Books and Hammers

My father was a librarian, so our summer vacations inevitably revolved around the city in which the American Library Association was holding its annual meeting: ...
by | February 7, 2006

My father was a librarian, so our summer vacations inevitably revolved around the city in which the American Library Association was holding its annual meeting: San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, to name just a few from the late '70s and early '80s.

With 25,000 attendees, the ALA convention requires 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, 8,500 hotel rooms and 350 concurrent meeting rooms. The number of cities able to host such a large event is so limited that the selection is made a decade in advance. The site chosen long ago for 2006 is ... New Orleans.

Despite many concerns in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, ALA declared its commitment last fall to meet as scheduled in the Big Easy. (Indeed, this is not the first time ALA has stayed the course in the face of adverse circumstances: In 2003, the group met in Toronto shortly after the SARS outbreak.)

This week, Martin Gomez, president of the Urban Libraries Council (an ALA affiliate), devoted his newsletter column to this matter. "If you're like me, when I heard that ALA would continue plans to hold their annual conference in New Orleans this summer, you probably wondered what they were thinking. How could New Orleans possibly rebuild their infrastructure to support a major conference by June? Based on all of the articles that I'd read and the images that I'd seen, the ALA decision did not seem right."

However, after traveling to New Orleans in January to collect information firsthand about conditions in the city, Gomez reports, "What I saw has convinced me that going to New Orleans is indeed the right thing to do. New Orleans won't be the same conference city that we've known...at least not by June 2006. But it will be a city that will welcome all of us with love and open arms for having the courage to believe in their capacity to rebuild." 

In fact, ALA's Web site offers a "What can I expect?" section that updates hotel and restaurant re-openings in New Orleans, and also offers the opportunity for its members to participate in two service days related to the recovery effort. That certainly gives new meaning to the motto "Librarians Build Communities." 

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