Empowering People and Changing Lives: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Hosts the 8th National Conference of African-American Librarians

by Michelle McKinney

About the Conference

Hundreds of African-American librarians, library staffers, vendors and advocates from around the country gathered August 7-11, 2013 at the Northern Kentucky Convention Center to attend the 8th National Conference of African-American Librarians (NCAAL). The conference, sponsored by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, provided attendees the opportunity to network, as well as to gain knowledge and skills needed to meet the challenges faced by African-American librarians and the communities of color they serve.


L-R: Arnice Smith, Craig Person, March Author’s Andrew Aydin and Representative John Lewis

The conference offered programmed tracks focused on Leadership and Management; Innovation and Creativity; Diversity and Cultural Heritage; Advocacy, Outreach and Community Engagement; and Health and Wellness. Workshops also covered collections, programming and services for all types of libraries.

Conference Highlights

Opening Session keynote speaker, Melissa Harris-Perry, host of MSNBC’s weekend talk show and author of Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America discussed her career path and her love of libraries. Local dignitaries, former Cincinnati mayor Mark Mallory and Covington, KY mayor Sherry Carran, welcomed the library group to both shores of the Ohio River. Mayor Mallory was able to connect with the crowd when he shared his first-hand experience working at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Closing speaker, Congressman John Lewis held the attendees rapt attention with his experiences from the civil rights movement and how they led him to co-author the graphic novel, March.  Congressman Lewis and co-author Andrew Aydin held a book signing for the pre-publication copies of their book.


Attendees admire the Roebling Murals at the Covington Riverfront as part of the Cincinnati Museum Center Tour

The conference activities ranged from informative to entertaining. Kelly Green, daughter of University of Cincinnati Libraries’ Alfreda Green, won the inaugural NCAAL Conference Talent Show with her moving violin performance. Fitness focused folks took part in Saturday morning Zumba and/or a three mile walk along the scenic Ohio River. Many ventured over to Newport on the Levee for shopping, dining and entertainment. Fundraising tours took in the local sites related to the rich African American history in and around Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky along with the trip to the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio.

Local Volunteers Set the Stage

Southwest Ohio and Neighboring (SWON) Libraries’ Ethnic Librarians and Staff Special Interest Group (ELS-SIG), convened by Michelle McKinney, Reference and Web Services Coordinator at UC Blue Ash College Library, served as the Local Arrangements Committee for the conference. The committee was responsible for welcoming attendees to the host city; contracting entertainment and vendors; identifying local speakers; engaging in local fundraising and facilitating all on-site needs. The ELS-SIG group is a microcosm of the larger conference, librarians and paraprofessionals representing different types of libraries at various career stages.


L-R: ELS-SIG members Michelle McKinney, Minnette Brown, Meshia Anderson, Arnice Smith, Rachel Lewis, Joanne Mayfield-Williams

Local businesses, libraries and library organizations showed their support by sponsoring and hosting events, donating giveaways items; advertising in the conference program book and providing time and resources that allowed faculty and staff to participate in conference activities. The University of Cincinnati Libraries (UCL) sponsored the conference bags; UCL, UC Blue Ash College and SWON Libraries advertised via the conference program book; the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County hosted the Welcome Session at the main branch library; and the Kenton County Public Library hosted the Community Service Project in their newly renovated Mary Ann Mongan branch.

More than Workshops

For many, this conference was the first exposure to the library profession on a national level. First-time attendees had the opportunity to learn from library leaders; network with other up-and-coming professionals; consider various career paths; or perhaps contribute to the profession by presenting a workshop or poster session. For others, the 8th NCAAL was a homecoming, reuniting colleagues and friends for whom this is just one stop of many on a long professional journey. Either way, attendees left the conference enlightened, invigorated and empowered to return to their respective career homes to do the valuable work of librarianship.


Attendees arriving for the Welcome Reception at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Looking Ahead

The 9th National Conference of African American Librarians will be held in 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. Visit the Black Caucus of the American Library Association’s website at http://www.bcala.org for more information.



Ethnic Librarians and Staff Special Interest Group and 8th NCAAL Local Arrangements Committee Members:

  • Meshia Anderson (Acquisitions Specialist, University of Cincinnati)
  • Minnette Brown (Senior Library Associate Specialist, University of Cincinnati)
  • Karen Cudjoe (Stacks Manager, University of Cincinnati)
  • Rachel Lewis (Technical Services Manager, UC Blue Ash College)
  • Joann Mayfield Williams (Administrative Secretary to the Dean, University of Cincinnati)
  • Melanie Moon (Library Director, Brown Macke College)
  • Craig Person (Head of Access Services, Northern Kentucky University)
  • Paulette Simpson (School Media Specialist, Cincinnati Public Schools)
  • Arnice Smith (Branch Manager, Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County)
  • Arlene Wilson (Children’s Programmer, Kenton County Public Library)