For Immediate Release Contacts: Larra Clark/Macey Morales
June 28, 2006 ALA Media Relations
Library community draws national praise as it helps New Orleans recover from Hurricane Katrina
(New Orleans) With the eyes of the nation on New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina, nearly 17,000 librarians, exhibitors and library supporters attended the first citywide convention held in the Big Easy since the storm. Widespread news coverage praised ALA members for their "intrepid" spirit and impact on the local economy by going to New Orleans.
ALA’s decision to keep the Annual Conference in New Orleans became a national media story in part because of the city’s slow economic recovery and recent concerns about violence in the area. Coverage on such shows such as the NBC Nightly News and PBS’s Lehrer NewsHour gave ALA a national profile in stories that focused on New Orleans’ troubled hospitality industry and the decision by the Louisiana governor to call up the National Guard for duty in New Orleans. In addition, television and radio stations aired coverage that portrayed ALA members as courageous trailblazers helping to revive the city.
"One of the most amazing aspects of this conference has been the opportunity to spend time working shoulder to shoulder with our library colleagues and others working to ensure our public, school and academic libraries are restored to the people of New Orleans," said ALA President Leslie Burger. "I also have never felt so welcomed to a city. It’s true there is no other place like New Orleans, and I hope many conventions and visitors will come soon to enjoy all the city has to offer."
The meeting was anticipated to contribute more than $20 million to the local economy. In a city that estimates the tourism industry provides 35 percent of the city operating budget, this was no small accomplishment. "For New Orleans, this is huge," Kelly Schulz of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau told the New York Times.
Michael Gorman, ALA’s outgoing president, said he was proud of the association when the Executive Board voted earlier this year to keep the conference in New Orleans. Gorman announced that ALA members, Friends groups and corporations had contributed more than $370,000 in funds for the recovery of Gulf Coast libraries and presented checks to several library associations in the region at the Opening General Session.
For the local business community, the feeling was that the city passed a major test. "I would say this was definitely a positive experience," says Nancy Shucart, a representative of housing and travel agency, ITS.
Some ALA members were challenged by the limited number of flights into the city and their cost. "Attendance was very good. The 17,000 members who attended made a powerful statement about how libraries and librarians build communities. It was an important moment in the history of our association and in the history of the city," said ALA Executive Director Keith Michael Fiels.
Volunteerism was a key element of the conference experience this year. On June 23 and 27, nearly 900 conference attendees signed up for more than 22 volunteer projects to help restore local libraries and assist with Habit for Humanity, Common Ground and other community-building efforts. Michele Cloonan, an ALA member and dean at the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science in Boston, said students from the school attended the New Orleans meeting because of the chance to participate in the volunteer projects.
First Lady Laura Bush made an appearance at a national town hall meeting on school libraries on Monday, June 26. Her keynote address helped place a spotlight on the plight of school libraries throughout the United States. The town hall meeting was hosted by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the ALA, and Scholastic. The event included a distinguished panel of school library experts who discussed the problems faced by school librarians.
Also on Monday, discount retailer Dollar General, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), and the National Education Association (NEA) announced the first grant recipients of Beyond Words: the Dollar General School Library Relief Fund. Thirty-two schools in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas serving more than 22,000 students received grants totaling $230,000. Grant funding is still available for school libraries affected by disaster, and the grant review committee will review applications monthly:www.ala.org/aasl/disasterrelief.
On the first day of the conference, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced $12.2 million in grants to help libraries in Louisiana and Mississippi. At the same press conference, the Bush Clinton Katina Fund announced a $5 million grant donation for the repair of up to eight public libraries in the region.
For more information on the ALA - the voice of America’s libraries - and its Annual Conference, please visit www.ala.org/annual. For information on ALA hurricane relief efforts, please visit