley can be tough, but the wait is well worth it. Drawing from Hong Kong’s fast-paced street food scene, this Shaw neighborhood–based Chinese restaurant features creative versions of dim sum, barbecue, and seafood. Favorites include the humble plate of chili wontons and cold dan dan noodles. The bar menu is impressive, with ingredients drawn from Asian medicine. Reservations recommended. Brunch (Sat, Sun), D daily $$
1207 9th St., N.W.
A husband-and-wife duo are the masterminds behind this casual, eclectic restaurant serving comfort food with a twist. Chef David Deshaies shows off his skills with a “not-your-grandma’s” meatloaf, tempura-crisped kale nachos, and famed short ribs braised for 72 hours. Pastry chef Ana Deshaies bakes fresh corn bread muffins and desserts including a Smith Island carrot cake. Adjacent to the convention center, the diner is designed as two eateries—one open just for dinner, the other for breakfast and lunch—and connected by a cocktail bar. Brunch (Sat, Sun), B, L (M–F), D daily $$
Central Michel Richard
1001 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
The late, great French chef Michel Richard, who died in 2016, opened Central more than a decade ago, and it has remained on the hot list ever since.
Just five blocks from the White House, Central offers unfussy French-American fare in a fun, semicasual dining room. Of course, the classics are on the menu—including french onion soup, scallops, and cassoulet—but so are burgers, shrimp risotto, and Richard’s famed “faux gras,” made with chicken instead of duck or goose liver. Reservations recommended. Brunch (Sun), L (M–F), D daily $$$
601 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Chef Fabio Trabocchi and wife-partner Maria know how to have fun with their restaurants, which include Fiola Mare on Georgetown’s waterfront and Del Mar on the bustling Southwest waterfront. The restaurant has a head-turning, New York feel, with its wide swatch of bar at the front, white banquettes, and modern art. Trabocchi changes the menu daily, but the seasonal Italian fare is always superb. You might find lobster ravioli in cream sauce, olive-oil-poached Arctic char, or prosciutto-wrapped veal tenderloin. Reservations recommended. L (M–F), D daily $$$$
600 14th St., N.W.
Craving sushi? How about a burger and fries? Or a late-night snack? The Hamilton serves it all. A bustling, massive, two-story restaurant, the Hamilton balances a casual and often loud atmosphere with delectable fare upstairs and live music downstairs. A crispy shrimp tempura starter is complemented by poke bowls, short-rib poutine, and delicious clam chowder. Entrées include glazed meatloaf and sausage ragu. The bar menu is impressive, with at least 20 beers on draft and nearly 50 wines by the glass or bottle. Reservations recommended. L, D daily $$
Hill Country Barbecue Market
410 7th St., N.W.
Leave official Washington at the door when you enter Hill Country. This restaurant honors Austin, the self-styled barbecue and live-music capital of Texas. Known for its nightly live music downstairs and its low-country fare upstairs, Hill Country is true to its Texan roots. Dig into a mess of dry-rubbed Texas barbecue ribs, skillet corn bread, and sweet potato bourbon mash. Meats are priced by weight, from $5.50 per half a pound of barbecue chicken to $28 per pound of bone-in short ribs. There’s a late-night menu until 10 p.m. weekdays and 11 p.m. weekends, as well as a late happy hour 10 p.m.–1 a.m. L, D daily $$
480 7th St., N.W.
In the 26 years since José Andrés first opened this Spanish tapas restaurant, Andrés himself has grown into a culinary and humanitarian phenom. Jaleo stays true, serving some of the best tapas in the city, with 60 individual small plates on the menu. Look for fried dates wrapped in bacon, cured pork chorizo, or the “ultimate Spanish tapa”: potato salad with imported conserved tuna, carrots, peas, and mayonnaise. Adventurous items include sea urchin with diced peppers and trout roe, or baby squid from Cádiz sautéed with Spanish white beans. Reservations recommended. Brunch (Sat, Sun), L, D daily $$
Pisto manchego con huevos at Jaleo. Photo: Jaleo
713 H St., N.W.
Named for the 15-feet-wide, three-story-tall, matchbox-like space, this Chinatown pizzeria is a local favorite. It’s been plating thin-crust pizzas cooked in 900° wood-fired brick ovens for more than 10 years. Try the prosciutto and fig pizza with blue cheese and black pepper honey or the chicken pesto pizza. The appetizer of mini burgers topped with onion straws, the seared tuna and greens salad, and entrées like the shrimp and grits are all standouts. Reservations recommended. Brunch (Sat, Sun), L, D daily $$
Old Ebbitt Grill
675 15th St., N.W.
Open since 1856 (in this location since 1983), the Ebbitt is popular among tourists, but the elite of Washington show up too. Old Ebbitt is open very early to very late and offers a comforting menu of untrendy dishes like fried calamari, burgers, crab cakes, and hearty pastas. The oysters—among the freshest in town—are the standout here. Reservations recommended. B, L, D daily $$
633 D St., N.W.
Dishing up the best in modern Indian food, Chef Vikram Sunderam frequently hosts power players from the capital and beyond. The restaurant’s specialties are the palak chaat (crispy spinach in yogurt sauce), duck vindaloo, and tandoori salmon, along with a full menu of other Indian delights. Reservations recommended. L (M–F), D (M–Sat) $$$
701 9th St., N.W.
Restaurants come and go in D.C., but this Mediterranean tapas hotspot by José Andrés is a mainstay. Diners go on a culinary adventure here with meze (Mediterranean small plates) featuring a wide range of tastes from the Middle East, Greece, and Turkey. Signature dishes include baba ghanouj, crispy Brussels sprouts with coriander seed and barberries, and scallops in dill yogurt sauce. Reservations recommended. L, D daily $$
14th Street/U Street
Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U St., N.W.
No restaurant in D.C. has as much historic cachet as Ben’s Chili Bowl. Ben’s opened in 1958 and stayed open even when riots broke out throughout the city following the April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Ben’s history is noted on its walls, featuring photographs that cover the city’s past as well as Ben’s. That includes snapshots of the many celebrities who’ve dined here, from President Barack Obama to musician Mary J. Blige. Its famous half smoke—a quarter-pound, half-beef, half-pork smoked sausage served inside a warm bun and smothered with chili sauce—is a favorite. Ben’s has a few vegetarian-friendly options, too. Cash only. B (M–Sat), L, D daily $
Cork Wine Bar and Market
1805 14th St., N.W.
This cozy wine bar features an extensive menu of bottles, most from unusual, small producers, as well as wines by the glass. The menu includes about 20 small dishes nightly, all meant to be shared. Try the cheese and charcuterie boards, butternut squash risotto, or french fries with house-made ketchup. Then head to the café and market downstairs to shop for bottles of wine and gourmet food items. Reservations accepted. Brunch (Sun), L, D daily $$
Poulet rouge at Convivial. Photo: Convivial
1520 14th St., N.W.
One of the best Spanish tapas spots in the city, Estadio is a sound pick for a downtown dinner that balances traditional Spanish cuisine with creative flair. Diners can easily build a meal from the cheeses and cured meats alone, or try the roasted chorizos, grilled octopus, and seared scallops. The bar menu is impressive, with a variety of cocktails, beer, wine, and Spanish sherries to choose from. The “slushitos,” mixed frozen cocktails, vary with the season and don’t disappoint. Brunch (Sat, Sun), L (F), D daily $$
1601 14th St., N.W.
