For immediate release | January 29, 2013

Midwinter attendees hear about groundbreaking community engagement initiative, discuss future of libraries

SEATTLE - Librarians and library supporters gathered in Seattle from Jan. 25-29 to discuss ways that libraries can engage and transform their communities, as well as keep current on the issues facing public, school, academic and special libraries. Those topics included ebook lending, increasing technological change and the rapid growth of social media.

They also came to celebrate the best of the best in children’s and youth literature with the unveiling of the 2013 Youth Media Awards.

There were 6,694 attendees and 4,037 exhibitors at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting.

Among the highlights was ALA President Maureen Sullivan’s announcement on Saturday of a new partnership between ALA and the Harwood Institute of Public Innovation. "The Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities” is a multi-phase initiative funded through an IMLS grant that provides librarians with the tools and training they need to lead communities in finding innovative solutions by advancing library-led community engagement and innovation.

“This initiative offers a means to build upon the strengths and assets of our libraries and to engage with our communities in deeper, meaningful ways,” she said in a press conference held to publicize the effort.

Harwood said, “People are looking for trusted organizations in their communities to come together, to focus on our shared aspirations and not just our complaints. I think libraries are uniquely positioned in the country to do this.” He called on librarians to accelerate and deepen the work they already do to move their communities forward.

On Saturday morning, the Washington Office provided an update on the current political scene, featuring the non-partisan, Cook Political Report’s Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy.

Duffy said, “Every election teaches us something, and the 2012 election taught us a whole lot.” Among the takeaways, she said, were election participation by various demographic groups and the superior use of technology by the Obama campaign. She said white voters, who have traditionally favored Republicans, represent a shrinking share of the electorate, while other groups are occupying a greater share.

Digital literacy was a hot topic of discussion. The ALA Digital Literacy Task Force held a session entitled “Setting the Agenda on Digital Literacy,” moderated by task force chair Roseanne Cordell, associate dean for libraries at Northern Illinois University.

ALA President Maureen Sullivan welcomed the new report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project on “Library Services in the Digital Age.”

Sullivan said the report confirms and expands our understanding of how and why people use our public libraries. She cited three findings, among them that 91 percent of people 16 and older surveyed said libraries are important to them. She also noted that libraries continue to be at the forefront of bridging the digital divide, with more than a quarter of people 16 and older saying they used the computer or wi-fi at the library to go online. In addition, she cited the finding that libraries continue to innovate and evolve in ways that bring value to communities, with 70 percent of public libraries offering digital/virtual reference and information services to answer patron questions.

Preconferences addressed issues facing librarians in the future. The American Association of School Librarians held preconferences to empower school librarians as education leaders.

Academic librarians received an update on the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Value of Academic Libraries Initiative. The update featured information on ACRL’s new IMLS grant “Assessment in Action: Accademic Libraries and Student Success.”

Over the past year, ALA has taken significant steps to address ebook library lending issues. On Saturday, the ALA Digital Content Working Group held a session entitled “Ebooks and Libraries: Where Do We Stand and Where Are We Going?” moderated by working group member Sari Feldman, executive director of the Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library.

ALA President Maureen Sullivan recently praised the decision by publisher MacMillan to embark upon its ebook lending library pilot program, offering more than 1,200 backlist titles to libraries across the country.

ALA held a Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunrise Celebration Monday, with Jeanne Theoharis, professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York delivering the keynote address. Her latest book, “The Rebellious Mrs. Rosa Parks,” offers a revised look at the civil rights figure.

Those who attended Midwinter Meeting had the opportunity to hear a series of inspiring speakers.

National Library Week 2013 Honorary Chair Caroline Kennedy was a featured speaker during the Auditorium Speaker Series, moderated by ALA President-elect Barbara Stripling, who also engaged Kennedy in a question-and-answer session on Sunday.

“I’m descended from a long line of book worms and librarians. They would be very proud of me for being here with you,” said Kennedy, who has worked to improve New York City public school libraries as vice chair of the New York City Fund for Public Schools and served on the board of New Visions for Public Schools and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation.

She talked about her family’s love of poetry, noting that her uncle, the late Senator Ted Kennedy, could recite “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” in its entirety, and would even do so at book signings.

During the ALA President’s Program, author and consultant Peter Block discussed how libraries play a central role in bringing people together and empowering communities toward positive change.

Authors Terry Brooks, Ivan Doig, Greg Olsen and Ruth Ozeki were featured in the popular ERT/Booklist Author Forum. Moderator Brad Hooper explored the subject of whether the novel was “alive and well.”

On Saturday, best-selling author Steven Johnson spoke on the connection between science, technology and personal experience.

Johnson said, “We like to tell the story of the ‘eureka moment,’ when the apple falls from the tree, but most of the world’s great ideas and breakthroughs do not actually begin that way but rather they occur over time with the ‘slow hunch.’” And libraries, he said, “are wonderful curators of slow hunches.”

Best-selling author and neuroscience Lisa Genova presented the 15th annual Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture. She spoke about her newest book, “Love Anthony,” a story about life, love and autism.

One of Genova’s previous books, “Still Alive,” focuses on living with Alzheimer’s Disease. “5.4 million Americans have Alzheimer’s,” Genova said. “We can learn about the science and the statistics, but with a story we can see how we are all similar and gain compassion and empathy for what a character is going through.”

On Monday, in a heavily attended event - both in person and through social media - the ALA announced the top books, video and audiobooks for children and young adults – including the Caldecott, Coretta Scott King, Newbery and Printz awards – at its Midwinter Meeting in Seattle.

For the list of winners, please visit

Author Jamaica Kincaid praised librarians during the Freedom to Read Foundation Banned/Challenged Author event, held Saturday night at Town Hall Seattle.

“You are the gatekeepers between reader and writer. For someone like me, you have no idea how beautiful your existence is.”

Librarians learned a variety of tips for enhancing their public relations efforts on Facebook in an ALA Masters Series sessoin featuring Ben Bizzle, director of technology at Crowley Ridge Regional Library in Jonesboro, Ark., and David Lee King, digital services director at Topeka & Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library.

Bizzle developed a case study with seven libraries over 28 days to demonstrate how a $10 Google ad increased the libraries’ Facebook audiences. “Meet $10,” said Bizzle, talking about the $10-a-day Google ad. “Ten is gonna ask thousands of people a day to like your library.” The libraries, which included small and large urban systems (including Chicago Public Library), all found at least 100 percent increases in their Facebook fans, and one library saw more than 400 percent increase in Facebook fans after 28 days.

More than half of all Americans over the age of 13 are on Facebook, King said, and librarians can reach that public for free on Facebook. “Anybody like free?” King said.


Steve Zalusky

Manager of Communications

ALA Public Information Office

(312) 280-1546