March 18, 2018

ALA Midwinter Preview: The Reinvented Conference | Seattle, WA, January 25–29, 2013

With a promise to attendees of “inspiring content” and a message to potential exhibitors that they’ll get to chat with “the decision-makers you need to meet,” the American Library Association (ALA) has scheduled its Midwinter Meeting at the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC) in Seattle, January 25–29, 2013. ALA says Midwinter has been “redesigned,” but the change seems more extensive, more like reinvented. The transformation is clearly needed to attract exhibitors and members whose fees will help ALA clear a deficit from the last fiscal year and avoid revenue shortfalls in FY13, both partly caused by declining conference revenues.

The new Midwinter offers an array of programs and special events that will focus on what the conference team calls “the conversation of librarianship.” The promotions for the conference tell exhibitors and librarians that Midwinter “has quickly become the place where librarians from across the country discuss and explore the future of librarians and librarianship.” As such, they will search for new ways to serve and make libraries the focal point of their communities. The crème de la crème, the librarian elite expected to come to Seattle, is 7,000 strong. It is a “focused group of top library professionals” from “all facets of librarianship and information technology,” says ALA’s marketing copy. They will not come to Seattle just to do ALA’s business, the traditional purpose of the Midwinter Meeting, but to enjoy a redesigned gathering homing in on that “conversation.” It does sound more entertaining and even more useful than the unit, committee, and Council meetings back in the old days, and it might attract more members and exhibitors. It could even meet the expectations of ALA treasurer Jim Neal and increase conference revenues.

Long ago, when exhibiting at Midwinter was first proposed, many objected. They predicted almost exactly what the re­designed meeting is doing. The alteration makes ALA into a two-conference association, a circumstance that only the decision-making top brass could afford then and now. Exhibitors were wary then but most dutifully supported ALA with both annual and Midwinter exhibits. It turned out that they did get to the library decision-makers, and while there was much less traffic in the exhibit halls, many more big spenders were there (if there are any such people in libraries). As Mitt Romney taught us in the recent election cycle, there is nothing immoral or illegal about making money as long as you don’t pay taxes with it. ALA doesn’t pay taxes, and it needs the money, so it is probably a change for the better in order to deliver a varied, energized, and worthwhile program to attract that high-­quality, well-heeled crowd who can afford to attend.

The big attraction for many members is, of course, the social discourse, better known as boozing and schmoozing, and connections for that activity will be made on the floor of the exhibits in the WSCC, ­January 25–28.

The Grand Opening Reception is a great place to begin, from 5:30-7 p.m., Friday, January 25, in the Exhibit Hall. After that, the Exhibits are open Saturday, January 26, 9 a.m.–5p.m.; Sunday, January 27, 9 a.m.–5 p.m.; and Monday, January 28, 9 a.m.–2 p.m.

One very important Midwinter tradition continues, the ALA JobLIST Placement Center for both employers and job seekers. Provided by ALA’s Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment, it will be open 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, January 26 and 27. An Orientation is scheduled on Saturday at 8:30 a.m.; an Open House on Sunday, 10:30 a.m.–noon, will give you connections and details. Job seekers can search on the JobLIST website at They can attend career guidance workshops, talk to a career counselor, have their résumé reviewed, and speak with employers at the center. All services are free to job seekers. Find additional information at

Programs and parties

The Auditorium Speaker Series offers a chance to hear leading authors and thought-leaders like Steven Johnson (Saturday, January 26, 10–11 a.m.), an optimistic visionary whose popular social analysis comes in books like Where Good Ideas Come From and Everything Bad Is Good for You. His most recent book, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age, says a new kind of political change will transform our society. Sponsored by his publisher, the Penguin Group, Johnson also writes for TimeWired, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

The series will feature a speech by Caroline Kennedy (Sunday, January 27, 10-11 a.m.). Details are sketchy as of press time, but we’re sure she will deliver an exciting and useful talk. She is sponsored by Disney Publishing Worldwide.

A Midwinter Masters Series comprises 45-minute sessions with experts during lunch hours at the Exhibits. At one at 11:45 a.m.–12:30 p.m., on Saturday, January 26, Katherina Lee will tell how Singapore’s National Library Board (NLB) took a global lead in library transformation. Her colleague Lee Kee Siang from the NLB will show how the NLB has leveraged technology to create innovative library services. Other sessions in the series feature experts describing their latest innovations and insights into the hottest trends engaging librarians. Smitty Miller (community development librarian, Fraser Valley Regional Library, BC) will tell about “Library Live and On Tour: Taking the Library to the Street” (11:45 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Monday, January 28) and LiLi, a tiny vehicle that brings library service to marginalized populations in the region. The Masters session Outreach 2.0: The Digital Revolution of Public Relations features Library Facebook guru Ben Bizzle (Crowley Ridge Regional Lib., Jonesboro, AR) on maximizing the reach and impact of a library Facebook page (11:45 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Sunday, January 27). Check your program for other sessions.

Maureen Sullivan’s ALA President’s Program (3:30–5:30 p.m., Sunday, January 27) features author Peter Block (Community: The Structure of BelongingThe Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods; and Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used) on real transformation and the leadership required for it.

To launch The Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities (8:30–10 a.m., Saturday, January 26), Sullivan will moderate a panel including Richard Harwood of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. Three Conversation Sessions facilitated by Harwood (1–2:30 p.m., Saturday, January 26) and Peggy Holman (1–2:30 p.m., Sunday, January 27, and 8:30–11:30 a.m., Monday, January 28) will center on the role of libraries engaged with their communities.

The Novel Is Alive and Well (ERT/Booklist Author Forum, 4–5:15 p.m., Friday, January 25) is one of many chances to meet favorite authors like Ivan Doig (The Bartender’s Tale), Gregg Olsen, with over a million sales across 13 titles, and Ruth Ozeki (My Year of MeatsAll Over Creation, and the forthcoming A Tale for the Time Being).

The renamed division of Friends and trustees, United for Libraries (formerly ALTAFF), will be supported with proceeds from a Gala Author Tea sponsored by ReferenceUSA (2–4 p.m., Monday, January 28). It will feature more (as yet unnamed) best-selling authors, plus “a light repast.”

So the promoters of the new Midwinter Meeting, re­invented to attract more librarians and exhibitors, promise you will leave “inspired by the latest on civic engagement, professional trends, the changing digital world, emerging and social technology, meeting user expectations, RDA [Resource Description and Access], books and authors, awards, and more.”

Those are our expectations here at LJ for Midwinter, and even if all we get is a small dose of a few of them, the inter­action with the Midwinter crowd, in and out of formal sessions, is always worth the trip. It is too bad that the cost will be so high it will mean no Midwinter for many from libraries along the East Coast, recently battered by Superstorm Sandy. Still, if a librarian can swing it, the more than 200 Discussion Groups, the Unconference, and Library Camp, plus the sampling above along with the usual after-hours socializing, will mean a 2013 Midwinter that can enrich your new year, your career, and, of course, your professional association.

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John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III ( is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.