Hosting It Huge in Houston: Texas Library Association Annual Conference

Article excerpt

Asked what distinguishes Texas Library Association conferences from other ALA chapter gatherings, some would say local flavor, others would say the preponderance of books, still others would say it's the exuberance of TLA Executive Director Patricia Smith and her staff.

Whatever it is, clearly TLA's April 25-28 annual meeting in Houston was another example of the magical combination that makes a conference click and propels TLA attendance into first place among state conferences.

First comes a beloved keynote speaker, stage and screen legend Julie Andrews, with a supporting cast of some 120 authors spread over luncheons, programs, and the exhibit hall. Then come the sessions, with enough variety and top-notch speakers to fill any continuing-education needs, from advocacy and legislation to collection management, from information literacy and curriculum issues to management and change. Then there are the exhibits, showcasing the offerings of some 500 vendors grouped by type, making for book aisles, technology aisles, and even tchotchke aisles, where confer-encegoers could purchase a complete outfit with accessories without ever leaving the convention center. Finally, there are the 7,462 attendees who seem to possess a special loyalty and sense of community about their state library association.

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Houston Mayor Bill White was also on hand to flatter the crowd: "We're so proud of our librarians." He also heralded a $14.9-million renovation of Houston Public Library's 30-year-old central facility, which is expected to reopen before the end of 2007.

Radiant keynoter

A selection of clips from her stage, screen, and television performances over some 60 years in show business demonstrated clearly why Julie Andrews filled the enormous convention center auditorium to capacity. There to promote her new children's book, The Great American Mousical, from HarperCollins, the radiant Andrews said she hates the idea of being what publishers call a "celebrity author." She writes under her married name, Julie Andrews Edwards, and talked about her writing as "a lifelong passion" that began when she was a child performer with a tutor who "allowed me to scribble all I wanted."

Andrews said that at this stage in life (she is, hard as it may be to believe, 70) she wants to channel whatever media attention her movie-star status offers into advocacy for reading, which is "all about children learning to use their imaginations. Words, wisdom, wonder," she said, "there is no greater gift we can give our children."

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"Books are an extension of my singing voice," Andrews said, and although that glorious voice was damaged during vocal cord surgery in 1997, she told the audience she had recorded a song four weeks earlier called "The Show Must Go On," available at www.julieandrewscollection.com, website of her HarperCollins imprint. "It's always been about the words," she added, quoting author Gabriel Garcia Marquez: "Words matter; books count."

Noting that the little mouse characters in her new book deliver an introduction to musical theater, Andrews said, "I love the world of entertainment, but it should not replace reading." She concluded that "children have to make many more choices today than we ever did," and librarians can help them make good ones.

The opening session also included the presentation of the Texas Librarian of the Year award to Beth Fox, director of the Westbank Community Library, and Lifetime Achievement awards to Herman Totten, dean at the University of North Texas SLIS, and Jerilynn Williams, director of the Montgomery County Library.

As if to confirm the success of Executive Director Smith, TLA President Gretchen McCord Hoffmann announced the establishment of the Patricia Smith Endowment for Excellence, a fund to which 65 donors had already contributed $1,000 each. The money is to be used for a major initiative or need at Smith's discretion. …