Meeting and Parting | ALA Midwinter 2021 Preview

As announced in August 2020, the final incarnation of the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting and Exhibits, originally scheduled to be held in Indianapolis, IN, will instead take place virtually January 22–26. Registration will be open until January 15. Here are LJ’s editors’ picks from the program.

The American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting takes its final bow virtually, while debuting a successor event and considering big changes to ALA itself

As announced in August 2020, the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting and Exhibits, originally scheduled to be held in Indianapolis, IN, will instead take place virtually January 22–26. Registration will be open until January 15. Presentations and programming will remain available after the event. Building on the model of ALA’s first virtual event, the 2020 Annual Conference, the convening will add new presentation stages to its virtual exhibit hall. As it did for Annual, ALA will allow those recently furloughed, laid off, or experiencing a reduction of paid work hours to attend free of charge.

This year marks the final iteration of the Midwinter Meeting. In January 2022, ALA will replace the event with LibLearnX: The Library Learning Experience (LLX), which, the organization says, “will emphasize active and applied learning, networking opportunities for library professionals, and a celebration of the positive impact libraries have on society.” ALA has begun to survey members on priorities for the new event.

Nor is the conference the only aspect of ALA getting a makeover; the plan to streamline the organization’s governance structure will takes its next steps at Midwinter. While a Constitutional Convention–style debate, mooted before the conference went virtual, was scrapped, the Forward Together chairs will provide a final report to Council, to inform the work of drafting a conceptual resolution. The resulting language will be debated, amended, and put up for a Council vote in March and/or at the Annual Conference. If it is approved, new bylaws will be drafted by January 2022, to be approved at LLX, followed by a membership vote in March/April 2022.

Below are LJ’s editors’ picks from the program. For the full schedule, visit All sessions are listed in central time. On-demand content will become available Saturday, January 23.


Matt Enis
Senior Editor, Technology

Artificial Intelligence—The Future Is Already Here
Sun., Jan. 24, 2:30–3:30 p.m.
Artificial Intelligence has many implications (some exciting, some concerning) for libraries and patrons. This session promises a briefing on how AI will impact the future of library work.

FMRT’s Digital Media Discussion Group—Considering Our Virtual Future
Sun., Jan. 24, 2:30–3:30 p.m.
Demand for streaming media, electronic content, and online services has spiked during the pandemic. Steven Milewski, Film and Media Round Table (FMRT) chair, will lead a discussion on virtual librarianship and what these trends may mean for the future of libraries.

Tips and Techniques for Continuing Education Proposals
Mon., Jan. 25, 11:15 a.m.–noon
Demand for online courses and webinars will likely continue to grow through spring. This session will discuss what makes online learning proposals successful.


Lisa Peet
News Editor

Small and Rural Libraries: A Candid Discussion 
Sat., Jan. 23, 12:15–1:15 p.m.
Often pushed out of the headlines by larger, urban systems, small and rural libraries have their own tales to tell. The virtual format means that libraries from anywhere can participate in this facilitated discussion.

A Special Conversation with ALA President Julius Jefferson and Senator Jack Reed
Sat., Jan. 23, noon–1 p.m.
As the 75th anniversary of ALA's Washington office, Jefferson will be speaking with U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), who in 2020 led efforts to secure $50 million for library relief in the CARES Act, introduced the $2 billion Library Stabilization Fund Act and $5 billion Build America's Libraries Act, and helped secure annual funding for school and public libraries. Whatever is next on Sen. Reed's agenda should be on our radar too.

The Future of Library Fundraising: Tips and Best Practices
Sun., Jan. 24, 3:40–4 p.m.
COVID has changed—and will continue to change—fundraising, with face-to-face events on hold and tightened budgets. Library fundraisers will discuss how they have changed their strategies and what has worked for them.

Pivot, Nimble, Sprint: Learning with a Curve During a Crisis
Sun., Jan. 24, 1:15– 2:15 p.m.
Academic librarians continue to meet student needs from closed campuses to hybrid remote and in-person services. This forum offers those on the ground a place to compare notes, suggestions, and resources.

