Opening General Session

Opening General Session

The following is a summary of the Opening General Session, with selected excerpts of remarks by New Orleans mayor C. Ray  Nagin, and keynote speaker Madeleine Allbright.

Welcome from President Michael Gorman: “We’re proud of our diversity, united by our common values.”

Next came a video presentation of @your library, focusing to a large degree on library spokespersons featured on national newsmedia and on Katrina recovery efforts..

Recognition and applause for Gulf Coast librarians in attendance. We all stood for a moment of silence for those who lost their lives, or lost loved ones. The significance of ALA’s decision to hold the conference in New Orleans cannot be overstimated, said Gorman who thanked everyone who attended. You’ve literally put your money where your mouth is, Gorman said.

Over 900 members signed up for the volunteer efforts. Those present were asked to stand and received applause. Relief checks were presented..

Gorman introduced ALA officers and the conference chair and announced a $1 million relief fund from Dollar General for school libraries in states where they do business. Corporate conference sponsors were acknowledged.. 

A video welcome from Wynton Marsalis was viewed. Marsalis asked us to eat a bowl of gumbo for him..

Tania Tetlow, local arrangements chair and her committee were recognized. She then introduced the New Orleans mayor, C. Ray Nagin who began by stating that “They always give me a script, but I never follow it. I promise I won’t get in trouble today.” He saw a T-shirt once that read “Librarians do it by the book” but when he saw what the librarians down on Bourbon Street “had in the cup in their hand, I don’t think they were doing it by the book!” (laughter). 

“You’re in New Orleans. Consider this your home away from home. Loosen up your belt buckles–don’t worry about your diets right now. Spend plenty of money while you’re here. You’re sending a signal to the world that says “New Orleans is OK” (applause) Librarians not only do it by the book, you guys rock! Thank you for being here.”

The mayor mentioned that this was the largest convention in New Orleans since Katrina. Most important, said Nagin, since we’re a little cash strapped, don’t forget to pay your taxes at Harrah’s Casino! (laughter). 

Tetlow introduced Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu who began: “Hello everybody! I can’t tell you how fabulous it is to see all of you sitting there in the audience. That would have been true a year ago. It’s a hundred times more true today. Today you’re participating in the rebirth of a great American city.”

A $17 million grant from the Gates Foundation, Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund and IMLS for New Orleans libraries was announced and 2.5 million books from First Book. Next came a couple of awards.

Keith Fiels introduced Madeleine Korbel Allbright as having become the highest ranking woman in US government. Her new book is titled The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs.

Allbright began by saying that speaking to such a large audience she felt like she should have brought either a football or a guitar. She congratulated us on keeping faith with New Orleans.

When she began using libraries, phones still had cords, mail had stamps, and you found the web when dusting in the corner. Sometimes she shocks her students by requiring them to dig up information in books. Every student should be introduced at least once to the Dewey Decimal System. Libraries are fun, educational and the biggest bargain on the face of the earth, and the laboratory of freedom. The lending of books is the transferring of information.

She cited ALA resolutions regarding Cuba–after 45 years of embargo, it’s time to try something new. We denounce the notion that to open an independent library is a crime, and what we denounce abroad, we should also support at home.

She spoke about privacy and said those who disagree with policies should be allowed to speak out without having their patriotism questioned.

I’m delighted to be here, said Allbright, because I’ve written a book (laughter) in which I hope you’ll be interested. Her memoir was easier to explain than her current book, she said. It is from the perspective of knowledge of public affairs that she writes. She never expected to write this book. She has been in the habit of keeping religion separate from politics. But we have to find a way to make religion a force for reconciliation rather than division.

She doesn’t offer a 3-point plan to save the world, but . . .

  1. We cannot allow Al Qaeda to divide the world along religious lines. We must live up to our own ideals in treating prisoners and standing up for human rights. To indict the Muslim religion is wrong. We must not condemn the many based on the actions of the few.
  2. None of us have full knowledge of the truth, especially in religion. We’re all part of humanity. “I was raised Catholic, married an Episcopalian, and found out I was Jewish.” Knowledge of the absolute may be something we long for, but it is something we never obtain. If we admit our lack of perfect knowledge . . .
  3. Morality should be at or near the center of US foreign policy. This should be obvious but it’s not. She cited George Kennan. Neither realism nor idealism is sufficient. We need both. No apparent truth is undiluted by doubt. Respect for the dignity of every human being challenges the tyranny of the dictator and demands that we do battle with poverty and disease, and live up to our highest ideals.

Allbright received a standing ovation and a big bouquet of flowers. SRRT members handed out anti-Allbright materials prior to the event.