Opening General Session,
featuring Judy Blume & Special Guests

Friday, June 23: 4:00PM - 5:30PM, CT


Photos of Opening Session speakers: Chris __, Jessica __, Alexi __, avery __, Judy Blume, and additional speakers to be announced.

The ALA 2023 Annual Conference will kick off with an esteemed panel of visionary leaders, poised to explore the boundless horizons that lie ahead for libraries and library workers.  Attendees will hear from a broad range of local and national thought leaders, including Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown, who has prioritized equity and the democratization of access to information; FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, arguably one of the most powerful federal policymakers when it comes to information access; Illinois Secretary of State and Illinois State Librarian Alexi Giannoulias, a staunch supporter of literacy and America's libraries; Chicago Poet Laureate avery r. young, a steadfast advocate for the power and importance of the written word; and more.

Chris Brown Image

Chris Brown
Chicago Public Library Commissioner

Chicago Public Library Commissioner Chris Brown is passionate about redefining what public libraries can bring to the communities they serve. This mission is particularly vital for CPL—its 81 locations make it one of the world’s largest library systems.

Brown came to CPL in 2021 after more than a decade serving in Californian districts. Throughout his career, he has prioritized equity and the democratization of access to information, including nontraditional patrons and resources beyond traditional library materials. He is currently spearheading collaboration with neighborhood safety groups, City departments, and outside partners in order to establish safe spaces for youth. He has also initiated CPL’s first organized analysis of its processes with the goal of improving equity for patrons. This work began with the opening of CPL’s first regional library on Chicago’s West Side since the 1970s.

Such leadership has earned Brown national recognition. He was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2016 and has received the Urban Libraries Council Top Innovator Award, the California Library Association PRExcellence Award, and a John Cotton Dana Award from the American Library Association in both California and Illinois. Most recently, he served on the California Library Association Board.

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Jessica Rosenworcel
Chairwoman, Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel believes that the future belongs to the connected. She works to promote greater opportunity, accessibility, and affordability in our communications services in order to ensure that all Americans get a fair shot at 21st century success. She believes strong communications markets can foster economic growth and security, enhance digital age opportunity, and enrich our civic life.

From fighting to protect net neutrality to ensuring access to the internet for students caught in the Homework Gap, Jessica has been a consistent champion for connecting all. She is a leader in spectrum policy, developing new ways to support wireless services from Wi-Fi to video and the internet of things. She also is responsible for developing policies to help expand the reach of broadband to schools, libraries, hospitals, and households across the country.

Named as one of POLITICO's 50 Politicos to Watch and profiled by InStyle Magazine in a series celebrating "women who show up, speak up and get things done," Jessica brings over two decades of communications policy experience and public service to the FCC. Prior to joining the agency, she served as Senior Communications Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, under the leadership of Senator John D. Rockefeller IV and Senator Daniel Inouye. Before entering public service, Jessica practiced communications law in Washington, DC.

She is a native of Hartford, Connecticut. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University and New York University School of Law. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and two children.

Alexi Giannoulias

Alexi Giannoulias
Illinois Secretary of State and Illinois State Librarian

Secretary Alexi Giannoulias was sworn into office as Illinois’ 38th Secretary of State in January, committing to restore trust in government, modernize services and strengthen state ethics. As State Librarian, Secretary Giannoulias is dedicated to fighting against book censorship in our libraries. Amid the surge of book bans across the nation, Giannoulias introduced first-in-the-nation legislation, which was signed into law earlier this month, designed to support public and school libraries by withholding state grants from libraries that remove books. He is a staunch supporter of librarians, who have found themselves on the frontlines of culture wars and have been targeted by extremist groups in Illinois.