Evoking the look of a Parisian brasserie with red banquettes, a zinc-topped bar, lace curtains, and sidewalk patio, this restaurant tastes French, too. All the Parisian favorites are here, including escargot, onion soup, steak frites, and cheese. Tables are tight; it’s loud and fun, and always packed. Reservations recommended. Brunch (Sat, Sun), D daily $$$
Pearl Dive Oyster Palace
1612 14th St., N.W.
Freshly shucked oysters, while plentiful on the menu, aren’t the only draw at this lively seafood restaurant. It’s also made its name with gumbos, beignets, and po’ boy sandwiches. Cap the meal with a slice of pecan or key lime pie. The small inside/outside bar is the perfect people-watching spot on a warm evening. Waiting for a table? Head upstairs to Black Jack for craft cocktails and bocce courts. Brunch (F–Sun), D daily $$
Good Stuff Eatery
303 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E.
Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn opened this restaurant in 2008 to lines stretching around the block, and the family-owned eatery is still regularly packed. The Prez Obama burger (with applewood bacon, onion marmalade, Roquefort cheese, and horseradish mayo) is a fan favorite. Try the Nashville hot chicken (fried chicken breast and bread-and-butter pickles on a brioche bun with spicy pepper oil). Vegetarian options are also available. Tables fill up fast, so you might consider getting your burger to go, as many do. L, D (Mon–Sat) $
717 8th St., S.E.
This quirky little restaurant in Barracks Row was named America’s “best new restaurant” by Bon Appetit in 2014, and it’s easy to see why. Chef-owner Aaron Silverman’s success comes down to endearing service and a simple menu of unexpected tastes. The menu changes frequently, but a pork sausage-habanero-lychee salad is almost always included, as well as one family-style dish intended to share. Desserts are delightful, including a coconut-milk ice cream and popcorn brulée. Arrive early for
seating. D (Mon–Sat) $$
505 8th St., S.E.
This contemporary American diner planted its flag in Capitol Hill in 2010 and has since expanded to 14th Street, Maryland, and Virginia. The retro vibe is entertaining, and diners enjoy a comfort-food menu of grilled cheese, tomato soup, fried chicken, chili, and all-day breakfast. For dessert, try an “adult” milkshake like the Grasshopper, a blend of Kahlúa and crème de menthe, or stick to family-friendly favorites like the homemade pop tarts. Reservations recommended. B, L, D daily $$
3050 K St., N.W.
Sister restaurant to Fiola in Penn Quarter, Fiola Mare offers fine waterfront seafood dining. Sit outside on the sprawling patio overlooking the Potomac River or inside its glass-enclosed modern interior. Menus change daily and seasonally, but ahi tuna, burrata, and ceviche often set the stage for dishes like lobster ravioli, seafood brodetto, and roasted Norwegian halibut. Reservations recommended. Brunch (Sat, Sun), L (Tue–F), D daily $$$
1264 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
Neighborhood institution Martin’s has served every president from Harry Truman to George W. Bush. JFK even proposed to Jackie here in 1953. Fourth-generation proprietor Billy Martin is usually behind the bar or greeting regulars. Get Grandma Martin’s meatloaf, shepherd’s pie (Billy’s recipe), corned beef and cabbage, or Martin’s Delight (roasted turkey on toast, smothered in rarebit sauce). Then wash it down with a Guinness stout or one of their house cocktails. Brunch (Sat–Sun), L, D daily $–$$
Politics and Libations
Oh, the intrigue, the drama, the scandals. Like it or not, Washington,..
Billions of dollars in population-based federal funding—for everything from Medicaid to school lunch programs to Library Services and Technology Act grants—hinges on next year’s census. That data also affects how congressional districts are determined and drawn, which in turn decides how many electoral college votes a state will have. The repercussions of next year’s count will echo for at least a decade, particularly for the country’s most vulnerable communities.
The 2020 Census kicks off next April. As always, some census takers will be out knocking on doors. But for the first time, people will also be able to complete the questionnaires online. Librarians can help provide space, equipment, and information to guide patrons through the process.
Conducting a fair and accurate count isn’t as easy as it may seem. Many areas of the country have populations that are difficult to count. And a controversial new citizenship question proposed by the Trump administration could suppress the response rate (see sidebar).
Getting a complete count
The American Library Association (ALA) and its local, state, and federal partners have led the way to prepare libraries for the count. On April 1, ALA President Loida Garcia-Febo joined US Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham and other officials at a press conference to mark the one-year countdown to the census.
Citizenship and the Census
In March 2018, US Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the 2020 Census would ask whether respondents are US citizens. Ross, who argues that the question would help protect minority voting rights, nonetheless has testified to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee that it could lead to a 1% undercount (representing more than 3 million people). In August, the American Library Association (ALA), along with more than 140 other organizations, signed a letter of opposition to the question. In addition, this past April ALA joined an amicus brief to the US Supreme Court opposing the question.
Larra Clark, deputy director of ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office and deputy director of the Public Library Association, says that the proposed question raises new fears for achieving a complete count. “The Census Bureau is required by law to secure the data, which cannot be used against [respondents] by any government agency or court,” she says. But surveys have shown that immigrants and others do not have confidence that the information will remain private.
Oral arguments at the Supreme Court began April 23, and a decision is expected in June, when the census questionnaires are scheduled to be printed. Check The Scoop blog for updates.
“People from all walks of life come to libraries with questions, and we help them find answers,” Garcia-Febo said. She called the census a “tremendous opportunity to promote equity,” given that 99% of difficult-to-count areas—many of which are communities of color—are located within five miles of a public library. “Libraries are in inner-city schools, Hispanic-serving colleges, and remote tribal lands,” she said.
Garcia-Febo encouraged librarians to serve on Complete Count Committees, which bring together representatives from local, state, and tribal government; faith-based organizations; business associations; K–12 schools and universities; health care organizations; and other community groups to work to ensure accurate data. Assisting in the census can help libraries strengthen representation in their regions and provide an opportunity to demonstrate their value as they build relationships with local leaders.
“We want to make sure libraries are prepared and city, county, and state leaders understand the role libraries have played past and present,” says Larra Clark, deputy director of ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy Office and deputy director of the Public Library Association. Clark says that in 2010, more than 6,000 libraries served as Census questionnaire assistance centers. “Every time we see a new government program or service online, we see people turning to the library to be connected,” she explains. As she points out, ALA’s new census guide includes timelines, resources, and frequently asked questions.
Some librarians already are joining Complete Count Committees, and some have created their own guides and plans for assisting. Erik Berman, coordinator of services to young adults at Alameda County (Calif.) Library, has been working with the California Library Association to release its census guide for libraries. “Our mandate is to position libraries as an essential resource for the 2020 Census,” he says. The guide includes marketing material to help get the word out, information about hard-to-count groups, and other tools, according to Berman. He added that some libraries are developing innovative ways to help facilitate the process. Los Angeles Public Library, for instance, is working with Los Angeles County to host Census Action Kiosks (designated computers where patrons can complete the census questionnaire, supervised by a trained volunteer or staff person).
