By DONNA URSCHEL and GAIL FINEBERG
The American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference culminated in an elegant evening Tuesday, June 30, in the Library's Jefferson Building, where Winston Tabb received the Melvil Dewey medal and Ann Symons, new ALA president, called for vigilant protection of First Amendment rights in the digital environment.
After some 630 librarians were seated for dinner at round tables on the first and second levels of the Great Hall, they proceeded to the Coolidge Auditorium for the ALA awards ceremony and inaugural address.
Mr. Tabb, associate librarian for Library Services, was one of 11 award recipients. He was bestowed the Dewey medal "for his distinguished service of more than 25 years to the profession and his high order of creative leadership to the Library of Congress and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions."
He also was honored "for his vision, leadership and determination in establishing the Program for Cooperative Cataloging (PCC), which resulted in significant improvements to global bibliographic control," announced Sarah A. Long, chairperson of the 1998 ALA awards committee.
Each award winner proceeded to the stage to pick up a large, framed citation and to pose for pictures. Then Barbara Ford, outgoing ALA president, bade a brief farewell and turned over the program to Ms. Symons. Both women received standing ovations.
In her inaugural address, Ms. Symons said, "One of the most fun and most difficult parts of being ALA president is selecting a theme -- one that is timely, that reflects your personal interest and also 'speaks' to your colleagues.
"The theme I have selected is 'Celebrating the Freedom to Read! Learn! Connect!' It is a message close to my heart. But the truth is I didn't just choose this message; it chose me."
Ms. Symons explained that librarians today are struggling with unresolved questions concerning First Amendment issues and the Internet.
"The Internet is neither good nor evil. It is simply a tool -- one that we as a society are still learning to understand and to use. As librarians, we must be leaders in education of both children and adults about both the benefits and hazards of this new medium and how to use it wisely," she said.
Such education is preferable to making library staff members responsible for deciding what each and every parent wants his or her child to see or not see. "While filtering may seem an obvious solution, most of us know it is a quick fix at best," Ms. Symons said.
"The best and ultimate filter is the human mind. Knowing how to make informed decisions about what we choose to see, hear and view is an essential skill in the information age -- whether it's in the library, at school, at work or in the privacy of your home," she said.
Ms. Symons concluded, "Protecting the First Amendment in the digital environment is worthy of our time, best professional efforts and financial resources.
"The tough times will get better -- but they may not get better quickly. And they will only get better if you and I play a leadership role in educating the public about this new medium. This will take courage."
Judith Prowse Reid, head of the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room, received the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) History Section award for "her extraordinary contributions to family research through lectures and special publications ... ; her outstanding leadership in the History Section of RUSA ... [and] her remarkable dedication as a librarian in promoting quality service to library patrons, her ready support of her colleagues and her exemplary example as a professional."
The award was presented during a ceremony following a Capital Hilton reception on Monday, June 29. RUSA is a division of the American Library Association.
ALA Says 'Thanks'
ALA expressed its appreciation officially by passing two resolutions. On July 1, the ALA Council unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by the ALA Committee on Legislation commending the Library for "extraordinary support and cooperation" in the planning for and during the annual meeting, as well as for its generosity in hospitality and for the quality and variety of the opportunities it made available to ALA participants.
A second resolution, introduced from the floor and passed unanimously by the ALA Council, asked all ALA members to urge their congressional representatives to support legislation to authorize the minting of a commemorative coin in honor of the Library's 200th anniversary. The legislation needs 290 cosponsors in the House before it can be acted upon by the House Banking Committee.
Public Affairs Specialist Yvonne French contributed to this report. Ms. Urschel is a Washington free-lance writer; Ms. Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newspaper.