Change Is Coming | ALA Midwinter Preview 2020

The penultimate Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) will take place Jan. 24–28 in Philadelphia. This year’s programmatic offerings are timely, tackling the library role in addressing issues from service to refugees and detained migrants to disaster recovery to the upcoming 2020 Census—and election. Within the profession, grappling with structural inequity and fighting for fair ebook access are also top of mind.

ALA’s Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia marks major milestones in the organization’s transformation and supports a field itself evolving to address communities’ new needs

The penultimate Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association (ALA) will take place Jan. 24–28 in Philadelphia. Next year’s 2021 Midwinter in Indianapolis will be the last as we know it; a “new January event” with a smaller footprint, less revenue, and fewer expenses will launch in San Antonio in 2022.

This year’s programmatic offerings are timely, tackling the library role in addressing issues from service to refugees and detained migrants to disaster recovery to the upcoming 2020 Census—and election. Within the profession, grappling with structural inequity and fighting for fair ebook access are also top of mind.

Inside ALA itself, Midwinter’s metamorphosis is one of many major changes in progress. No new executive director for the organization has been announced at press time, but the timeline for the search calls for one to be introduced at Midwinter and take the reins immediately afterward. This also marks the first convening after the sale of ALA’s Chicago headquarters; while neither the buyer nor the sale price had been disclosed at press time, how the realized proceeds compare to the asking price of just under $6 million may be revealed in the treasurer’s report to the ALA Council.

Meanwhile, Council’s own fate is still in flux, as the work of the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness (SCOE) progresses. If approved by Council itself, the Forward Together model would replace the current Council with a larger Executive Board, the majority of which would be elected directly by the membership and a structure of working groups, advisory groups, communities of interest, and standing committees. SCOE plans to have a legal analysis done in time to present at Midwinter; a Constitution and Bylaws Committee analysis and a Committee on Organization analysis will arrive in time for Annual. SCOE plans to present its plans to Council at Midwinter, to be voted on at the Annual conference in Chicago and, if accepted there, again at the following Midwinter in Indianapolis.

As part of ALA’s recent commitment to sustainability as a core value, this Midwinter will adopt two changes: Attendees will have the option to forgo a printed program book, and to buy a $4 carbon offset credit.


Matt Enis

Senior Editor, Technology

AMA [Ask Me Anything] With John Sargent
Sat., Jan. 25, 8:30–10 a.m., PCC 108-B
Macmillan CEO John Sargent will host an informal Q&A session to discuss the publisher’s new ebook embargo period for libraries. The policy is disappointing, but it is encouraging that Macmillan is keeping the dialogue open with libraries.

Robots and Us: What Could Go Wrong? What Could Go Right?
Sun., Jan. 26, 1–2 p.m., PCC 201-ABC
Bohyun Kim, CTO of University of Rhode Island Libraries, discusses multiple concerns related to the use of AI-powered robots, including robot safety, robot morality, the impact of the human-robot relationship on social norms, and the robot’s potential to be used as a means for manipulation/deception. The session will also explore what types of human-robot interactions may take place at libraries in the future.

#eBooksForAll Campaign Update
Sun., Jan. 26, 4–5 p.m., PCC 122-B
Opposition to Macmillan’s new embargo period for library ebooks helped launch this consumer awareness campaign, but its goals extend to educating the public about the many challenges libraries face in providing access to ebooks, including high prices for licenses. Attendees will hear the latest news on the campaign and where it is going in 2020.

Data Abuse: Is There a Sustainable Solution to Help Notify Users of Egregious Data Abuses?
Sun., Jan. 26, 4–5 p.m., Location TBA
Library patrons may not have a clear understanding of the data generated and collected during their use of library electronic resources. In this session, Peter McCracken, Electronic Resources Librarian for Cornell University, discusses how Cornell’s library staff are exploring ways to help patrons understand data collection, with the aim of creating a sustainable system “that can be supported, shared, and used by all.”


Kiera Parrott

Reviews Director

Career Development Workshop: Personal Branding for a Virtual World
Sat., Jan. 25, 10:30-11:30 a.m., PCC Terrace I Ballroom
While I’d wager that most librarians don’t think too deeply about their “personal brand,” I’ve found social media—Twitter in particular—to be a powerful networking and professional development tool. This session promises to teach attendees “how to be clear about [their] digital brand and...propel [their] career forward.”

Disrupting Tech While Being Pro-Tech
Sat., Jan. 25, 10:30-11:30 a.m., PCC 204-C
Way beyond the typical “tech playground” types of programs that focus on the shiny new tools on the market, this session focuses on addressing critical questions around privacy, social justice, and ethics of various technology tools.

Money Smart Week: Help Consumers of All Ages Improve Their Financial Literacy
Sat., Jan. 25, 10:30-11:30 a.m., PCC 123
Each year, ALA and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago collaborate on Money Smart Week (this year April 4–11), a national initiative designed to help improve financial literacy skills. Here, librarians will learn about resources, programming ideas, and ways to help their patrons—at any age—get smarter about their money.


Lisa Peet

News Editor

ALA Opening Session featuring Wes Moore
Fri., Jan. 24, 4-5:15 p.m., PCC Ballroom AB
Wes Moore graduated from Valley Forge Military College and Johns Hopkins University, earned a Master of Letters in International Relations from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, served as a captain and paratrooper with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, and worked as a White House Fellow to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. His debut book, The Other Wes Moore, was a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. I’m interested to hear his take on education, life on the ground, and whatever else he has to tell us.