Helen Poyer, director of the Cobb County (Ga.) Public Library System (CCPLS), says she and two of her staff members recently attended a census training event hosted by the Georgia Municipal Association. The library also is planning to hold a job fair for those seeking work as census takers; officials from the local census office will visit the library for job training and recruitment, Poyer says.
Data and the census
CCPLS is taking a data-driven approach reviewing past census data from areas that were undercounted in 2010. “So far, we’ve found that age is a big factor in participation rates, as well as income and ethnicity,” says Corey Stegall, CCPLS geographic information system (GIS) analytics assistant. CCPLS will use the information to map branches in relation to those areas. “If people can’t get to libraries to use our computers, we can go out into the community with laptops and [mobile Wi-Fi] hotspots,” he adds.
Montana State Library is taking a similar approach by providing geographic data to the Montana Census and Economic Information Center, which helps ensure the center has up-to-date address information for its own GIS. Montana State Librarian Jennie Stapp, who serves on ALA’s 2020 Census Library Outreach and Education Task Force, says the census is critical for low-population states like Montana, where residents number about 1 million. Such states receive more federal funding since they likely don’t have a tax base large enough to fund major projects. That makes a complete count even more important.
Stapp recommends that libraries across the country prepare for the online census by evaluating the broadband and hardware requirements necessary for it.
Resources for libraries
ALA’s 2020 Census Library Outreach and Education Task Force is supporting libraries as they plan for the count. Task Force Chair Tracy Strobel, deputy director of Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library, says working on the census is an extension of what libraries already do to help less tech-savvy patrons with government forms. Some assistance may be as simple as showing patrons how to use a mouse or navigate between data fields in the online form, she says. She adds that the best thing library officials can do now is join Complete Count Committees: “It’s a double intention for advocacy for ourselves and advocacy for what we can do for others.”
Are You Ready?
The census is fast approaching, and ALA and partner organizations have developed resources to help libraries ensure an accurate count. Here are some steps librarians can take to prepare.
Within the research projects of doctoral students in library and information science lie ways to mitigate the challenges of an inequitable world. Too often, these valuable findings go underused. That’s why, each year, American Libraries highlights the top dissertations that can make a difference—for rural areas, indigenous communities, people experiencing homelessness, and many other populations.
This year’s crop includes research on the power of reading, librarian–teacher collaborations, and school librarians as academic leaders. The nine dissertations selected from digital archives and online databases have practical implications for school, public, academic, and special libraries; feature quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methodologies; and include measurable recommendations for change.
The students and their topics are:
Reham Isa Alshaheen (Simmons University in Boston) analyzed the user experience and information architecture of national library websites.
Carolina Barton (Concordia University Irvine in California) studied success factors in the transformation of academic libraries into learning commons.
Angel Krystina Washington Durr (University of North Texas in Denton) researched the challenge of identifying skill sets for data-science jobs.
Melanie Ann Lewis (Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia) examined the role of school librarians as academic leaders.
Sandra Littletree (University of Washington in Seattle) explored the historical development of tribal libraries, with a view toward the design of current and future library services.
Shelly Lynne McMullin (University of North Texas in Denton) considered similarities in information literacy and critical thinking skills.
Jessica M. Ross (University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa) studied the challenges of information dissemination in rural communities.
Jeanna Wersebe (University of California, San Diego) examined factors that contribute to successful collaboration between school librarians and teachers.
Deborah W. Yoho (University of South Carolina in Columbia) found that reading provides a powerful respite in the lives of marginalized library patrons, such as people experiencing homelessness.
Summary: Using methods such as content inventory, web information architecture assessment, and participant usability evaluation, Alshaheen analyzes the user experience and information architecture of 28 national library websites. The study examines the websites’ structure, menus, colors, and information quality, as well as how deeply users trust the sites’ content and the entities generating that content. Users were satisfied with the overall quality of these websites, though users who differed in age, gender, and educational background differ in their ratings of the sites. This dissertation provides a list of content elements that commonly appear on national library websites as well as a practical procedure to evaluate these sites.
Recommendations: Alshaheen recommends regular usability testing of national library websites with a view to understanding the needs of all users. For example, national library websites serve not only graduate students and researchers but also teachers, teenagers, professional workers, and older adults. Other factors to consider include readability for global users, standardizing date formats across countries, and the trustworthiness of content. Menu construction should be easily understood and not too complex. Designers should stick with one language per page and eschew jargon, excessive information, and animations. (The latter can be distracting and confusing.)
Summary: In an effort to cope with the speed of technological change, some academic libraries are transforming themselves into learning commons. Barton uses a mixed-methods approach to identify successful strategies such as deploying surveys to understand student needs, gaining administrative support, ensuring the presence of adequate technology, encouraging collaboration among library staff, introducing a café, and changing policies around food and noise in the library. Obstacles to success include inadequate funding, resistance among stakeholders and staff, difficulty in building partnerships with stakeholders, and ineffective teams.
Recommendations: Barton recommends a three-phase approach to developing a learning commons. Phase one is the time to research information, build a shared vision and strategic plan, gain leadership’s support, and secure resources. In phase two: design a welcoming, technology-rich, and flexible environment, with moveable furniture, group learning spaces, service desks, a sufficient number of power outlets, and virtual learning resources that are available 24/7. Phase three includes a technology plan to keep computers, printers, and other equipment up to date and in working condition. Further research is recommended to determine the effective development of staff members who work in a learning commons environment, as well as the best way to manage the sustainability of a learning commons.
Editor’s note: Barton died October 7, 2018.
Angel Krystina Washington Durr
Angel Krystina Washington Durr
PhD, University of North Texas
Summary: The proliferation of data requires the presence of data scientists—not only to manage and maintain it but also to make it available to those who need it. Durr posits that because there is no universal path to a data-science career, getting the right training for such a career can be challenging. Comparing iSchool course syllabi with data-science job postings, Durr finds that many of the skills required in these jobs are addressed in iSchool syllabi, with some topics receiving greater or lesser emphasis in each arena. The phrases ICT (information and communications technology) and machine learning appear more often in iSchool syllabi than in data-science job ads, while the phrase programming languages appears more often in data-science job ads. Also appearing more frequently in job ads than in iSchool syllabi is the word experience, suggesting that it would be wise for iSchools to provide more opportunities for hands-on experience.
Recommendations: One of the study’s recommendations is the development of a competency-based framework for the education of data-science professionals. A network of data-science employers and iSchool program developers could, first, add needed job skills to the iSchool curriculum, and second, help educate employers about additional skills that iSchool students may possess.
Summary: California school administrators assign leadership duties to both instructional coaches and teacher-librarians. This collective case study compares those roles in the context of implementing the California Common Core State Standards in English language arts. Lewis asks why administrators select instructional coaches and teacher-librarians for this task, and how these coaches and teacher-librarians collaborate to fulfill it. As Lewis shows, while administrators may choose either instructional coaches or teacher-librarians to fulfill this task, they prefer instructional coaches, viewing them as instructional leaders similar to themselves, while teacher-librarians are considered instructional resources to be called on only occasionally.
Recommendations: Lewis recommends that library media specialists actively promote school library research to district stakeholders. Students in teacher and administrator education programs need to learn about the instructional role of the teacher-librarian. School districts should develop and use appropriate job descriptions and evaluations to define and assess teacher-librarians. Further research might examine barriers or limitations that coaches and teacher-librarians encounter when providing instructional leadership.
