Reflections on ALA 2015, San Francisco

San Francisco proved an interesting place to be as over 16,000 American Library Association’s (ALA) 2015 conference participants converged on the city along with an expected 1 million visitors there for the San Francisco Pride festivities. Being that the U.S. Supreme Court had recently passed their historic vote legalizing same sex marriage, the mood was quite jubilant. I heard over and over how ironic and exciting it was that we were co-located in San Francisco during such an important time in history.

Moscone Convention Center gets in on the San Francisco Pride festivities.

Bookmobiles joined the San Francisco Pride Parade.

As I reflected on the week, I found that the sense of historic importance was not just in the events occurring around us, but also in the major milestones the librarians I spoke with were achieving. Many shared the sentiment that it is an exciting time to be in the library industry with all the new opportunities arising. The ALA 2015 theme of ‘Transforming Our Libraries Ourselves’ was a very apt way to describe the “can do” approach that librarians take to meeting the challenges that they encounter every day.

There was no shortage of interesting sessions to attend or things to see and do. More than once I heard librarians lamenting that there were so many great sessions and they really wished that they could be in multiple places at once.

Top 3 Observations from ALA 2015:

ALA 2015 Show Floor
ALA 2015 Show Floor

1. The library is emerging as a center for innovation.

Based on the number of programs devoted to the subject, the number of people indicating that they were interested in and the amount of space on the exhibit floor devoted to creation or innovation in some way, shape or form, it was clear this is a subject that is top of mind. What I found interesting was how the concept has expanded and changed over time.

It’s not just focused around makerspaces with 3-D printers or a digital media lab. The technology aspect is still important, but creation and innovation is becoming more purposeful and extending to business development, hands-on learning and general library operations. The really cool thing is that this movement is equally important to public, school and academic libraries. However, the execution is individualized to the differences in each community.

2. More meaningful data is becoming an important part of supporting the library mission.

Whether it be a session on collecting and utilizing data, new ways to measure success or ethical and legal responsibilities surrounding data collection, this was another area that was a hot topic. Libraries are definitely starting to understand the power of data in obtaining funding and community buy-in. More effort is being put into discovering the most meaningful measurements and using that information to better share the library’s story. Libraries that begin rethinking their metrics and using them more effectively often transcend mere survival and are experiencing growth in their funding, services and image in the community.

3. Learning and literacy are still central to the library.

While libraries aren’t usually considered formal learning institutions, they are certainly places where informal learning is occurring and is encouraged. Numerous examples were highlighted during the week where different types of libraries and other community organizations were collaborating to best utilize the skills and assets that each could provide not just around reading literacy, but all types of literacy. In schools, librarians were working hand-in-hand with classroom teachers to support curriculum and technology needs.

Several ALA 2015 sessions focused on improving the literacy of our youngest learners through programs such as 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten or Every Child Ready to Readprograms that can often best be implemented through the public library. Other programs reach the other end of the spectrum and are focused on improving literacy in English-language learners or keeping minds sharp for our senior population.

It is clear librarians are a warm and caring lot and are doing everything in their power to forge relationships and maintain relevancy in their communities. As always, ALA 2015 was a productive conference full of learning, exploration, sharing and forging ahead to transform libraries everywhere.

For more insight into some for the specific sessions from the conference, ALA has a collection of information available on their conference site that is provided courtesy of American Libraries Magazine.

Also be sure to check out the engaging ideas and solutions that were served up at the Demco booth at ALA 2015 and the post show highlights photo gallery. I can tell you Demco’s resident magician was fascinating to watch.


Janet Nelson

Janet Nelson

Janet is the former Director of Library Engagement and Solutions at Demco. She managed and developed relationships with key industry leaders to understand changing library trends and services.