By GAIL FINEBERG
Wearing shorts and T-shirts, business suits, party attire, LC Bicentennial buttons and ALA badges, between 5,000 and 6,000 librarians streamed through the west front doors of the Jefferson Building for an all-conference reception on a steamy Saturday night, June 27.
In Washington for the American Library Association Annual Meeting, they basked in the grandeur of the Great Hall, queued up to enter the Main Reading Room through the rarely opened doors from the Great Hall, ogled Blashfield's painting of Human Understanding spotlighted in the dome 150 feet above the main desk, tapped keyboards in the Computer Catalog Center, peeked into the Members' Room and followed their maps to area studies reading rooms and the Rare Book and Special Collections Reading Room.
They stood three deep around reception tables laden with mountains of luscious California strawberries next to silver bowls of warm, sweet chocolate for dipping, mounds of fudgy brownies, fruit-covered wheels of brie, thousands of cubes of cheddar and countless rounds of crackers.
"I think I've died and gone to book heaven," said Roxana Compagna, director of the Bronxville Public Library in Bronxville, N.Y., eyeing her strawberry on a stick. She and her entire staff of four had come to the annual conference and reception.
"This is a real treat for librarians to be here, in the Library for the country," added her colleague, Pat Root, reference and young-adult librarian, looking around at the ceiling murals and marble columns.
This staff of four, including children's librarian Joan Kelly and technical services director Vivien Shieh, provides public library services primarily to children up to the age of 9 and to retired residents of their community of 6,000. "We have 4,000 library-card holders, but we see only children and seniors. Most adults work in Manhattan and don't get home until midnight, and the older school students are so busy preparing for admission to Harvard they have no time to come in," Ms. Compagna explained.
Outside, cooling off on the front steps of the Jefferson, were Walt Crawford and his wife, Linda A. Driver, both members of the Research Libraries Group based in Mountain View, Calif. They were getting acquainted with an interlibrary loan listserv correspondent, William Sullivan, from the Connecticut State Library.
"This is glorious," Mr. Crawford exclaimed, sweeping his arm toward the summer evening scene on the Neptune Plaza. ALA guests, tired from a hot day of meetings and museum visits, sat in twilight on the Jefferson's steps and relaxed in a hair-riffling breeze as they listened to the Monumental Brass Band. A sliver of a moon hung beside the pale Capitol dome across the street.
Inside, behind the Gutenberg Bible, Callista Polito, 4-1/2 months old, was taking a bottle of her own personal refreshment from her ALA-beribboned grandmother, Judith L. Hunt, director of the Montclair State University in Upper Montclair, N.J. Also on hand was Callista's mother, Victoria, who has attended ALA meetings with her mother since she was about Callista's age.
This year, Ms. Hunt was particularly interested in international librarianship. "I am interested in how libraries can work with children of all cultures all the way up through college age," she said. "In northern New Jersey, 28 percent of our citizens do not speak English as their native language. We have many recent immigrants who are the first generation of their families to go to college."
Ms. Hunt had come to the right place to pursue her interest. In concert with the ALA theme, "Global Reach, Local Touch," the Library's area studies reading rooms all were open and their staffs were on hand to discuss the extent and content of their foreignlanguage collections.
Tibetan specialist Susan Meinheit was explaining to Asian Division Reading Room visitors how the Library came to receive a gift of a Tibetan prayer wheel from a Tibetan lama in Berkeley, Calif. She was signing up visiting librarians interested in obtaining similar wheels for their libraries.
"I've been overwhelmed with requests from people wanting to do special projects to help Tibetans," Ms. Meinheit said.
African and Middle Eastern Division Chief Beverly Gray and her staff told hundreds of visitors about the division's collections, and Hispanic Reading Room staff lost count of visitors, as did the European Division.
The ALA guests came early and stayed late. At 7:30 p.m., the first wave entered the Great Hall just as tables set up for a 100-year anniversary celebration of LC Subject Headings were whisked away.
At 8:35 p.m., in ever-greater numbers, ALA members continued to press through the Jefferson's front doors and up the marble staircases, undaunted by the blare of an alarm apparently activated by the heat and high humidity generated by so many closely packed celebrants.
By 9:40 p.m., they had consumed the last of 1,560 bottles of white wine and waited in line for glasses of spring and sparkling water served by waiters in black ties shouting for more ice to tux-clad colleagues wearing earphones and antennas.
At about the same time, newcomers took the last of 5,000 LC Bicentennial posters handed out at the front doors.
Shoppers waited in lines wrapped twice around the counters in the Sales Shop, where staff struggled to keep up with customer demands. In four hours, they rang up on two registers $6,400 in sales -- nearly half of what they netted all day. "These customers were amazing," manager Anna Lee said. "I've never met such nice people. It was so hot, and we had to keep them waiting for service, but they thanked us."
By 10:30 p.m., when staff were escorting visitors out of various far-flung reading rooms, reception guests had skewered the last of 82 flats of strawberries. The reception ended at 11 p.m.
Roberta Stevens, coordinator of ALA activities at the Library, said the evening was somewhat chaotic, but observed that guests had "a great time." She thanked ALA for its contribution -- $40,000 for food and entertainment -- and LC staff, particularly Facility Services, Protective Services and all of the volunteers who worked at the reception for their support.
Ms. Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newspaper.