Summary: Using qualitative methodologies informed by indigenous approaches to knowledge, Littletree traces the history and development of tribal libraries. As she explains, in the 1960s it was found, first, that library services for American Indians were inadequate, and second, that federal responsibility for Indian education included the responsibility to improve these services. By the 1970s, the country was in an era of self-determination, when people and communities were empowered to make their own choices, and American Indian library leaders, educators, community members, and allies sought opportunities with the US president and Congress to address the need for improved tribal libraries. Littletree notes that the 1978 White House Preconference on Indian Library and Information Services on or near Reservations may have been the most important step in the formation of tribal libraries.
Recommendations: All libraries face challenges—for example, the advent of ubiquitous technology. Tribal libraries face these same challenges, plus other obstacles unique to their own communities. Littletree recommends the development of a vision to provide tribal leaders and librarians with paths toward excellence for tribal libraries; for example, it may be time to consider a new National Indian Omnibus Library Bill. Tribal librarians could network with iSchools and LIS programs to incorporate the information needs of indigenous people and leadership for tribal librarians into the curriculum. Further research could explore effective leadership qualities in tribal librarianship, as well as the role of tribal councils in supporting library and information services in the community.
Shelly Lynne McMullin
Shelly Lynne McMullin
PhD, University of North Texas
Summary: In college learning, information literacy skills and critical-thinking skills are both important for success. Academics tend to believe the two skill sets are inherently related; however, to date, little evidence has supported this belief. McMullin uses an exploratory, mixed-methods approach to study the differences in information literacy and critical-thinking skills, as well as gender differences that might occur within each skill set. In addition to surveys, scores from two standardized tests—the California Critical Thinking Skills Test (CCTST) and the Standardized Assessment of Information Literacy Skills (SAILS)—are analyzed, along with student survey results. McMullin finds that students perform better on the CCTST than on the SAILS, even though the CCTST is considered more difficult. Her results show a statistically significant correlation between the tests, providing evidence that information literacy skills and critical-thinking skills may be inherently related in some categories.
Recommendations: While critical-thinking skills and information literacy skills are imperative, academic professionals may need to change how these skills are taught. As cognitively linked constructs, the two skill sets could be taught in tandem. K–12 teachers may also consider providing learning experiences that marry information literacy with critical thinking.
Summary: In rural communities without an integrated information infrastructure, or infostructure, it can be challenging for institutions to communicate accurate, up-to-date news and information. This exploratory, qualitative study examines how members of these communities create and disseminate information, as well as how they prefer to receive information. As the study notes, in close-knit communities there may be an information access gap for newcomers. As a result, marginalized people, including children, may be less informed about community news and information. Traditionally, public libraries are perceived as inclusive places; Ross’s study affirms this perception.
Recommendations: Public libraries are perceived as welcoming places and provide a variety of information resources. Libraries can leverage these assets to serve those new to a community. Those assets may include programming that reflects the needs of minority populations as well as language assistance such as interpreters for programs and homework. Outreach programs can effectively welcome people to the community and provide awareness of what the library can offer them.
EdD, University of California, San Diego
Summary: Wersebe seeks to understand how high school teachers, administrators, and teacher-librarians define collaboration, as well as the factors that contribute to successful collaboration. Results show that positive relationships among teachers, leadership, support staff, and students boost the success of collaborations. Other positive factors include a staff that values collaboration, support from leadership, knowledge of the teacher-librarian’s role and skill set, and a positive school culture. One barrier to successful collaboration: the view of the school library as merely a warehouse of books. Other barriers include lack of opportunities to collaborate, negative past experiences, and inflexible procedures.
Recommendations: Teacher-librarians are in leadership roles and can be proactive in providing opportunities for collaboration. They have a responsibility to educate administrators, teachers, and students about the skill sets and proficiencies that define their role. Building positive relationships has long been the purview of the teacher-librarian, and this ability will enhance collaborative ventures. Administrators can improve collaborative relationships by inviting teacher-librarians to meetings about curriculum writing or new programs. Educational leadership programs in colleges and universities should provide discussions and readings of the teacher-librarian impact on student achievement. Teacher education programs might offer preservice activities that include collaboration with teacher-librarians. Further research into high school collaborations should be conducted, using varying methodologies and samples.
Summary: Public librarians seek to provide equitable access to all patrons, including those experiencing homelessness. In this qualitative study, Yoho documents the power of reading for transitional and homeless populations. She finds that reading provides a distraction from negative feelings of loneliness, melancholy, and boredom; temporarily allows the reader to mentally “transport” out of negative experiences; helps manage the personal behaviors that may be necessary to obtain social services; and ameliorates stress by providing calm and comfort in uncertain circumstances.
Recommendations: Yoho recommends training librarians to serve patrons from vulnerable populations, such as those experiencing homelessness. There may even be a role for social-service training in LIS programs, though some may be more comfortable revisiting library policies to determine how to handle the social-services expectations of public library patrons. She recommends reviewing library policies and procedures around patron disruptions and complaints, as well as staff attitudes toward inclusiveness and outreach. In addition, she recommends creating programs that meet the digital literacy needs of vulnerable populations such as the homeless.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush. A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich.
This is just the smallest smattering of titles that have won Coretta Scott King (CSK) Book Awards in the last half-century. Founded in 1969, the awards have become the mark of excellence for books that are authored or illustrated by African Americans and that demonstrate an appreciation of African-American culture and universal human values. In addition to awards and honors for authors and illustrators, the John Steptoe Award for New Talent and the CSK–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement are also presented annually.
American Libraries celebrates this amazing half-century of excellence by sharing stories and thoughts from nine of the awards’ winners and committee members.
Ashley Bryan Recipient of the 2012 CSK–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement and three-time winner of the CSK award for illustration
Bryan Collier Has won the CSK Book Awards six times for illustration, most recently in 2016 for Trombone Shorty
Carolyn Garnes CSK Book Awards marketing chair and former deputy director of the Atlanta–Fulton Public Library System. From 1993 to 1997, she chaired the CSK Task Force, now known as the CSK Book Awards Committee
Eloise Greenfield Recipient of the 2018 CSK–Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement. In addition to six CSK author honor books, she wrote Africa Dream, winner of the 1978 author award
Claire Hartfield Won the 2019 CSK author award for A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919
Claudette McLinn Chair of the CSK Awards Committee and executive director of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature, a California-based nonprofit
Satia Orange Former director of ALA’s Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (now known as the Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services) and former staff liaison to ALA’s Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table
Javaka Steptoe Two-time winner of the CSK Book Award for illustration and the son of author and illustrator John Steptoe, for whom the CSK–John Steptoe Award for New Talent is named
Deborah Taylor Recipient of the 2015 CSK–Virginia Hamilton Practitioner Award for Lifetime Achievement and former coordinator of school and student services for Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library. She chaired the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee from 2007 to 2009
When you were a child, did you have access to many books that featured black characters?
Ashley Bryan: No, not when I was growing up.
Eloise Greenfield: In the 1930s, I didn’t encounter any books with African-American characters, but I didn’t know that the characters depicted were supposed to be white people. They didn’t look like the white people I saw. Many books used line drawings, black lines around white paper. Later, I knew better.
