First, full disclosure. I am a big fan of librarians. In 40-plus years of using public and university libraries, I have found them to be, as a class of people, smart, generous with their time and help, sometimes a little quirky, but invariably, kind. So, I was not too surprised to hear a few weeks ago that the American Library Association, with overwhelming support from its members, had decided to keep its commitment to hold its annual meeting in New Orleans next June.
Despite widespread reservations about just how ready the city will be at that point, the ALA will be the first major citywide to come to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in September. The meeting is expected to draw about 20,000 people, using some 20 hotels in the area. (See page 10 for a progress report on New Orleans' convention infrastructure.)
When I bumped into the ALA's Director of Meetings Deidre Ross at the Executive Experience in Orlando (see page 12), she told me that ALA members not only wanted to go to New Orleans to show their support and bring much needed convention business, many requested that the association set up a community service opportunity at a local library as part of the meeting program. Ross was confident the city would come through for her group — the city's first big test post-Katrina in the convention arena — and that her group would roll with the punches, if there were any.
It won't be the first time the ALA has boldly gone where other groups feared to go. In the spring of 2003, when the SARS epidemic was in full swing, the association made the controversial decision not to cancel its annual meeting in Toronto — one of the epicenters of SARS concern at the time. The meeting suffered some attrition, but nothing much else. In the process, the ALA broke the ice for other groups to follow suit, earning, no doubt, the undying gratitude of the desperate Toronto hospitality industry.
As every librarian you've ever known will tell you, you can't judge a book by its cover. Amen.