Ohio Library Council 2015 Convention & Expo: Roxane Gay, Ferguson, and a Bunch of Kick-Ass Librarians

By David Nilsen

Last week I had the opportunity to travel with several other employees of Greenville Public Library (Fourth & Sycamore’s home base) to the Ohio Library Council’s 2015 convention and expo in downtown Cincinnati. For three days we talked with our fellow librarians about how to be even more awesome than we already are, listened to speakers present ideas to take back to our libraries and communities, and grabbed free swag from the expo vendors (my personal favorite was the tote bag covered in cats–you understand us, Baker & Taylor). I listened to some wonderful breakout sessions about how to better incorporate books and services for LGBTQ+ individuals and other diverse groups at our library, as well as several that talked about how to integrate authors and writers into our library programming (I’m very excited about a few ideas I took away from those sessions).

My two favorite sessions from the convention were the first two keynotes speakers. The first, on Wednesday, was Scott Bonner. Scott is the director of the Ferguson Municipal Public Library in Missouri. Yes, that Ferguson. He took over as director just weeks before Michael Brown was killed. His talk on how a library can respond to a crisis and come through when its community needs it most was nothing short of inspiring. He was humble and honest both in sharing failures and things he wished he would have done differently during that difficult time and in explaining successes and the things he and his staff had done well. He was lucid and insightful in sharing lessons learned from both. Look for my interview with Scott here on Fourth & Sycamore very soon.

gayThe second keynote–the one that had me most excited heading into the convention–was with Roxane Gay. ROXANE GAY, PEOPLE! Roxane read several essays from Bad Feminist, including one of the funniest: Typical First Year Professor. She also read The Solace of Preparing Fried Foods and Other Quaint Remembrances from 1960s Mississippi: Thoughts on The Help, her scathing send-up of a book familiar to most librarians for its circulation alone if nothing else. Gay is not a fan, though her critique is fair and cogent, and it was interesting to hear her interact with the audience regarding this title in the question and answer session that followed. Gay’s readings and question responses were confident and warm, insightful and accessible, relevant and hilarious.

She did a signing after her reading for a bunch of grateful and nerdy librarians. I possessed one of the only y chromosomes in the line for the signing, but no matter. I now have a lovely signed copy of Bad Feminist, complete with the best of admonitions. Thank you, Roxane.

#OLC15 was an awesome chance to get new ideas for our library, community, and this very lit journal. I can’t wait to start putting those ideas into action.

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