Claire Hartfield: When I was a kid—I mostly had my childhood in the Sixties—I don’t remember black people being portrayed much in mainstream culture at all. The civil rights movement was going on at the same time, so I was well aware of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panther Party, but it didn’t trickle down into the books I was given. As a little kid, I didn’t think, “Gee, why are there no portrayals?” It was more along the lines of: “Well, that’s just the way it is.” No one ever asked me about it. It wasn’t till later that I realized there was an absence.
I used to read books about little girls a lot, and one of my favorite series was [Sydney Taylor’s] All-of-a-Kind Family, which features a Jewish family. That was as close as I got to feeling like, “Okay, here’s a family that’s more like my family, not the typical white Christian family.”
Bryan Collier: There were only a few that really have stuck with me over the years. One is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats [published in 1962]. I remember opening it up, and I noticed that Peter and I looked just alike, and I remembered I had the same pajama print that Peter had in the book. I was 4 years old, and it just hit me at a visceral level. It felt almost bigger than magic.
Deborah Taylor: I was a young adult librarian in the early to mid-1970s, and I worked in a majority-African-American community. If there were books about race, they were about the “Negro problem,” so to speak, never by anyone actually growing up and living through those experiences. You could find an occasional biography, but there was not a lot. And many of the books that were about African-American life were not written by African Americans. A little bit later, we started to get books by Walter Dean Myers, and things like [Mildred Taylor’s] Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
Satia Orange: I’m almost 77. I tell you what I had: I had Little Black Sambo [by Helen Bannerman].
In 1969, the Coretta Scott King Book Award was founded by school librarians Mabel McKissick and Glyndon Greer, who met by chance at the ALA Annual Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Carolyn Garnes: They were in the exhibit hall, and they were going to the booth of John Carroll, a book publisher, and he had posters of Martin Luther King Jr. [to give away]. They arrived at his booth at the same time, and John had only one poster left. Anyway, they were preparing to go to the Newbery-Caldecott banquet, and they said, “No African American has ever won,” and were lamenting that. And John Carroll said to them, “Why don’t you ladies start your own award?” They looked at him and decided to take him up on that idea.
Mrs. Greer was friends with Coretta Scott King. This was the year after Dr. King had died. Mrs. Greer said, “You know, so much is being named for Dr. King. We need to not name this award King,” so she thought of Coretta, her friend and his widow. She called Mrs. King and asked would she mind if we named the award for her. Mrs. King said yes, not knowing what the devil Mrs. Greer was naming for her.
The founders had to struggle for submissions in the beginning, because there were not many African-American books in publication.
Orange: A couple of years later, Mrs. King came and spoke at the awards breakfast, and afterward she stayed for about an hour and shook hands and talked to individuals. The best part was, she called it “my award.”
Each year, ALA announces the winners of the top books for children and young adults, including the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, at its Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits, while the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Breakfast is held at the ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition.
What do you remember about either winning your first Coretta Scott King Book Award, or making the call to tell others that they’d won?
Greenfield: “Oh my goodness, I received the call!”
Javaka Steptoe: Whenever Midwinter comes around, there’s always a thought in the back of your head: “Am I gonna get a phone call or not?” They always call you at the crack of dawn. [laughs]
Garnes: People have asked me, “Why is the Coretta Scott King breakfast held so early in the morning?” Well, ALA’s Annual Conference schedule was already established. We planned the breakfast for 7:30 in the morning so it wouldn’t interfere with other activities. And you know, the committee doesn’t want to change.
The program book from the 42nd annual CSK Book Awards Breakfast.
Collier: I didn’t know anything about the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and I got this call at six in the morning the day of the award, librarians screaming on the phone. They told me I’d won, and I said, “Okay,” and then I hung the phone up and went back to sleep. They [called back and] said, “No, no, no, this is bigger than you think this is.” I was pleased and excited in some regard, but I didn’t know exactly what I was excited about until later. When I fully understood what the award meant, it was a great feeling.
Taylor: I was jury chair in 2000, when Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis won both the Coretta Scott King Book Award and the Newbery Medal. That was really special. It must have been Dr. King’s birthday when we were making the call, because [Curtis] kept saying, “And all on Dr. King’s birthday! All on Dr. King’s birthday!” I’ll never forget it.
Hartfield: I was at the gym on the elliptical, listening to music through my phone, and the phone rang, and I looked at the caller ID, and it was something from Seattle. So I just clicked it off, and the music came back on. Then it rang again, same number. So I picked up, and there was this voice that said, “Hello, is this Claire Hartfield? We just want to tell you you’ve won the Coretta Scott King Book Award.” It felt surreal. We talked for a few minutes, and then I went back to chugging away on the elliptical, trying to process it.
Garnes: They’re excited, and they know the CSK award is a stamp of approval for that book, it’s going to pretty much stay in print, and libraries all over the country are going to purchase it.
What influence have the CSK awards had on your career?
Collier: It took me seven years to get my first book deal. I went door to door to every publisher once a week with a portfolio. Over and over again. But once I got the award, I got 10 offers the next year.
Hartfield: Of course, I’m happy for myself, but what makes me happiest is that I’ve been trying to get people to know the history of what has come before. I was driven by a desire to contribute not just any old story that I was interested in, but to fill a chunk of history that no one had written about and that I felt was valuable for little kids to see. Through this award, I’m realizing that goal. I’m getting so many more inquiries. I feel like it’s getting out there to the public, and that’s really what I wanted.
Claudette McLinn: The Coretta Scott King awards have launched the careers of many major authors and illustrators, and if it wasn’t for the award, we wouldn’t have this great body of work that is a part of children’s literature now.
From 1992 to 2011, I had a multicultural children’s bookstore in Los Angeles called Bright Lights. The majority of the books were African American. I recall a lady in her 90s coming in, and she started crying. She said, “I have never seen any book that looked like me.” A lot of parents were overwhelmed. They said, “I just never knew there were so many books about us.”
Coretta Scott King speaking at the CSK Book Awards Breakfast at the 1993 ALA Annual Conference in New Orleans.
Steptoe: People like shiny things, so when they see a book with a medal on it, they say, “Oh, this must be a good book.” So where a book might be overlooked, someone might then take a second look. When they become familiar with the CSK awards, they come to expect excellence. They say history is written by the victors. I am very happy and excited that I can have agency in how the story is being told.
Garnes: When my branch [at Atlanta–Fulton Public Library System] came up on its 35th anniversary, I knew I wanted to do something special, so I wrote a grant to develop my African-American children’s collection. I actually got to order the [Coretta Scott King Book Award–winning] books. It was a rewarding experience. I had that collection in a special place, so when patrons walked in, they couldn’t miss it. Some of the parents just went straight there.
How has the landscape of children’s publishing changed in the last 50 years vis-à-vis African Americans?
Bryan: A librarian can help a family now by directing them to books about black children and black people. There’s much to refer to now.
McLinn: It’s better than what it was. But it’s still not enough for me. It’s not enough at all.
Hartfield: There are strides being made, for sure, and I definitely applaud that. But if we did not have the CSK awards, I think that a lot of really important children’s literature by African Americans would fly under the radar. The reality is that getting an honor means something to the public, it just does. It’s hard enough to get literature out into the world in any meaningful way, period, no matter what your race is.
