library & information science

ALA Seattle recap

I recently returned from my first American Library Association (ALA) conference, with a pad full of notes, a bag full of books, and a head full of ideas. I’m still early in my MLIS studies and don’t work in a library – so why spend a week of precious PTO attending a library conference?

Beautiful city view from Kerry Park, on Queen Anne Hill.

Firstly, the affordable student rate and excuse to visit Seattle were hard to pass up. And secondly, I’m someone who needs to spend some time standing in the pool with water up to my knees before I go all the way in. I can quickly make big life decisions like going back to graduate school and pursuing a new career – but I still need a lot of time to observe and acclimate. So while I’m years away from library work, the ALA Midwinter Meeting was a great place to dip a toe in.

A summary of the conference and my big takeaways follows the end of this post, for those who are interested in all that library stuff. And for the rest, a few quick photos and highlights.

Melinda Gates was the opening session speaker and you know I stuck around to have her autograph a free advance reading copy of her forthcoming book, The Moment of Lift. MY FIRST LIBRARIAN PERK!


I took a break between sessions on Saturday to walk to the Seattle Public Library’s stunning Central branch. It’s a beautiful space, inside and out, with the books arranged in a multi-floor “spiral” instead of traditional stacks.

My graduate program (the San Jose State University iSchool) held a meet-and-greet at a nearby bar on Saturday evening, and then I met up for dinner with two old friends from high school who live in Seattle and Tacoma who I had not seen since – wait for it – high school! I loved reconnecting with Laura Marie and Mike, and to meet their lovely spouses. After years of only communicating through Facebook, it was great to commune for real.

Understory, Amazon’s Biodome II-like employee workspace.

I skipped out on Sunday morning’s conference sessions (hey, no one paid for me to be there!) to spend the day with my dear niece Alicia, who came up from Olympia. We went for a walk around Lake Union and Gas Works Park, and then to see The Fremont Troll and brunch.

I treasure every moment with Alicia. Especially those moments that involve giant trolls!

I eventually returned to the conference for a late afternoon session and a screening of Emilio Estevez’s movie, The Public, a moving tribute to the power of peaceful demonstration, set in an urban Cincinnati public library. I’ll remind you again in April to go see it when it’s out in theaters, because YOU NEED TO GO SEE IT.

Oh nothing, just Emilio Estevez, talking about libraries. <swoon>

Monday was the last day of sessions, and afterward I met up with two dear friends and inspiring aging life care professionals, Lisa and Jullie for dinner. On Tuesday, I spent much of the day drinking coffee, chatting, and dreaming big with a local librarian who runs older adult programs for Seattle’s county library system (Hellooo fantasy job! San Diego County: are you listening?), and a local dementia educator and advocate with whom she works closely.

It was so energizing to be with all of these inspiring, hard-working, expansively-thinking people. I’m grateful for the time and flexibility to attend the conference, and for all of the old friendships and new relationships in Seattle that made my visit so meaningful.

**For those who are interested or curious about all of the library stuff, here are the conference programs I attended, and my key takeaway(s) from each.**

Friday 1/25/19 “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World,” (Melinda Gates, in conversation with librarian Nancy Pearl).

If we are going to advocate for equity in the world, we need to start within our own families and marriages.

“You are the guardians of our stories.” Melinda Gates

Saturday 1/26/19 “Racial Equity: Libraries Organizing to Transform Institutions,” (A. Lonial, G. Goodwin & S. Lawton).

In considering how our institutions’ policies, practices, and procedures produce racialized outcomes, we should ask new questions: Who’s to blame? -> What’s the cause? What was the intention? -> What was the effect?

Saturday 1/26/19 “Building a Future-Ready Workforce: How Public Libraries Can Create Resilient and Entrepreneurial Communities,” (A. Barbakoff & J. Lynam).

The fourth industrial revolution is underway, and libraries are uniquely positioned to help level the playing field by teaching workers about a) how to use and work alongside AI, automation, and machine learning, b) how to thrive in the creative economy, c) how to participate in the gig economy.

Saturday 1/26/19 “Return to the Real: The Library as Social Connector,” (G. Gutsche & J. Peterson).

Evidence of the erosion of social connection abounds, resulting in a growing interest in “the real:” tangible things, analog, and in-person interactions. Libraries can support cultures of learning and personal/social improvement, and spaces for active, connected learning.

Saturday 1/26/19 “Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life,” (Eric Klinenberg).

The spaces we share shape our lives. The youngest and oldest in any society are the most “place bound,” and we need not only social and practical supports for them, but for their caregivers.

“Facebook is not social infrastructure.” Eric Klinenberg

Sunday 1/27/19 “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” (Robin DiAngelo).

Friendliness, proximity, and good intentions do not disrupt racism and white supremacy. Having experienced classism or sexism doesn’t render a white person any less (or more) racist. White people measure the value of places and institutions by the absence of people of color; we’ve internalized the message that people of color don’t add value to our lives. If I, as a white person, am feeling frustrated or helpless, I can start by asking myself: “How have I managed not to know what to do about racism?” Lots of great resources available at

Sunday 1/27/19 “The Public,” (film screening and conversation with writer, actor, and director Emilio Estevez).

A look at homelessness, a celebration of nonviolent civil disobedience, and an exploration of the role public libraries play in our free and democratic society.

“Without the public, it’s just a building full of words.” Emilio Estevez

Monday 1/28/19 “Learning From Each Other: Intergenerational Learning with Storytelling and STEM,” (A. Braun & A. Twito).

In family learning, the generations are not engaged in parallel play or programming, but rather the family members are invited to learn together. Learning is cultural, and learning experiences should grow out of the participants’ stories, memories, and shared visions for the future.

Monday 1/28/19 Meeting of the ALA’s Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias interest group (IGARD).

Only a handful of librarians attended the meeting of this interest group, discussing ways to make libraries and library programs more accessible to people living with dementia and their care partners. I’m excited that such an interest group exists … but I can see that I’ve got my work cut out for me!

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