Nothing Middling about Midwinter

by Megan Hodge

I had been told—both by my librarian coworkers and by bloggers writing about their conference experiences—that the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Conference was a business meeting without much in the way of programs or entertainment. I am delighted to report that this is not the case.

I attended my first Midwinter Conference this January 2011 as a requirement for taking part in the 2011 Emerging Leaders (EL) program (funded partially by New Members Round Table (NMRT), which is generously sponsoring my participation in the EL program). My only previous experience with conferences being Annual 2010 in Washington, D.C., I wasn’t sure what manner of beast to expect, especially since Annual is more than twice as big as Midwinter. While there was no Cooking Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall, I was still impressed with the number of vendors. And, as last time, with their alluring giveaways—smoothies, champagne, chocolate, and, of course, multitudinous ARCs.

Friday was almost entirely spent in an Emerging Leaders workshop, in which we all got to meet each other for the first time and hear ALA luminaries such as Maureen Sullivan (candidate for ALA Vice-President/President-Elect), Molly Raphael (current ALA Vice-President/President-Elect), and Keith Michael Fiels (ALA Executive Director). Though I, like many of my EL and other new LIS graduate counterparts, have yet to find a full-time professional job, listening to these movers and shakers and getting to know other librarians was a resounding affirmation of my having chosen the right profession. How many other professions can claim to uphold the First Amendment as one of its deepest and abiding principles? And have members like fellow Emerging Leader Andromeda Yelton—who spearheaded the Buy India a Library project despite lacking a full-time job herself—be so willing to share innovations so others can benefit, instead of hoarding all the good ideas for oneself?

I found the “all work, no play” stereotype misleading as well. Only one of my committees met at Midwinter in San Diego, and I was unable to attend even that due to my EL obligations. Contrariwise, there were so many social events—Library and Information Technology Association (LITA) Happy Hour, the NMRT and Association of College and Research Libraries-Instruction Section (ACRL-IS) socials, the Newbie and Veteran Librarian Tweet-Up, the Emerging Leaders Meet and Chill—that I was unable to attend them all (and the switch from EST to PST didn’t help). There were also several extraordinarily useful programs I attended, including several on job-hunting and the ACRL New Members Discussion Group panel on Personal Branding (whose discussion continues online in ALA Connect. Check it out, especially if you weren’t able to make it to the panel itself!)

I admit I am a huge, unabashed fan of all the vendor breakfasts and lunches. Not only are they delicious and free (i.e., perfect for a paraprofessional on an extremely limited budget); but they are great networking opportunities and learning experiences, especially if you are new to the profession and want to find out more about vendors you’ll likely be working with in the future. At the Alexander Street breakfast I sat next to a couple public librarians from whom I learned you don’t have to be a public or children’s librarian to serve on ALSC/YALSA award committees (e.g., the Printz and Newbery). At EBSCO’s Publishing Academic Librarian Luncheon I sat between an Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) board member and an ALA councilor. And at ProQuest’s lunch I had the unexpected pleasure of listening to David Lee King speak about user experience.

As great an experience as Midwinter was—escaping to warm(er) San Diego from chilly Virginia and meeting my fellow Emerging Leaders notwithstanding—the high point would have to be meeting Neil Gaiman. I arrived an hour early for his talk with Nancy Pearl and managed to snag front-row seats. I then sat enthralled (though not so enthralled as to be prevented from tweeting throughout the program) for the next hour, along with several hundred other librarians. I was thrilled to discover that even after signing books for an hour and a half Mr. Gaiman was charming and solicitous to each and every awestruck librarian who shyly pushed their book toward him to sign. (For the record, he says he would shoot his publishers if they ever dared suggest somebody read the audiobook versions of his novels.)

While external funding to Midwinter is hard to come by—as far as I’m aware, EBSCO offers the only Midwinter scholarship—I would definitely advocate attendance if it’s within your budget (bonus points to those whose employers will help defray the cost). There are definitely enough programs and meetings of interest to keep you running from one time slot to the next. And meeting people you’ve previously only e-mailed and tweeted cannot be beat.

Works Cited

  • American Library Association Conferences and Exhibitions. American Library Association, n.d. Web. 24 Jan 2011.
  • Kim, Bohyun. "Tweet Up & Pre-Tweet Up at 2011 ALA MW San Diego." Library Hat. N.p., 14 Dec. 2010. Web. 24 Jan 2011.
  • "New Members Discussion Group (ACRL)." ALA Connect. American Library Association, 06 Jan. 2011. Web. 24 Jan 2011.
  • Yelton, Andromeda, Ned Potter, Jan Holmquist, and Justin Hoenke. Buy India a Library. N.p., 19 Jan. 2011. Web. 24 Jan 2011.
  • Yelton, Andromeda. "Personal Branding panel follow-up." ALA Connect. American Library Association, 13 01 2011. Web. 24 Jan 2011. .

Megan Hodge is currently Circulation Supervisor for Randolph-Macon College and an Adjunct Instructor for Bryant & Stratton College. Read her blog, and her tweets.