By highlighting and spotlighting African-American literature specifically, it fills a hole in people’s knowledge. You want African-American kids to grow up with lots of stories that represent them, the ones I didn’t have when I was a kid. It gives you a different sense of self. I also think it’s important for kids who are not of color, to incorporate into their world kids who are not like them in terms of how they look and what their experiences are.
Steptoe: Whenever I go to ALA Annual, I see the same people most of the time. I love them, but there’s enough of us to have a lot more fresh blood, you know? That has to do not just with having [black] authors and illustrators but having people of color within the infrastructure of children’s books—the sellers, the marketers, the editors. I haven’t really seen that much change in those aspects. It would be good for younger generations to think about jobs in the publishing industry and library science.
Garnes: I am really proud of the African-American children’s literature that exists today. There is a rich body of books available for children to enjoy, for adults to share with children. It’s still not where we would like it in terms of the number of books published.
African-American authors and illustrators still need that recognition of the CSK award to recognize their talent. Let’s take Walter Dean Myers, for instance. He has won more Coretta Scott King awards than any other author: six awards and six honors. Myers was one of the authors who got young black boys reading. I don’t think he would have achieved the level of literary success if he had not been recognized by the Coretta Scott King Book Awards.
Collier: If you look at books published and written about African Americans made by African Americans, it’s [still] astonishingly low, like 1%–2% of the business. If the award disappeared, oftentimes writers and illustrators would never get recognized, even if they made the same book. The Coretta Scott King Book Awards were designed to level the playing field. The world would be empty without it. Continue reading and supporting the books, please. All hands on deck.
Paige can recommend a book and tell you about resources available at her school library. And she’s always ready with a joke if you need one. Included in her comic cache: “The past, present, and future walked into the library. It was tense!”
Paige isn’t a librarian. She’s not even human. She’s a chatbot—a basic virtual assistant, programmed with a decision tree of potential questions, their answers, and code telling the bot how to respond. Cynthia Sandler, library media specialist at North Salem (N.Y.) Middle School and High School, created Paige in 2017 to help her students interact with the library through its website.
At the end of 2018, about 41% of US consumers owned a smart speaker—almost twice as many as in 2017—most of which were equipped with Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa. Still more have access to voice assistants on their phones with Siri and Google Assistant. As the number of people interacting with their devices by voice grows, some libraries are exploring ways to build their presence on voice platforms. Customized apps—which Alexa calls “skills” and Google Assistant calls “actions”—allow the virtual assistants to answer queries and find information in specialized ways. Libraries are using these voice assistant functions for event calendars, catalog searches, holds, and advocacy.
At North Salem, Sandler began experimenting with chatbots and virtual assistants after Gary Green, the district’s technology director, noticed his 3rd-grade daughter was using the family’s Amazon Echo to ask Alexa for answers to her math homework.
“Gary and I are always looking for innovative things to do,” Sandler says. “[Voice assistants are] something that the students are so familiar with that we as adults might still be blown away by.”
The duo has since built chatbots for professional development events and to collect feedback and reflections after classes. And they’re now teaching students to build their own.
Students have asked for virtual assistants that will give homework help, guide test prep, and even provide emotional support. When Sandler and Green polled them, one of the top requests was for a voice assistant that could talk to them when they’re stressed. “A group of middle schoolers said they love talking [to Paige] because it’s nonjudgmental,” Green says.
“That’s why I added the jokes to Paige,” says Sandler.
It takes library skills
In many ways, the current landscape for voice technology is similar to the advent of mobile apps, according to Nicole Hennig, e-learning developer at University of Arizona Libraries and author of Siri, Alexa, and Other Digital Assistants: The Librarian’s Quick Guide (Libraries Unlimited, 2018). Voice search has “a lot of promise for people with disabilities, for elderly people, or opening up our skills to more people,” Hennig says. With the ever-growing popularity and use of these devices, she says librarians should become familiar with this technology and try it for themselves: “Now is a good time to experiment and gather data about what works and what doesn’t work for your community.”
Spokane (Wash.) Public Library installed Echo Dots around the building so users could ask about the library’s upcoming bond election.Photo: Spokane (Wash.) Public Library
For Paige’s next iteration, Sandler is migrating her onto a new platform to give her a voice and allow her to respond to spoken commands with Google actions. “If you’re looking to get into this, there are many, many tutorials out there on the web,” Sandler says.
Sandler believes that this technology is here to stay. People will “continue to seek immediate, personalized information in conversation,” she says. As a result, having tailor-made information accessible on voice platforms is important, Sandler says: “We can develop skills that our particular students need answers to. That will be the key: to find out what information is unique to a place that generic Alexa won’t be able to address.”
In 2018, Spokane (Wash.) Public Library (SPL) staffers were brainstorming ways to get the word out about the city’s upcoming bond election, which had the potential to fund three new library buildings and remodel four others. SPL’s IT team stepped up with an unusual suggestion: What about an Alexa skill?
A few days later, SPL users could install the “Imagine the future of Spokane Public Library” skill and ask Alexa for information about the bond: proposed branch changes, how to comment, and where to get more information. “It wasn’t an advocacy campaign,” says Amanda Donovan, communications director at SPL. “It was a campaign to educate the public on what would happen if it failed and what would happen if it passed.”
Staffers placed Echo Dots—the smallest Alexa-enabled speakers—in each branch with signs that prompted patrons to ask “Alexa, imagine the library.” “It was a novelty, and it was a really fun thing to do,” Donovan says. People interacted with Echo Dots in the libraries, and others downloaded the skill to their own smart speakers. Patrons queried the skill 90 times.
“We did a lot of work to get information out to the public,” Donovan says. The bond passed in November, “and I like to think that the Alexa skill was just a small part of that.”
In 2017, Iowa State University (ISU) Libraries in Ames developed its own skill, IowaStateLibFacts, to share information on collections, art, library spaces, and library history. “It was a pretty simple skill, but it gave us some experience in terms of what it takes to actually develop an Alexa skill,” says Greg Davis, assistant director for information technology at ISU. “It’s not the hardest thing in the world to do. But it also isn’t trivial.”
While there wasn’t much demand at the time for this skill, Davis and his colleagues wanted to get ahead of the trend after reading reports on the growth of smart assistants. With incoming students, they thought, “it’s going to be a matter of time before they wanted to have access to library information through their smart systems as well,” Davis says.
Last year, ISU Libraries expanded the skill. But in trying to create all the various ways a user can ask a question and then convert that data so the software can find the requested information, Davis says they encountered a roadblock. “That’s where it got beyond us in terms of trying to anticipate all those different ways someone may ask the question,” he says. So ISU Libraries turned to ThickStat (now known as ConverSight.ai), a company that specializes in voice search skills. The new skill, Parks Libro, allows Alexa to answer more complicated questions, including catalog searches by title, author, or genre, as well as event searches.
When it comes to more complicated skills—such as using voice assistants to conduct a database search or enter information, like placing materials on hold—the research and development necessary can be beyond a library’s means.
Davis predicts that library vendors will eventually “provide these types of capabilities out of the box.”
Public libraries already have some voice options for digital offerings through vendors. For instance, users of OverDrive’s Libby app can ask questions via Google Assistant; they can query the app for recommended titles, search the catalog, or reserve materials. The company is planning to expand the platform in the near future to make voice search services more accessible for libraries, according to Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive.
