Thousands consider libraries’ immediate and future needs at 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits

Paul Graller
Conference Director
pgraller@ala.org

ATLANTA — The thousands of librarians, library workers and supporters at the 2017 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting and Exhibits, held Jan. 20-24 in Atlanta, delved into the future of libraries, while also bringing a heightened sense of urgency to examining current needs and aspirations. In formal and informal settings, in engaged conversations and productive problem-solving sessions, and in the exhibit hall, they shared the latest library-related trends, updates, innovations, products, titles and services. The 1,120 scheduled meetings and events took place throughout the Georgia World Congress Center and other nearby sites. There were 8,326 registered for the event, including 2,916 exhibitors.

The following highlights are drawn from the full and detailed coverage of the 2017 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in American Libraries and the show daily, Cognotes.

The emphasis on library transformation included a new three-day Symposium on the Future of Libraries, organized by the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries, with daily plenary and concurrent sessions followed by reflective wrap-ups. The nearly 40 sessions were marked by strong attendance and energetic participation. The plenary sessions featuring Atlanta-based social, civic and educational innovators looked beyond the library field to explore change and sparked engaged discussions about how their work relates to libraries and the potential for partnerships to increase their impact. The symposium also encompassed the popular News You Can Use and ALA Masters Series. The Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture given by urban visionary Ryan Gravel emphasized several themes raised throughout the symposium, notably how critical it is to have bold visions and to engage communities in shaping the future of their own environments and institutions.

Transformation was also the focus of training and other events related to ALA’s national public awareness campaign, Libraries Transform.  Meeting content throughout encompassed key messages of the campaign: that libraries are committed to advancing their legacy of reading and developing a digitally inclusive society; that libraries of all kinds add value in the key areas of education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment and engagement; and that library professionals facilitate individual opportunity and community progress. The “Because of You” branding continues to honor library workers for their expertise and role in library transformation.

The current divisive national political discourse prompted a special focus on ALA’s core values and libraries’ increasingly important role in ensuring access to information (especially fact-checked information) and connecting with their specific communities’ aspirations. A vote to add Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion as a fourth distinct area to ALA’s three current strategic directions—Advocacy, Information Policy, and Professional and Leadership Development—passed unanimously. A special town hall on advocacy and core values in uncertain times provided a forum for members to express concerns and concrete ideas for how ALA can be most effective and supportive in the current climate. The event was streamed live on the American Libraries Facebook page

Acclaimed comedian W. Kamau Bell opened the conference with humor, before addressing serious concerns about the current socio-political climate and encouraging attendees to really look at, see and honor one another. Kwame Alexander, Julie Todaro’s President’s Program featured speaker, urged the audience to “disagree without disconnecting” and pointed out that words can connect us. Auditorium Speakers included Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and law professor Annette Gordon-Reed and a panel of youth authors: LeUyen Pham (also an illustrator), Susan Tan and Scott Westerfeld. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observance and Sunrise Celebration speaker was Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, a historian whose work focuses on gender and slavery. Actor, magician and now young readers’ author Neil Patrick Harris closed out the conference on Jan. 23.

In addition to the 400+ exhibitors demonstrating hundreds of new, updated and favorite products, technologies and titles, hundreds of authors signed thousands of books in the exhibit hall. A popular new area of the exhibit floor was the Innovation Pavilion, featuring library-appropriate products incorporating and adapting new ideas and technology. Piles of ARCs disappeared, decision-making attendees talked with exhibitors, and ongoing entertainment was provided at the Book Buzz Theater, the What’s Cooking at ALA? Stage and the PopTop stage. Congressman John Lewis was an especially timely visiting author in the exhibit hall, fresh from leading the 60,000-strong Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women on Jan. 21 (in which hundreds of librarians participated), and just prior to being announced as winner of several 2017 youth media awards and medals, including the Michael L. Printz, Coretta Scott King, and the Robert F. Sibert.

Books and media were also celebrated and discussed beyond the exhibit hall. The usual excitement accompanied the announcements of recipients and honorees of the ALA Youth Media Awards, including the Caldecott and Newbery medals, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards and the Printz Award. Hundreds attended the live event, and many thousands more watched via live webcast and (for the first time) Facebook Live. Lists of winners and titles, as well as video highlights, can be found on ALA’s ilovelibraries website. ALA’s book and media award announcements are now consolidated at Midwinter as the RUSA Book and Media Awards, including the announcement of the winners of the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction.

Technological innovation, implementation and the impact on libraries were the focus of both structured and unstructured sessions and gatherings. Key themes and guidance were as always highlighted by the experts on LITA’s popular “Top Tech Trends” panel. Peer-to-peer learning opportunities included informal work on the Uncommons and Ignite sessions that offered five-minute overviews on current projects. Much of the learning and conversation at ALA’s face-to-face events provides important connections for subsequent online collaboration.

The three ALA 2017-18 presidential candidates, Loida Garcia-Febo, Terri Grief and Scott Walter, laid out their visions and answered questions, and the association’s leadership groups and committees met to discuss ongoing governance and new resolutions.

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 by late January. Selected recordings from the Midwinter Meeting will be offered free to anyone who wishes to access them (details to come).

The Midwinter Meeting conversations, professional development opportunities and personal connections will be picked up and continued at the 2017 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, June 22-27. General information, social media links and details about how to register and book housing starting Feb. 2, 2017 (noon, Central) are at alaannual.org.

 

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