Speakers from NBA to FBI Attract 13,600 to Philadelphia: Attendance Reaches New High as a Basketball Legend, Notable Authors, and a Whistleblower Tackle Issues of Free Speech, Privacy, and Literacy

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Award-winning authors and books, a basketball superstar, and an FBI whistleblower were among the top attractions at the January 11-16 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia.

Sports legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar delivered a heartfelt address at a program presented by ALA President Loriene Roy. The athlete-turned-author told a packed house, "I am not standing here as a basketball player but as a historian and book lover, all because of a library and librarians like you." Discovering the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center while researching the Harlem Renaissance, he said, was a revelation that turned his life around.

Roy, who is the first Native American president of ALA, said it was her love for basketball that prompted her to invite Abdul-Jabbar to speak, along with the fact that he wrote so eloquently about Indian basketball in his book A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apache: "The crowd liked the frenzy of the game more than anything else, perhaps even more than winning itself. These normally quiet people liked the chance to scream and stomp their feet for a while each week during the long winter on the reservation; they liked to give vent to the things they kept inside the rest of the time. Perhaps basketball, in its own way, had become a kind of catharsis and healing ritual."

Speakers and discussion forums added variety to the Association's annual business meeting, foremost among them an appearance by FBI whistleblower Bassem Youssef at the Washington Office session. Despite a warning from his superiors, Special Agent Youssef appeared at the meeting with his attorney, cautiously explaining his dilemma and answering questions from the audience about problems with the FBI's counterterrorism program.

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Another highlight of the meeting, attended this year by 13,601 librarians and library supporters, was the announcement of the Newbery and Caldecott medals, as well as other youth media awards (see sidebar). ALA President Roy traveled from the conference to New York City to appear with the winning authors on the January 15 Today Show. Especially noteworthy was the fact that the Newbery winner, Laura Amy Schlitz, is a librarian at the Park School in Baltimore.

Jazz violinist Regina Carter helped conferees take a format break with a concert at the 9th annual Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture. Legendary journalist Anthony Lewis spoke candidly about his career and key Supreme Court decisions on the First Amendment with Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, in a fundraising session sponsored by the Freedom to Read Foundation. Asked if the pendulum has swung today in favor of too much press freedom, Lewis noted that "the press can be abusive of privacy."

Authors lead the way

Midwinter-goers spent much of the conference attending some 2,000 meetings, many of them planning sessions for the forthcoming Annual Conference in Anaheim, California. Some 500 vendors the exhibition hall in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, enabling attendees to examine firsthand a wide variety of information-industry products.

The Exhibits Round Table sponsored an Author Forum with Random House author Mary Doria Russell and the Penguin Group's Geraldine Brooks, who touched on many hot-button issues. ERT also sponsored a Technology Showcase, where leading players in the information science and technology industry touted their latest innovations.

Alexander Street Press's customer breakfast featured 1960s activist Tom Hayden, who quipped, "Most days when I wake up, I'm living in the present." He said he spent most of his time living a normal live, writing, and "trying to end the infernal war in Iraq." But he also reminded the group that the 50th anniversary of "everything that happened in the '60s" will soon be here and emphasized the need to record the stories of that period from the people who lived it. …