He acknowledges that companies like OverDrive have the resources and scale to tackle these types of technological innovations more easily than individual libraries can.
“We have the opportunity to do some [research and development] with holdings outside the library, such as major open educational resource materials,” Potash says. “In some cases, these are things that the libraries themselves would be doing if they had the resources. In some cases, we become a willing agent.”
Community skill set
For libraries that lack time or expertise to build their own skill or a budget to hire a developer, Hennig suggests they turn to experts within their communities. “Get in touch with people who are making informal skills and chat with them,” she advises.
For example, there are skills in the Alexa Skill Store for Houston Public Library and Los Angeles Public Library made by people who are unaffiliated with either library.
And in 2017, a patron approached Delaware County (Ohio) District Library (DCDL) about creating a voice assistant skill. Avneet Sarang, a local app developer, creates Alexa skills for his family as a hobby. When Sarang asked Alexa what was going on at the library, “of course she had no idea because nothing like that had been programmed,” says Nicole Fowles, communications manager at DCDL.
Sarang then brought the idea of creating a skill to the library. DCDL staffers surveyed other patrons to gauge interest and soon agreed to partner with Sarang’s consulting company to build it.
At first it started out small, providing branch hours and events information, but it has plans to evolve: “It would be very easy to say ‘Does the library have this book? Can you reserve it for me?’ That’s our next step,” Fowles says. “We’re very excited about just how the overall scale continues to grow and suit our patrons’ needs.”
Engagement within the community has been strong. Fowles says the library initially promoted the skill through press releases, the library website, and staff members, but patrons are now recommending it to one another.
Part of the appeal, too, is the ability to support a local entrepreneur. Sarang has gone on to develop Alexa skills for other libraries in the area as well.
Voices of concern
As with any new technology, working with voice computing presents challenges. Most voice assistants run on third-party platforms, and many—including Alexa and Google Assistant—store recordings of requests until a user deletes them.
In New York, the state’s board of regents is considering an amendment that could limit the use of voice assistants in schools because of the potential risk of exposing students’ personally identifiable information. Hennig says that understanding these possible risks is key. “It’s a good idea to keep up with all of those issues and educate yourself about it,” she says, “rather than dismiss it out of hand.”
For Sandler and Green, it comes down to conscious design. “We’re not so concerned if Google knows that somebody wants to know what’s for lunch every day,” says Green. “When we’re doing the design or predesign, we’re constantly thinking about ensuring that there’s no personal information.
Another concern is that the systems sometimes stumble with proper names. SPL had trouble sharing information on its Shadle branch. “Alexa was having a hard time with the way [it’s] pronounced [SHAY-dole],” Donovan says. “You had to know how to pronounce it the wrong way, I guess, to talk to her about it. So that was a little tricky.”
“There are a lot of mispronunciations,” agrees Potash. “All of this natural language processing and AI is based on having giant data sets that keep correcting and improving.”
Fowles says DCDL will “need to stay on our game” with development. “It’s not something that can just sit there and run in the background.” While she acknowledges this could be daunting for some libraries, she remains enthusiastic. “For me it’s exciting.”
“So many experts are saying that this is the next big wave of computing,” Hennig says. “It’s up to us to learn everything we can about these technologies and try to find good uses for them, and try to solve some of the privacy and security issues. We should try to be involved in making them go in a good direction.”
Late last year, the city of Colorado Springs shut down the Quarry, its largest homeless encampment, forcing its residents to disperse. As a result, says John Spears, executive director of Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD) in Colorado Springs, camping on library grounds reached its high point. About 90 people were sleeping on the grounds of PPLD’s Penrose branch on any given night, which Spears says fostered an unsafe environment for its regular unsheltered patrons as new people entered their camps. “It became increasingly unsafe and untenable for us to allow it,” he says. However, Spears and his colleagues wanted to consider solutions carefully: “We did not want to be one more place that just tried to play whack-a-mole and push the problem away.”
Ultimately, earlier this year the library instituted a camping ban, wherein anyone found between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. on the grounds of one of PPLD’s four branches could be ticketed for trespassing if they didn’t leave. “It was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done,” says Spears.
Some libraries across the country—particularly on the West Coast, which has the highest rates of people experiencing homelessness, according to a 2018 report from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development—are finding more unsheltered people camping on their grounds after hours. At some locations this has created safety issues for all patrons and distractions for librarians. At one time, says Julie Retherford, director of Chetco Community Public Library (CCPL) in Brookings, Oregon, more than 20 people were living in the library’s parking lot. She estimates that a quarter of the library staffers’ time was spent mediating disputes between people living on the grounds and other patrons.
“Along with homelessness often comes mental illness or addiction, and those [conditions] would bring their own conflicts that would involve the police and keep our regular patrons from the library,” she says. In late 2018, the library board voted to prohibit overnight parking and the use of tents, tarps, structures, and furniture on library grounds. They needed to be especially careful in instituting the ban, as the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals had recently issued an opinion stating that criminalizing what the decision refers to as “life-sustaining” activities—like sleeping or camping—on the street is cruel and unusual punishment and violates the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.
As librarians across the country serve and support all patrons regardless of housing status, it is clear that no one-size-fits-all solution exists for those who seek shelter after hours. In Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, where the number of people experiencing homelessness has quadrupled in recent years, Seattle Public Library (SPL) has attempted to dissuade loitering by altering its architecture, first by removing tables and chairs in the front plaza of its Ballard branch, and then by installing metal bars on concrete blocks out front. This helped a little bit, says Regional Manager Kip Roberson, but the library still encountered issues with food debris, open alcohol consumption, outdoor bathroom use, and drug needles dropped through grates, all of which deterred other patrons from using the library.
A tent sits outside of Seattle Public Library’s Ballard branch. The library installed exterior metal bars to discourage loitering. Photo: Alanna Ho
“The open drug use, the harassment of patrons just reached a tipping point,” he says. This spring, a team of outreach workers and police asked the campers to move to a park across the street. He knows it’s only a temporary fix. “We arrive in the morning, and there are still often campers who have spent the night,” he says. “We say, ‘Good morning. The library’s opening soon, so we’ll need you to pack up and move your stuff off library property.’”
Making stronger connections
No solution regarding camping patrons comes without unease. “Conflicted is the right word,” says William O’Hearn, former director of Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois, of the city’s proposal to declare the library a closed campus in the evening. (The city council narrowly rejected the plan in July 2018 out of concerns that it would not effectively address the issue.)
The library property had turned into what O’Hearn describes as an “open-air bar” at night. He wants to make it clear that it wasn’t the library’s unsheltered regulars who were the issue—it was the 40–60 nighttime interlopers who came by to drink, sell or use drugs, engage in sex work, and harass and abuse the established campers. “While we wanted [the property] to be a community gathering space,” O’Hearn says, “I can’t say that was positive when people would defecate and urinate on the facilities.” A closed campus, he says, is different from a camping ban in that it does not target its unsheltered patrons specifically.
“It was [proposed] very intentionally to not isolate just unsheltered individuals,” he says.
O’Hearn notes that the closed campus proposal, though rejected, still helped the library establish stronger connections with other city agencies that work with the unsheltered population, like its homeless shelter, police, and hospitals.
