ALA Takes 2021 Midwinter Meeting Virtual

Following a successful virtual version of its Annual conference in June, the American Library Association (ALA) announced on August 6 that in light of the continuing pandemic, the next Midwinter meeting, originally scheduled to be held in Indianapolis in January 2021, will also be an all-virtual event.

ALA logoFollowing a successful virtual version of its Annual conference in June, the American Library Association (ALA) announced on August 6 that in light of the continuing pandemic, the next Midwinter meeting, originally scheduled to be held in Indianapolis in January 2021, will also be an all-virtual event.

The preliminary lineup of speakers will be announced early this fall, and announcements of programs, sessions, meetings, and exhibits will be rolled out on an ongoing basis. Registration will open in November; the price has not yet been determined.

This would have been ALA’s last in-person Midwinter; plans were already afoot to introduce a new model for the gathering, which has been held yearly—with a few exceptions—since 1908.

“It would have been great to have a sense of closure and to generate collective excitement in a face-to-face setting for what’s to come,” ALA Executive Director Tracie D. Hall said in a statement. “But I am inspired by the more than 10,000 attendees, authors, speakers, and stakeholders who came together for the June Virtual Event and related business meetings, convenings, and award ceremonies.”

Given the unpredictable nature of COVID-19 outbreaks across the country, ALA leadership decided that it would be better to decide now, rather than opt for an in-person event and potentially have to cancel, or wait and leave less time to plan for either scenario. The most important consideration, ALA president Julius J. Jefferson Jr. told LJ, is “the safety of our members, ALA staff, and all of our stakeholders.”

He added, “We wanted to jump ahead of this, and I think by jumping ahead of it, this is going to be an outstanding virtual event.”

 

MORE TIME TO PLAN FOR A BETTER CONFERENCE

Although the ALA was able to pivot quickly to a virtual format for this year’s Annual conference once it had decided not to hold an in-person convening, having only two months to plan posed a challenge, noted Jefferson. “We saw that there were a lot of things that we could do differently,” he said. “A virtual event in January will be even more improved, and a better event, because there were some lessons learned in terms of how we roll it out.”

On the plus side, the virtual Annual allowed for much wider participation, as travel no longer presented a barrier, and ALA hopes to build on that level of access. “We had people who were able to attend an ALA conference for the first time in their careers connecting with the Association and all that we offer,” said Hall. “From my vantage point, I am also looking at the members and new constituents our virtual convenings are allowing us to reach.”

Having more time to plan the conference, said Jefferson, will let ALA better communicate with participants and ALA members, publicize it more widely, “and get people to rally around the event.”

Because ALA was thinking about phasing out Midwinter conferences even before the coronavirus hit, the possibility of a virtual Midwinter was already being considered for some time. The pandemic may have forced the association’s hand, “but sometimes, out of disaster and catastrophe, we're forced to do something that we already knew was possible but became essential,” Jefferson told LJ. “Although we are in a position where we can't see our colleagues and friends face-to-face, we're using technology to still maintain a sense of connectivity to our colleagues, our friends, and the profession.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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