Observations from the Big Easy
A UW iSchool Spectrum Scholar Bonds with Fellow Information Professionals and Feasts on a Few Beignets Along the Way
The American Library Association 2006 Annual Conference
New Orleans, Louisiana, June 22-28, 2006
By Nia Lam, MLIS day

To be in New Orleans nearly a year after Hurricane Katrina was a moving experience. Among an extensive array of activities, I was fortunate to hear speakers from Common Ground, a grassroots organization offering short-term relief for hurricane victims and long-term support for rebuilding New Orleans. Artist Francisco di Santis shared his “Post-Katrina Portraits” (, drawings and written interviews from hurricane survivors, returned evacuees, and relief volunteers. Amazingly, while Common Ground is in need of donations like water, basic supplies, and volunteers, they are also concerned with “getting the word out” -- to displaced citizens as well as the rest of the country – and urged information professionals to help in any way possible.

Spectrum Scholars (2005-2006) enjoying the group photo moment.

For three days, I bonded with library students from across the country, discussed library profession issues, and listened to presentations such as “Tips on Making It and Moving Up from New Leaders in the Profession” and “60-Minute MBA for Librarians.” Attendees could participate in mock interviews, a resume critiquing session, and a professional options fair. Guest speakers included ALA President Leslie Burger, ALA President-Elect Loriene Roy, and San Diego County Library Director Jose Aponte. Aponte, in particular, stressed the profession’s need to generate leaders of color. Out of 87,000 librarians, he said, approximately 21 are Latino library directors (including public and academic), many of whom will retire in the next ten years.

As a Spectrum Scholar, I was invited to attend the Spectrum Leadership Institute which was also held in New Orleans. The ALA Spectrum Scholarship Program recruits applicants and awards scholarships to American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students for library and information studies graduate programs. Its mission is to improve service at the local level through the development of a representative workforce that reflects the communities served by all libraries. For 2005-2006, 67 Spectrum scholarships were awarded, and nearly all 67 Spectrum scholars attended the Leadership Institute this year. All Spectrum Scholars are scholarship winners: $5000, plus ALA pays for their trip to New Orleans (hotel and airfare plus conference registration if scholars wanted to stay for that after the leadership institute). The 67 Spectrum Scholarships awarded this year mark the largest cohort of Spectrum Scholars to date.

The institute wasn’t all serious business – we attendees escaped the icy cold air conditioning inside the Sheraton New Orleans and headed out into the humid, hot streets, quite a change from the Pacific Northwest. We strolled the French Quarter, bought voodoo dolls and hot sauce, ate beignets at the historical Café du Monde, snapped photos of a jazz band at Harrah’s Casino, and enjoyed Cajun food and music. I heard how empty the city seemed to those who visited pre-Katrina New Orleans. Overall, locals appeared happy to have the ALA attendees there, and we attempted to give back to the community by making donations to Common Ground, spending money and being friendly.

After an inspiring time at the Spectrum Leadership Institute, I spent a day at the ALA Annual Conference. I walked the enormous exhibit hall, and came out with my hands full of books, posters, and tote bags, offered by publishers and vendors. I also attended a couple of sessions chosen after carefully studying the “Conference-at-a-Glance” brochure. One session was offered by the Public Library Association (PLA) and focused on how to “rethink, reconfigure, and revitalize” your library. The Richmond Public Library in Canada, with its longer hours, bookstore-like displays, and DVD vending machines, gave the audience much to think about. Attendees seemed receptive to these innovative ideas, asking questions and jotting down ideas.

Attending the ALA conference and the Spectrum Leadership Institute in New Orleans was a memorable experience – it was fun and informative, and being the first conference in the city since the hurricane, it was inspiring. I got to meet so many interesting people -- students, professionals, leaders and future leaders.

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Page last updated: October 10, 2006