Magazine article American Libraries

Family Reunion with a Professional Agenda: A Conference of African-American Librarians

Magazine article American Libraries

Family Reunion with a Professional Agenda: A Conference of African-American Librarians

Article excerpt

For many, it was like a family reunion: greeting folks they hadn't seen in two years or more, getting dressed up for a fancy turkey dinner, then watching the youngsters put on a musical show.

The second National Conference of African-American Librarians, Aug. 5-7 at the Hyatt Regency in Milwaukee, was down-home in many ways--comfortable, friendly, and made you feel good. But beneath the down-home surface was a sophisticated, complex organization proud of its 24-year history and optimistic about its future.

Sure, getting dressed up was just plain fun, but it was also an "African-inspired cultural experience," as it was billed. The turkey dinner (even though "there weren't enough onions in the corn bread stuffing," as one diner observed) was really a "Kuumba," or celebration of African-American food and dance, and the young dancers were really the sensational Ko-Thi Dance Company of Milwaukee ("Yes, there are black folks in Milwaukee," as the dance moderator joked).

This combination of familiarity and professionalism is what characterizes many smaller library conferences and is precisely what makes them so popular. This year the conference sponsor, the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), attracted 1,003 people to Wisconsin--up from the first conference in 1992 in Columbus by 51 (AL, Nov. 1992,p. 832-835). The agenda included nearly 100 programs and seminars, some 90 exhibitors, and an impressive roster of speakers.

Critical thinking and quiet time

Essence magazine Editor-in-Chief Susan Taylor, who has been called the most influential black woman in journalism today, enchanted the audience with stories about her journey to success and her personal philosophy that keeps her optimistic and active. She wove two unexpected threads through her speech: "What's missing in this country is critical thinking," she said, and repeatedly emphasized the need for what she called "quiet time" in which to "get centered in your spirit."

"Life is a struggle," Taylor said, "but it's a sweet struggle if you know who you are inside." An elegant and charismatic speaker, she urged librarians to make certain that the information superhighway "doesn't redline our community."

"Much is expected from those to whom much is given.... You are the information experts; our people are hungry for information and affirmation," she cajoled. Putting more faith in the ability to focus and organize than in communication technology, Taylor pointed out that Marcus Garvey "linked up the entire black world with a crank press."

"You are the leaders you are waiting for," Taylor said. "With 14,000 information specialists in our country, what we need is commitment."

Authors urge action

"Instead of complaining about what hasn't been done, do it yourself," said Patricia McKissack, explaining why she wrote her first book. She and her husband, Fredrick, read from their forthcoming book Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters (Scholastic), while showing slides of the book's stunning illustrations by John Thompson.

At the same program, Camille Yarbrough, author of The Shimmershine Queens (Putnam, 1989), said of a writer's role: "We must tell our stories. We must tell them for ourselves. And don't dilute them!" she admonished.

At another author luncheon, Bebe Moore Campbell explained how she creates authentically diverse characters in her novels. …

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