ALA Recap: Gloria Steinem, Nick Offerman, and a Great Big Parade

07/22/2015
Sarah Vowell interviewing Nick Offerman
Sarah Vowell interviewing Nick Offerman

What happens when 16,000 librarians get together? Recently, Submittable attended the American Library Association’s Annual Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco, where we demoed our platform at the Knight Foundation booth. ALA is basically like AWP for librarians, complete with panels, cocktail hours, football-field-sized exhibit halls, and big-name speakers. In between working at the booth and attending the CODEX Hackathon that Submittable co-sponsored, I went to talks from Nick Offerman (a.k.a. Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec) and Gloria Steinem.

At a standing-room only audience in the main auditorium, I sat between two librarians from Philadelphia while we waited for Nick Offerman (“Is anyone here not a librarian?” one of them asked the other. “I’m not!” I said). We collectively swooned a little when he walked onto the stage — he’s very dashing in real life, this Nick Offerman. Offerman gave a self-deprecating talk about his new book Gumption (“I’m really proud of it,” he said, “But I also take really good shits I’m proud of”) and his love for woodworking. Sarah Vowell dropped by for a surprise visit and interviewed him onstage. Trivia: Did you know Offerman is good friends with George Saunders, whom Offerman calls “an incredible guitar player”? Also, he really does giggle that way.

 

Gloria Steinem gave the opening talk for the Saturday of the conference weekend. Though the talk was at 8:30AM, the crowd was standing-room only. Steinem, whose book My Life on the Road comes out in October, discussed the importance of libraries and community activists, a job which, she noted, one cannot interview for but simply must do. She’s an incredibly eloquent and thoughtful speaker, and her speech was full of quotable lines.

Gloria Steinem at ALA 2015
Gloria Steinem at ALA 2015

My top seven quotes from Steinem’s speech:

  1. On her family’s frequent moves when she was a child: “I was rescued by librarians wherever I went.”
  2. To the audience: “Patriarchy doesn’t work anywhere anymore. So I’m hoping we can pretend we’re sitting in a circle.”
  3. To librarians: “You democratize knowledge.”
  4. On religion: “If God looks like the ruling class, then the ruling class is God.”
  5. Her definition of feminism: “A person who believes in the full social, economic, political equality of males and females.”
  6. On being a community organizer: “Pressing ‘send’ is not organizing.”
  7. On her decision to become a speaker on the road: “There is something that happens in a room that can’t happen even on a page.”

 

The day before Steinem’s speech, the Supreme Court announced the legalization of same-sex marriage. This announcement happily coincided with San Francisco’s Pride weekend. Throngs of crowds flooded downtown San Francisco, near where I stayed in SOMA, and the whole weekend was like a big party. Having grown up in the Bay Area, I’d been to many Pride parades, but never one that felt this joyful. What a trip.

Asta So

Asta So lives in Missoula, MT, with her husband, dog, and cat. She is Submittable’s Head of People.