A conversation with Dr. Jill Biden and ALA President, Julius C. Jefferson, Jr.
Mon., Jan. 25, 11:15 a.m.–12 noon
Incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden is a lifelong educator, and her take on the information field—as well as her strong advocacy for community colleges—should be of interest to library workers and supporters everywhere. The Midwinter closing session will feature Biden and Jefferson discussing current issues and challenges; her insights will bear watching over the next four years.


Meredith Schwartz

Rising to the 2020 Challenge
Sat., Jan. 23, 11 a.m.–12 p.m.
Top public library leaders reexamine the library service model in light of the pandemic and the call to address social justice and equity. An interactive conversation will follow.

REALM Discussion Group: REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums During COVID-19
Sun., Jan. 24, 1:15–2:15 p.m.
REALM representatives will lead an open discussion about making safety decisions for local institutions and address virus mitigation strategies.

Resilience: How Libraries Can Partner To Reshape the Future 
On Demand
A panel of academic and public library representatives, plus a nonprofit, will speak to the implications of the pandemic, climate change, and other societal forces upon libraries, and how new approaches to problem-solving and partnerships can help build stronger communities.


Stephanie Sendaula
Associate Editor

The Future of Digital Equity
Sun., Jan. 24, 1:15–2:15 p.m.
Digital equity, ensuring individuals and communities have the technology capacity to fully participate in society, was a serious issue long before COVID-19. As the pandemic continues, how can librarians assist those at risk of being left behind?

Virtual Gaming Programs: Resources for Fighting Social Isolation with Gaming
Mon., Jan. 25, 10–11 a.m.
Gaming has been especially popular in libraries, and even more so during COVID-19. Members of the GameRT Board share personal insight in order to help programming librarians bring virtual gaming events, for everything from Animal Crossing to board games, to patrons of all ages, and discuss what’s next for the gaming industry.

Black Lives Matter Comics Reading List
Mon., Jan. 25, 11:15 a.m.–noon
Readers’ advisory and collection development librarians will be especially interested in this session, cohosted by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and the ALA Graphic Novels Comics Round Table. The panel will present an all-ages reading list of comics highlighting the history of Black experiences.

The Future of Trust in the Age of the Twin Pandemics of Covid-19 and Racial Injustice
On Demand
How can libraries build trust within their communities while responding to mistrust of different beliefs or demographics? Veronda Pitchford, assistant director of Califa, considers the library as a trusted source of information, and answers those questions as they relate to two defining 2020 events: the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against racial injustice.

How To Fight Racism
On Demand
In 2019, Jemar Tisby debuted with The Color of Compromise, an LJ Best Book, which detailed the ongoing effects of racism within the Christian Church. In this session, he uses that framework to explain how libraries can strive to achieve dedicated racial justice goals.


Neal Wyatt
Reviews Editor

Pre-Conference Virtual Book Buzz
Tue., Jan. 19, 10:30 a.m.–noon
Get an early look at the books of the season as presented by the members of the Adult Library Marketers Association. While publishers will host additional book events and author events throughout Midwinter, those seeking a seasonal overview should start here.

Definition of Reference Discussion Group
Sat., Jan. 23, 11 a.m.–noon
The Reference and User Services Association Definition of Reference Task Force determines just what constitutes reference work and how to count it.

Exploring Ways To “Jazz Up” Your Library’s Bookmobile, Outreach, or Book Bike Program During the COVID-19 Pandemic with the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services
Sat., Jan. 23, 1:30–2:30 p.m.
Delivering books by bike, outside, and safely socially distanced fits the current moment more than ever. This discussion program offers a brainstorming space to consider ways to reach readers where they are.

ALA President’s Program and Awards Featuring Joy Harjo
Sun., Jan. 24, 11a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Harjo, recently appointed to a rare third term as U.S. poet laureate and the first Native American to hold the post, will focus on the power of poetry, which has found even more fertile ground during the pandemic. 

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