CHICAGO — The American Library Association’s first-ever virtual conference attracted 7,349 attendees and 651 exhibitors.
Created following ALA’s difficult decision to cancel its 2020 ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ALA Virtual-Community Through Connection, held June 24-26, 2020, provided a virtual space where librarians and library workers could remain connected during this time of change.
Three months of intense planning began after the concept was introduced on April 20, 2020. The hard work resulted in more than 50 educational sessions, including COVID-19 related information pertinent to libraries and available in an on-demand format, live chat opportunities with authors and speakers, more than 75 publisher and exhibitor sessions on new book titles, a virtual exhibit floor with more than 600 participating exhibitors, 11 featured speakers, a Swag-a-Palooza with hundreds of free items for attendees, and more.
If you didn’t get a chance to experience the entire event, ALA Virtual content will remain readily accessible at any time for a full year. Attendees can view sessions again, view those missed during the live event, or use content for training or research purposes.
Through the generous support of a select roster of event sponsors, including EBSCO, Gale, a Cengage company, OverDrive, OCLC, Ingram, Scholastic 100, SpringerNature, and Tutor.com, ALA was able to lower registration fees from $175 for ALA members to just $60. Library professionals who have recently been furloughed, laid off, or are experiencing a reduction of paid work hours, were welcome to attend at no cost.
The event opened with ALA President Wanda Kay Brown, who noted that this is the first year since 1945 that ALA has not held as an in-person summer conference. She also debuted a new video, “Finding Your ALA,” tied to the theme of her presidency.
ALA Executive Director Tracie D. Hall then took to the “stage” to discuss her first four months in office, a time, unfortunately coinciding with a global pandemic and the global uprising against police brutality and racism. Hall stated that she is looking to the future, as ALA will celebrate its 150th Anniversary in 2026 and consideration of what ALA’s history will be at that time. Hall stated, “Let our legacy be justice”, seeing three “urgencies” for the profession, each rooted in justice: 1) universal broadband, 2) rapid diversification of the library field, and 3) wide-scale investment in libraries.
Featured speakers included, American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer and author Misty Copeland, sponsored by Penguin Random House. Copeland opened the event with a discussion on dance and diversity and her motivation to write her new children’s book, “Bunheads.”
Serial entrepreneur, nonprofit CEO, and political leader Stacey Abrams was the ALA President’s Program speaker. ALA Executive Director Tracie D. Hall interviewed Abrams and addressed the effects of the pandemic and the use of deadly force by police. Abrams said the nation is in the midst of “two massive conversations.” The first, the disproportionate effects of inequities that have been laid bare by COVID-19, citing that African Americans are twice as likely to contract the virus than any other community in the US—despite representing only 13% to 14% of the nation’s population—and second, the police brutality and systemic injustices. We must call out injustices and one of the best ways to fight these inequities is at the ballot box, she said.
“Voting is the most fundamental power possessed by a citizen in a democracy. While voting may not provide an immediate solution, it is the only power that has the persistence that can actually create change,” Abrams said.
UK poet and social media influencer Sophia Thakur, sponsored by Candlewick Press, spoke about libraries’ ability to offer enrichment, empowerment, and empathy. She moved viewers with a weighty spoken word performance dedicated to her grandmother. Later that day, she tweeted a sincere thanks to ALA, since her new book “Someone Give My Heart a Pen,” happened to sell out on Amazon after her appearance.
Caldecott medalist and author Matthew Cordell, sponsored by Holiday House, spoke about his affection for Fred Rogers as a child and his dream to write “Hello Neighbor!”
Actress and author Sonia Manzano, sponsored by National Geographic Kids, said she hopes that her book “A World Together” will shift the world to work together, even when there is disagreement.
Academy Award-winning actress, activist and author Natalie Portman, sponsored by Macmillan Children’s Publishing, closed the event by expressing her views on the need for inclusion and equity in the world of children’s books, a perspective that led her to write “Fables,” a children’s book that modernizes three traditional fables.
A panel, Breaking the Rules of Graphic Novels, included best-selling Graphic novelists, Roxanne Gay, Tracy Lynne Oliver, Gabby Rivera, Brian Azzarello and Ryan North who agreed that the graphic novel world has grown significantly in innovation and diversity. The conversation was sponsored by BOOM! Studios, and moderated by Filip Sablik, president of Publishing & Marketing, BOOM! Studios.
Other highlights included: daily live-chat opportunities, key sessions on COVID-19, a session focusing on retention efforts of minority librarians in librarianship from the perspectives of early, middle and advanced career librarians and more. See the American Libraries’ “look back” for more sessions and activities.
The virtual Exhibit Floor provided attendees an opportunity to visit with more than 600 participating exhibitors and also offered live events. Exhibitors made themselves available through phone, social media, or video-chat. At the “Swag-a-Palooza”, hundreds of free items were available, including downloadable e-galleys and game prizes. More than 75 sessions were offered on new book titles in the Book Buzz sessions and Book Buzz Bites; the Exhibitor Showcase; and the Library Champion Spotlight sessions.
ALA Round Tables hosted networking events for attendees to get together to chat about varied subject matter, while “Continue the Conversation” video-chat rooms gave small groups an opportunity to discuss prior sessions and to network.
The event can be purchased as a Recording-Only option. Visit alavirtual.org to purchase.
There was significant praise on social media regarding the speakers’ presentations, the educational programming, the on-demand feature of the event, and continued access to all of the content, post event. For additional event information please visit the 2020 ALA Virtual Event website, ALA Instagram, ALA Twitter, ALA Facebook, and follow hashtag, #alavirtual20.