I think it's important to have "requirements" and "electives" at ALA since there are so many great sessions, and it's always fun to do things outside your comfort zone or work focus.
The two "elective" sessions I went to were actually the two best sessions I have ever attended at ALA (I have now attended 3 times - 2007, 2009, and 2010). One was on science fiction, which I know virtually nothing about, and one was "Blasphemy! When Religious Values Clash with Intellectual Freedom Values," which I attended with Gretchen so we could dialogue about it afterward.
The science fiction session featured three speakers: Eric Rabkin, Cory Doctorow, and Neil Hollands. Rabkin went through a short (and entertaining!) history of the development of "scientifiction" and one of the most interesting things he said was that, "The first novel was necessarily a work of science fiction." I thought this was interesting in light of a discussion I was following last fall about Margaret Atwood (btw, Happy Canada Day, Madge!) saying that she writes "speculative fiction" and not "science fiction" - comments which caused a buzz on many book blogs. Doctorow was wonderful as expected, and said we should take advantage of the fact that "people look like jerks when they rip on libraries." He meant that the sometimes questionable "reverence" paid to librarians could be leveraged to advance key issues. Yesterday I tweeted this comment in conjunction with the Fox News report about whether we need libraries and then @doctorow retweeted it, leading to a wave of mentions, followers and general giddiness for me.
Neil Hollands was the best. What a guy! He listed off several brilliant points about how to do readers advisory appropriately for science fiction readers. First he cautioned librarians not to assume that these readers share too many of the same personal characteristics, but he did say that they are generally more independent readers, and that any outreach approach has to be built around this fact. He talked about being "series-aware" as a librarian so you know whether a particular series has to be read in order, and not to get rid of the series even if its first two installments aren't circulating well (evidently some series don't really take off until Book 3 and then patrons will go looking for the first two books). He also said not to start a SciFi Readers' Group from scratch but to tap into local networks and build from there. He specifically encouraged librarians to attend a local "game con" and speak with organizers about how to reach potential readers.
Monday afternoon I heard Sir Paul Sturges and Irshad Manji speak about religious values and intellectual freedom. I'll admit that I was "offended"by some of the things said, but more importantly, I learned the differences between blasphemy, offensive speech, and hate speech. It was an engaging session about how to open up dialogue around topics that are sensitive and possibly offensive. One of the take-home messages was not to be afraid to ask questions that you fear might offend someone; not asking those questions can do more harm than good. I was even empowered to tell Irshad something during her book signing something that I knew might offend her, but she had empowered me to speak out: I think of her as a Muslim Rachel Maddow. So when she signed my book, I told her this, and we had a good laugh about it.