PHILADELPHIA — Productive conversations, sessions, problem-solving and networking throughout the Pennsylvania Convention Center and other venues at more than 1,800 meetings and events gave the 12,189 librarians, library workers and library supporters (including 3,796 exhibitors) at the 2014 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Philadelphia, January 24-28, a special sense of accomplishment for having braved — and beaten — some fierce winter weather to get there. With a focus on “The conversation starts here . . .,” topics high on the agenda included ebook lending and usability, E-rate, digital content, community engagement, the impact and potential of new technologies, books and awards, copyright, Net neutrality, ongoing budget challenges, innovative outreach, privacy and NSA-related issues, services for makers and best practices on a range of library-related concerns.
Much of the learning and conversation (structured and unstructured, planned and unplanned) at ALA’s face-to-face events provides important connections for subsequent online collaboration. Spaces at Midwinter that fostered informal learning included Friday’s Unconference, where participants chose to focus on big picture digital skills, open access, embedded librarianship, makerspaces and student retention. The Networking Uncommons has become an important center for informal idea exchange and events like Guerrilla Storytime, while Monday’s Library Camp was a good chance to reflect on the Midwinter experience before heading home. This post captures and highlights the value that attendees place on the informal learning at ALA events.
For the second year, experts offered the latest updates in the cluster of “News You Can Use” sessions, including policy, research, statistics, technology and more, based on new research, surveys, reports, legislation/regulation, projects, beta trials, focus groups and other data. The many well attended sessions included the Washington Office Update “Under a Microscope: The Story Behind the Revelations About the NSA Surveillance Programs,” with Spencer Ackerman, U.S. National Security editor for the Guardian.
Technological innovation, implementation and the impact on libraries were front and center in structured and unstructured sessions and gatherings. Google Glass (collaborating with ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy) attracted a long line of would-be “Glass Explorers” in the registration area, where they had a chance to try it out with help from the Google team, while a less planned opportunity arose in a LITA group in the Networking Uncommons. Openness was a key theme at LITA’s always eagerly anticipated “Top Technology Trends” session, where topics ranged from big data to open data, from hashtags to real-time spontaneity.
In keeping with ALA’s commitment to increased engagement between libraries and the communities they serve, related sessions ranged from innovative uses of TEDx events to spark community conversations to a focus on turning outward and uncovering a community’s aspirations. Past-President Maureen Sullivan led an update on the Libraries Transforming Communities initiative. The ALA “Kitchen-Table” type Conversations (informal conversations in groups of 16) picked up with a focus on what the participants want ALA to be as a community, with a special focus on ALA Annual Conference.
A packed room and an engaged dialog characterized the ALA Masters session led by members of ReadersFirst, a movement to improve e-book access and services for public library users. They introduced the ReadersFirst Guide to Library E-Book Vendors, complimenting the level of vendor engagement and improvements and promising continuous updates and developments — “We will move as the technology moves.” In another ALA Masters session, “The Library as a Catalyst for Innovation: Case Studies of Library Entrepreneurship Centers and Programming,” Lisa Bunker provided examples from her work as social media librarian at the Pima County (Ariz.) Public Library, and addressed how librarians can be catalysts at many levels, including in bringing people together.
New titles, authors and related awards were as always at the heart of Midwinter for many attendees, discussed and celebrated in many venues, starting with the ERT/Booklist Author Forum on Friday afternoon, when five acclaimed children’s book creators—Tonya Bolden, Brian Floca, Kadir Nelson, Steve Sheinkin and Melissa Sweet—joined fellow author and Booklist Books for Youth Senior Editor Ilene Cooper to provide an overview of their inspirations and work as well as a lively conversation (Brian Floca went on to be announced as the 2014 Caldecott Medal winner on Monday morning).
Auditorium Speakers included one of the world’s bestselling authors, literacy champion David Baldacci, who believes that “the best way to acquire knowledge is through reading” and talked about developing characters and the importance of fighting illiteracy. Wes Moore urged his audience to “express themselves in the larger context of community and family . . . You never know when someone who needs to hear your story is listening.” In his talk, Matthew Quick, author (also known simply as Q) of “The Silver Linings Playbook,” attributed some of his literary success to staying focused on the positive.
The several hundred attendees at the Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture were captivated by human rights advocate and author Ishmael Beah, author of “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier,” who said, ““When you’ve been so deeply touched by violence, you don’t glorify it. You’re not fascinated by it in any way.” High-demand speaker, co-founder and executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance and energetic activist Andrew Slack was the speaker on Barbara K. Stripling’s ALA President’s Program.
On Monday afternoon, 2013 National Book Award for Fiction winner James McBride and his gospel quintet energized attendees as they helped wrap up Midwinter and rev up for Annual Conference in Las Vegas. United for Libraries hosted the annual Gala Author Tea featuring bestselling authors Lisa Scottoline, Sue Monk Kidd, Laura Lippman, and Cristina Henriquez, Alice Greenway and Gabrielle Zevin.
High energy and enthusiasm as always surrounded the announcements of ALA Youth Media Award award recipients and honorees. The line to get into the live event started forming early, while the spillover crowd joined a live webcast. Highlighted videos from winning authors are posted to a dedicated YouTube channel. The awards include the Caldecott and Newbery medals, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and the Printz awards. The RUSA Book and Media Awards were also announced to an excited crowd on Sunday evening.
In addition to the demonstrations and introduction of hundreds of new, updated, and favorite products, technologies and titles, dozens of authors and related events kept the exhibit floor busy. Piles of ARCs were eagerly snatched up, the well attended Book Buzz Theater and What’s Cooking at ALA? stage were in the Midwinter exhibit hall for the first time, and the PopTop Stage offered a full line-up of readings.
Dr. Sheryll Cashin spoke urgently (and with flashes of humor) to the full room at the 14th Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, Sunrise Celebration on Monday morning, about growing up in an activist household and how she has come to think that focusing on “Place not Race” might move us beyond the current state of race relations in the U.S. Her talk was followed by the Call to Action, made by Virginia "Ginny" Bradley Moore.
Attendees who hadn’t yet signed the “Declaration for the Right to Libraries” were invited to do so, including at a “Declaration Event” with Barbara Stripling, hosted by the Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia System.
Channels for active communication before, during and after the conferences (including some non-attendees who use the hashtag #ALAleftbehind) encompass blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, Instagram and Flickr. Options for reviewing the Midwinter Meeting include extensive American Libraries’ coverage and the show daily Cognotes. The Highlights issue of Cognotes will be available online in early February. Any handouts available from sessions are listed in the Scheduler. A selection of recordings from Midwinter Meeting will be offered free to anyone who wishes to access them (announcement coming soon).
The Midwinter conversations will be picked up and continued at 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas, where attendees will find the usual array of content and events as well as an easy-to-navigate conference campus and low hotel rates. General information about Annual, social media links, and details about how to register and book housing are at alaannual.org.