2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits —thousands of attendees, conversations and events

For Immediate Release
Fri, 02/06/2015


Mary Mackay

Director of Marketing

Conference Services

American Library Association


CHICAGO -- With the city's near-record snowfall swirling outside, 10,637 librarians, library workers and library supporters (including 3466 exhibitors) created their own indoor blizzard of ideas, insights and energy at more than 1,800 meetings, events and social gatherings that offered lively conversations, updates, productive problem-solving and networking throughout McCormick Place and other venues during the 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Chicago, Jan. 29-Feb. 3. With a focus on “The conversation starts here . . .,” topics especially high on the agenda this year included  how libraries are transforming communities, the value of school libraries, diverse materials for youth and other issues of diversity, inclusion and equity.

Many meetings, sessions and small-group “kitchen-table” conversations elicited member input into ALA’s three current strategic directions: advocacy, information policy and professional and leadership development. Notes on related conversations will be posted in the Strategic Planning and the Community Engagement communities. The four ALA presidential candidates laid out their vision for 2015-16 and answered questions, and the association’s leadership groups met to address ongoing governance and new resolutions.

The following highlights are drawn from the full and detailed coverage of the 2015 ALA Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in American Libraries and the show daily, Cognotes.

“News You Can Use” offered 38 sessions presenting the latest in library-related policy, research, statistics, legislation, technology, trend-monitoring and more. The many well attended sessions included the Washington Office update featuring Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and others addressing the importance of advocacy, urging librarians to “get organized” because “the jury is still out on the current Congress.”  Others included David Lankes discussing radical conversations around “new librarianship;” the social justice “Collaboratorium;” the first 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act; women in geekdom; blood donations and drives—facts, fear and discrimination; adult literacy through library engagement; the AAM’s Center for the Future of Museums on envisioning potential futures created by current trends and events; and updates on or from the digital inclusion survey, school library research and advocacy, the Digital Public Library of America, ACRL/SPARC and Value of Academic Libraries projects, and the National Center for Education Statistics.

From the creation of #WeNeedDiverseBooks to the nationally praised crisis response of the Ferguson, Missouri Public Library, 2014’s many discussions around diversity and inclusion were picked up and extended in Chicago. Ferguson Public Library director Scott Bonner spoke (after a standing ovation) to a packed room about the often-difficult judgment calls made during the protests that wracked his city. Building on an earlier invitational full-day discussion, Diversity Matters: Stepping It Up With Action! gathered people to look at practical steps. Sunday’s Conversation on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion brought dozens of participants together for lively small-group discussion. At the annual MLK Sunrise Celebration, Dr. Cornel West informed, moved, and delighted hundreds of attendees, ranging from insights into Martin Luther King and his legacy to librarians as “the caretakers of . . . deep education, not deep schooling.”

Technological innovation, implementation and the impact on libraries were the focus of both structured and unstructured sessions and gatherings. Key themes raised by the experts on LITA’s guiding “Top Tech Trends” panel included: how to improve access to technology for under-resourced libraries; adding value by using Smartphones in nontraditional ways, by applying game thinking in non-game spaces, and by Bluetooth beacons that share information with those nearby; universal design—implementing accessibility in the first stage of the design process; the rising use of course e-packs; increased technology programming for girls, especially coding; and changes in business processes, especially related to subscription-based content.

On Saturday, coaches from The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation offered a series of four hands-on sessions to help libraries turn outward and better leverage their trusted position in the community to engage people on issues that matter to them. These sessions were part of the Libraries Transforming Communities initiative, and attendees left with a “Step-By-Step Guide to Turning Outward to Your Community.”

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 buzzing. Piles of ARCs were eagerly snatched up, decision-making attendees took advantage of time to talk with exhibitors, and Book Buzz Theater, What’s Cooking at ALA? and the PopTop stage offered ongoing entertainment.

New titles, authors and related awards were as always at the heart of Midwinter for many attendees, discussed and celebrated in the exhibits and many other venues starting with the ERT/Booklist Author Forum on Friday afternoon when acclaimed graphic novel authors and artists—Cece Bell, Françoise Mouly, Jeff Smith and Gene Luen Yang—dug into graphic novels with Eva Volin. (Smith was also the featured guest at the Freedom to Read Foundation 45th anniversary event.) The usual high energy and enthusiasm accompanied the announcements of recipient and honorees of the ALA Youth Media Awards, including the Caldecott and Newbery medals, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, and the Printz Award. The line to get into the packed live event started forming before 7 a.m., while 27,000 more watched a live webcast. Lists of winners and titles, as well as video highlights can be found on ALA’s ilovelibraries website. The RUSA Book and Media Awards were also announced to an excited crowd on Sunday evening. At the United for Libraries annual Gala Author Tea on Monday, bestselling authors Steve Berry, Thomas Perry, Elizabeth Berg, Marisa de los Santos, Marja Mills and Meg Cabot discussed their writing lives and forthcoming books.  

Reports on other high-profile, inspiring, and well received speakers can be found in the American Libraries and Cognotes coverage. They included Auditorium Speakers Jason Segel and LeVar Burton; ALA President’s Program speaker Mick Ebeling; Arthur Curley Memorial Lecturer Ayaan Hirsi Ali in conversation with Booklist’s Donna Seaman; ALA Masters Ben Bizzle on risk-taking to improve marketing, Mita Williams on the role of libraries in the Makerspace and Hackerspace world, and the Soon to be Famous Illinois Author project; and Grammy-nominated trombone and trumpet player Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, who helped wrap up Midwinter and rev up for the Annual Conference in San Francisco.  

The unlimited informal opportunities, in addition to scheduled events, have become a significant focus of each ALA conference; 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. Posts on the Building Creative Bridges blog capture the value of participation in such informal learning and learning networks.  Spaces at Midwinter that fostered informal learning included Friday’s Unconference (where participants chose to focus on early literacy and programming, school libraries and genrefication, the state of your library, technology and makerspaces and scholarly communication), the Networking Uncommons—now an important center for informal idea exchange and events like Guerrilla Storytime—and Monday’s Library Camp. For the first time at Midwinter, Ignite sessions offered five-minute overviews on current projects.

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 by mid-February. Any handouts available from sessions are listed in the Scheduler. Selected recordings from the Midwinter Meeting will be offered free to anyone who wishes to access them (details to come).

The many Midwinter Meeting conversations and personal connections will be picked up and continued at the 2015 ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco, where attendees will find the usual array of content and events as they work on transforming libraries. General information, social media links, and details about how to register and book housing are at alaannual.org.