PPLD’s Spears was glad to see that through library efforts to relocate its campers, Colorado Springs shelters saw an increase of 30 unsheltered patrons. “While it was difficult, I feel good that we did get people into a much safer and more stable environment than what we could provide at the library,” he says. Another tactic the library took—in an attempt to curtail the number of bedrolls, shopping carts, and luggage some patrons were bringing to the library—was to cordon off eight spots in the parking lot and designate bins for personal effects. “That is something that both the sheltered and unsheltered have appreciated,” he says.
Relocating camping patrons takes strategy, patience, and grace. Spears says that prior to the ban, the library put up signs, provided informational fliers, and made social service workers available to try to help campers find alternate locations. “We wanted, as much as possible, to make sure that they were aware of what the other options were. Our goal was to find as many of them shelter as possible,” he says. Library staffers worked closely with the Colorado Springs city attorney and police force to ensure they were adhering to the law and treating the campers with compassion. If police found someone who might be camping on the grounds of the library, for instance, “we didn’t want a citation to be issued straight off the bat,” Spears says.
Retherford says that prior to the legal process of removing the CCPL encampment, the library wanted to give the campers plenty of time and information on alternate places to go. “Most people cleared out before 48 hours were left,” she says. Some campers even helped others move out.
“People will come in and say to me, ‘Thanks for getting rid of them. It’s such a better place now that they’re gone.’ Well, we’re not getting rid of them. They’re still welcome.” Julie Retherford, director of Chetco Community Public Library in Brookings, Oregon
Christine Angeli, director of Milford (Conn.) Public Library, has had a smaller camping issue than her colleagues on the West Coast. Accordingly, the library decided against a curfew or parking ban. Instead it created a community group—including the mayor’s office, local police, health officials, the fire department, health care workers, and library staff members—to handle the issue effectively and with compassion. “We’re not evicting people just for being here outside the building. It has to be behavior based, whether it’s an altercation or substance abuse,” she says. She has also recommended resources to her staff, such as newsletters from Ryan J. Dowd, author of The Librarian’s Guide to Homelessness (ALA Editions, 2018).
Spears says that as difficult as the decision was to break up the library camp, there wasn’t much pushback, thanks to the relationships library staffers had built with their unsheltered users. “There had been a tremendous amount of trust built up between our library and our unsheltered users,” he says. “When we made the decision, they had the trust that we were not just one more agency that was trying to shuffle them along.”
Roberson says that even the campers outside SPL who need a little extra help waking up in the morning understand that librarians are allies. “Maybe they’re under the influence of something,” he says, “so you get a little pushback sometimes, but nobody’s really hostile. They understand where the library’s coming from, and they know that once the library is open, it’s a place they can come. They want to maintain that relationship with us.”
In contrast, it has been sheltered patrons who have often objected most vocally to bans and removals. Retherford calls the run-up to the camping removal a “frenzy.” At one board meeting, she says, 100 people showed up, and staff had to maintain the peace between shouting attendees. “I didn’t want this to turn into the idea that the library is against people without homes,” she says. “I was trying to take any opportunity I had to let anyone know that homeless people are always welcome here. Please come, please get warm, please use our facilities, please use our Wi-Fi.”
Spears encountered a similar reaction to PPLD’s ban. “That was probably one of the more upsetting parts of this—there was a part of the public that sees the library as one of the last refuges for people experiencing homelessness, and [they] felt we had betrayed that, even though the people experiencing homelessness did not,” he says. While Colorado Springs social service providers supported the library’s decision and were heavily involved in the campers’ removal, he says, “a lot of their self-appointed guardians felt that it was unfair.”
Also upsetting, Spears says, were the reactions from patrons who felt the ban was insufficient. “There’s always that group, unfortunately, who thinks that that no matter what you do when it comes to people experiencing homelessness, it’s never enough—they want them gone,” he says.
Retherford deals with similar feedback. “The only negative thing I face regarding this issue on an ongoing basis [is that] there’s always a small portion of the community who don’t want [unsheltered people] around,” she says. “There’s a lot of complaints about smell, about computers being used up. People will come in and say to me, ‘Thanks for getting rid of them. It’s such a better place now that they’re gone.’ Well, we’re not getting rid of them. They’re still welcome.”
Earlier this year Pikes Peak Library District in Colorado Springs posted signs after instituting a camping ban between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m. on the grounds of its four branches. Photo: Pikes Peak Library District
Roberson has seen a similar reaction, which makes him wary of press coverage. “I worry whenever any of the local media calls,” he says. “The bias tends to be on the other side. I worry how this gets presented, no matter who is writing the story.” O’Hearn adds that news stories about removing encampments do not focus on what’s important: “Camping bans glaze over the fact that we help people get employment, get help.”
In Milford, at least, the public reaction has been one of concern, not outrage, with residents asking what they could do, and bringing food and blankets to the campers. “As far as those who are camping out—they were all Milford-born, Milford-raised,” says Angeli. “They’ve gone to school here and came upon hardships. They’re members of our community.”
The need for real solutions
After the initial conflict, the ban in Colorado seemed to help. “We had built such a good relationship with [the campers] that very little enforcement was necessary the first night. By that point, most of the people who had been camping here had already found other arrangements,” says Spears.
Retherford found the same: “Everyone was really respectful about it. ‘This is not where we can be any more.’ They just kind of moved on.” Now, she says CCPL staffers dedicate more time to patrons and spend less time mediating conflicts.
O’Hearn (who has since moved on to Eugene [Oreg.] Public Library), says an upside to the Springfield campus proposal was working with other organizations to address the issue holistically. “We were trying to focus on the whole situation rather than that particular moment,” he says. “What would be the long-term best thing that would happen? To get people the help they need to move forward with life.”
Thanks to the librarians’ engagement work in Pikes Peak, Spears says, the attitudes of many sheltered visitors seem to be softening. The library has been pulling meetings out of conference rooms and holding them in more central parts of the library. “As we’ve done more of these programs, we’re starting to see some of those barriers break down and the sheltered feel more comfortable around the unsheltered,” he says.
Roberson believes more librarians will need to face camping issues, especially after the US Court of Appeals decision in September. “While it may be difficult to accept at first, I don’t disagree with the decision,” he says. “I think it’s going to force Seattle and other cities to actually step back and stop criminalizing the activity, but it’ll force them to finally start talking about real solutions.”
In the meantime, librarians still addressing their camping issues can learn from colleagues who feel they handled the removal of tents in a respectful way. Retherford says that CCPL and the city moved slowly and carefully, with many meetings and discussions, and she thinks that it was to their benefit. “It ultimately did shake out the right way,” she says. Afterward, Chetco was held up as a city model. “[Community members] turned their focus to other organizations and different parks, saying, ‘Why aren’t you acting like the library did?’”
Angeli advises librarians in the same situation to involve their community partners. “As much as we deal with it as librarians, there are trained professionals who are more up to date on services and ways to handle anybody with mental health or substance abuse [issues],” she says. When librarians have built up relationships with homeless patrons, they may be able to ease them into accepting social services. “This isn’t a library problem. It’s an issue that’s facing the whole community,” she points out. “If an individual is camping outside your library, they’re surely camping out elsewhere in your city, and you can’t just push people from one place to another. You have to find a solution together.”