Home News & Events Oh, the Places You'll Go: Library Conference Edition

Oh, the Places You'll Go: Library Conference Edition

You’ll be on your way up!

One of the primary functions of my job is to administer grants to libraries. Arts Midwest runs the NEA Big Read, which is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) that sponsors one-book, one-community programs around the nation.

The idea is that if everyone in the community is reading the same book at the same time, the community will come together to discuss important issues, discover good books, and reap the health benefits of reading.

As administrators of this program, we keep up-to-date on trends within the library profession in order to provide better training and service to our constituents, further our own professional development, and make new connections in the field. So it would make sense for us to attend the American Library Association’s annual conference in Chicago.

You’ll be seeing great sights!

This year, NEA Big Read had a booth in the conference exhibit hall and hosted an informational session about the program.

The session, hosted by two NEA Literature Department representatives and me, covered all the basics and benefits of the program and showcased event examples from previous grantees. To our surprise, we had a past grantee of the program in the audience who told of the tremendous impact of the program to her fellow attendees. She spoke about the author of their chosen book, Luis Alberto Urrea, who visited and talked with students then signed their free copies of his book.

NEA Big Read author, Luis Urrea, signs books for students.
Students meeting NEA Big Read author Luis Alberto Urrea. Photo courtesy of Oak Park Public Library.

Above all else, as many NEA Big Read grantees have told us, the program provides funds to put free books into the hands of those who are willing to accept them. That’s a magical experience, especially if it’s the first book that person has ever owned.

Community members receive free NEA Big Read books in Quincy, IL.
Quincy, Illinois residents receive free books for Quincy Public Library’s NEA Big Read kickoff. Photo by QPL Staff.

You’ll join the high fliers

Back at our exhibition hall booth, we hosted NEA Big Read author, Tayari Jones, who had personally visited several communities programming with her book, Silver Sparrow. Tayari recounted her travels to NEA Big Read grantee communities in located in Georgia, Tennessee, New Jersey, Illinois, and New York.

In these communities they celebrated Silver Sparrow with fun, interactive events like a hair dressing workshop, mannequin challenge, and essay contests in order to make reading the book more enticing to individuals who do not regularly use the library or choose to read for fun. For readers of Silver Sparrow, each community explored the themes in the book at book discussions with conversations about race, family relationships, and society in a variety of locations such as libraries, community centers, and even correctional facilities.

NEA Big Read author Tayari Jones speaks with an ALA attendee.
NEA Big Read author Tayari Jones speaks with an ALA attendee. Photo by Joshua Feist.

Who soar to high heights.

I left the conference having met dozens if not hundreds of librarians. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to take part in the ALA conference as an exhibitor, speaker, and participant. Of course, I also appreciated all the wonderful conference swag that could only be gathered from a library conference: 3D printed fidget spinners and free books! Score!