Secretary Giannoulias also drafted legislation to narrow the digital divide by increasing access to e-books and digital materials. His “License to Read” bill, which passed the General Assembly this spring, allows his office to negotiate with publishers on behalf public libraries to enable them to acquire the licenses needed to allow more library users access to more e-books and audiobooks. He also secured a reoccurring $5 million appropriation in the state’s budget for annual technology grants that allow libraries to update and upgrade their equipment and services to provide the latest technology and better serve their users, regardless of where they live. Secretary Giannoulias served as a member of the Chicago Public Library’s Board of Directors for five years and has seen first-hand how indispensable libraries are to communities. One of his priorities as State Librarian is improving the public’s access to the vital services libraries provide and ensuring libraries have the resources they need to continue providing the tools and knowledge that open doors for learning and opportunity. In 2006, Giannoulias was elected Illinois State Treasurer, becoming the youngest State Treasurer in the nation at age 30. After leaving the Treasurer’s office in 2011, Giannoulias was appointed as chairman of the Illinois Community College System. He also became senior director at BNY Mellon Wealth Management and taught at Northwestern University. Secretary Giannoulias graduated cum laude from Boston University with a degree in economics and earned a law degree from Tulane University’s School of Law. He is a lifelong Chicagoan and still calls the city home along with his wife and their three daughters.

avery r. young

avery r. young
Chicago Poet Laureate

Chicago’s Inaugural Poet Laureate, and the recipient of the Meier and New Leader of Chicago awards, interdisciplinary artist avery r. young is also an award-winning teaching artist who has been an Arts and Public Life Artist-In-Residence at the University of Chicago. As co-director of The Floating Museum, young’s work stretches to that programming and curation of the Chicago Architecture Biennial - Cab5, This is a Rehearsal [2023]. In the foreword of his most recent book neckbone: visual verses (Northwestern University Press), Theaster Gates called him “one of our greatest living street of the most important thinkers on the Black experience,” Black Grooves referred to his album tubman. (FPE Records) as “brilliant” and “supremely funky.” Young’s poems and essays have been published in Cecil McDonald's In The Company of Black, The BreakBeat Poets, The Golden Shovel Anthology: New Poems Honoring Gwendolyn Brooks, AIMPrint, Teaching Black, and other anthologies. His album booker t. soltreyne: a race rekkid engages matters of race, gender, and sexuality in America during the Obama Era.  Avery’s work in performance, visual text, and sound design has been featured in several exhibitions and theater festivals---notably The Hip Hop Theatre Festival, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Contemporary Art, and American Jazz Museum. He is the featured vocalist on a number of musical and spoken-word recordings, including flutist Nicole Mitchell’s Mandorla Awakening (FPE Records). His theater credits include co-writing and co-producing the soundtrack for Lise Haller Baggeson’s Hatorgrade Retrograde: The Musical, scoring RedClay Dance’s Rest.Restore.Nourinsh.Move.Heal and writing the libretto for The Chicago Lyric Opera’s Twilight: Gods. Currently young is working on the libretto, compositions for his debut opera titled safronia and he is working on the score and script for his debut play maim de looter(s).

Judy Blume Image

Featured Speaker:
Judy Blume

Join renowned author Judy Blume and Simon & Schuster Senior Vice President and Publisher Justin Chanda for a captivating discussion about Blume's remarkable writing career and her enduring connection with generations of young adult readers. From her prolific work writing some of the most loved books for young readers to the recent success of the documentary "Judy Blume Forever" on Amazon Prime Video to the adaptation of her iconic book "Are You There God? It's Me Margaret." into a blockbuster movie, you'll discover the life of this celebrated author and her impact on readers' lives. 

In this session, Blume and Chanda will also discuss Blume's thought-provoking journey confronting both fervent fans and staunch critics. It promises to be an important discussion of the complexities of literary freedom and its profound impact on our collective imagination.

Blume’s books have been mainstays on ALA’s Most Challenged Books lists over the years. Yet despite facing censorship challenges, she has fearlessly advocated for intellectual freedom. Blume passionately asserts, "It's not only the books currently under fire that concern me. It's the books that will never see the light of day. The unwritten stories. The unread treasures. All silenced by the specter of censorship. Ultimately, it is the young readers who suffer the most." 

In Conversation with Judy Blume