June 22, 2006 | New Orleans

At last, the wait is over. The American Library Association, the first major citywide convention post Katrina, begins today through June 28. The exhibits will be open June 24-27 in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The conference features a wealth of famous speakers such as First Lady Laura Bush, Madeleine Albright, Cokie Roberts, Anderson Cooper and many more.

Local retail shops, restaurants and tourist attractions have been eager to entertain this convention business that is vital to the future of our New Orleans tourism industry. The 20,000 conventioneers are a welcome boost for what is expected to be a slow summer for tourism.

There will be many opportunities for these book lovers to enjoy special conference events in addition to seeing the progress made in area libraries around town. As many local libraries were severely damaged by Katrina floodwaters, volunteers and donations have led to the renovation and restoration of several of them.

This convention takes place at a critical juncture. New Orleans desperately needs this infusion of conventioneers to boost the economy. We need the librarians to see the devastation first hand so that they can relay the message that we still need help in rebuilding the communities surrounding the city. At the same time, they can spread the positive news that the French Quarter, Downtown, Riverfront and Garden District areas are doing well and reiterate that New Orleans is a great place to visit.

Thank you, ALA, for believing in New Orleans and keeping your convention in our great city.