Sustainability Is Now a Core Value. So... Now What?
Sat., Jan. 25, 10:30-11:30 a.m., PCC 201-ABC
I’ve been paying close attention to ALA’s advancement of sustainability as a core value, its Special Task Force on Sustainability, and the work done by the New York Library Association Sustainability Initiative co-chairs Rebekkah Smith Aldrich and Matthew Bollerman. I’m hoping to see a packed room for their presentation—and to hear a lot of questions.

Big Shifts: Libraries, Collections, Networks
Sat., Jan. 25, 3-4 p.m., PCC 203-AB
While the topic here has been in play for a while, Lorcan Dempsey has a long view of academic librarianship and is smart about trends, changes in best practices, and how the field is shifting away from collections toward services and engagement with research, teaching, and learning practices. With an abundance of data from OCLC, where he is chief strategist and VP of membership and research, he’s well positioned to identify patterns to watch.

Supporting Librarians’ Roles in Emergencies and Natural Disasters
Sun., Jan. 26, 2:30-3:30 p.m., PCC 122-B
Fires, floods, hurricanes and heat waves—it’s not getting any easier out there, and libraries are both bearing the impacts of natural disasters and stepping up to help their communities, often at the same time. How can libraries prepare for the worst, and how can LIS programs and other organizations support them? A team from South Carolina will share the findings of a recent project that should resonate for institutions across the country.

Creating a Robust Cross-Sector GLAM Innovation Clearinghouse: A Critical Conversation
Sat., Jan. 25, 4:30-5:30 p.m., PCC 204-C
As interconnections between GLAM institutions (galleries, libraries, archives, museums) increase, libraries can only benefit from sharing platforms, content, and missions with cultural organizations outside the field. Two archivists, from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Research Library and Archive and the Rochester Institute of Technology Libraries, NY, will talk about ways to escape the various interdisciplinary silos to collaborate, meet challenges, and spark innovation.


Meredith Schwartz


Intellectual Freedom and the Law: Social Media, First Amendment Audits, and the Library as a Public Forum
Sat., Jan. 25, 9-10 a.m. PCC 201-ABC
Despite being a bit of a first amendment nerd, I don’t know what the law says about the public library’s ability to regulate and moderate comments and posts on library social media—or photography and recording in the library. I bet a lot of working frontline folks don’t either, and probably should, so they know their rights and don’t get into legal messes.

Making Real Change: Moving beyond the Interpersonal to Create Actual Diverse, Inclusive, and Equitable Environments for Both Library Users and Employees
Sat., Jan. 25, 1-2 p.m. PCC 204-C
For the field to progress on equity, diversity, and inclusion, we need to get beyond individual to institutional change. I’m excited for this session, which promises to explore the framework of anti-oppressive practices, give examples from libraries, and give participants tools for starting larger conversations at their own institutions.

From Non-Voters to New Voters: How Libraries Can Engage Their Communities in the 2020 Elections and Beyond
Sat., Jan. 25, 4:30-5:30 p.m. PCC 122-B
A lot of library advocacy work focuses on turning out voters on library budgets and referenda. But libraries can play a larger role in activating the electorate as they do with the Census and healthcare signups. This session will feature voting and library experts on how libraries can deliver “nonpartisan information and programs that advance equitable participation,” particularly among groups that have lower rates of voter participation, including young people, people of color, and people with lower income and education levels.

Data and Diversity: Navigating the Ethics of Demographic Data in Inclusive Community Collections
Sun., Jan. 26, 1-2 p.m., PCC 203-AB
Librarians from Seattle Public Library present on how they created best practices, and continue to adapt them, for collecting information about people’s identities to assess the inclusivity of local digital music collections. With the increased focus on own voices narratives, this kind of data is only going to become more important, and making sure its use doesn’t harm the people it’s intended to amplify will be crucial.

Libraries at the Nexus of Migration
Sun., Jan. 26, 2:30-3:30 p.m., PCC 202-AB
I’m particularly intrigued by this panel on information access to migrant, and, crucially, detained migrant populations because it crosses public, governmental, and academic library types. It also plans to tackle how librarians have confronted the social impact of migration and detention on local communities as well as the individuals involved.


Stephanie Sendaula

Associate Editor

2020 Census: How Libraries Can Support a Complete Count
Sat., Jan. 25. 10:30-11:30 a.m., PCC 122-A
With the 2020 Census beginning in March, libraries across the U.S. have been collaborating with all levels of government in order to ensure a complete, accurate count in their communities. Join fellow librarians along with Census employees as they share lessons they’ve learned—and how we can all help.

Meeting Communities at Their Point of Need: Libraries as Trusted Partners
Sat., Jan. 25, 1-2 p.m., PCC 122-A
Recently, the Institute of Museum and Library Services listed libraries as trusted spaces and sources of information. What does this mean in practice? Staff from three libraries explain how they have benefited from grants in order to create programs on health literacy, immigrants’ rights, and more.

Making the News: Library Advocacy and Local Media
Mon., Jan. 27, 10:30-11:30 a.m., PCC 202-AB
We’re all aware that outreach is a critical part of librarianship, but we’re not always sure of the best way to get coverage of library programs and events, especially with the recent decline in local news. The Pennsylvania Library Association offers advice on how to get started.

ALA Closing Session featuring Chanel Miller
Mon., Jan. 27, 2-3 p.m., PCC Ballroom AB
I’ve been a fan of Chanel Miller since reviewing her book, Know My Name, which detailed her life before and after experienceing sexual assault; before and after becoming a news headline. In this closing session at ALA, I’m eager to hear her talk about adversity, acceptance, and more.

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