More than 11,000 librarians gathered in Boston, from January 8-12 for the 2016 ALA Midwinter Meeting. And, for the first time in three years, attendees escaped without a blast of winter weather.
According to preliminary figures from ALA, 10,736 people attended this year’s event, up slightly over the 10,637 who traveled to Chicago last year. [Update: with the conference ending today, ALA's final total attendance figures came in even higher, at 11,716].
In Chicago, many wound up stranded after a major blizzard caused more 1,500 flights in and out of O’Hare and Midway airports to be cancelled. A winter storm also snarled travel for the ALA meeting in Philadelphia, in 2014.
The robust attendance numbers were especially impressive this year given that the show was earlier than usual, and that there is a bi-annual Public Library Association Meeting set for April in Denver.
Attendees in Boston were treated to a strong slate of authors and speakers, including a fascinating opening session on the nature of creativity featuring documentarian Ken Burns, and authors Mark Kurlansky and Terry Tempest Williams; a rollicking talk by fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi, about his upcoming memoir; and an inspirational talk from United States senator Cory Booker, who keynoted the ALA President’s Program (and whose forthcoming book United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good will be published this spring by Penguin Random House).
Booker’s invitation to speak was not without controversy—as mayor of Newark, Booker had slashed funding for the Newark Public Library. His appearance drew a wave of protest with some calling for ALA to rescind his invitation to speak. During the Q&A period, Nancy Kranich, a former ALA president and New Jersey resident, brought up the issue and asking how the library community could turn Booker into “the number one leading librarian champion in the U.S.?”
Booker responded that his invitation to ALA “was a big step in that direction.” He went on to describe the funding cuts to the Newark Public library as a “default decision” and "one of the greater frustrations" of his time as mayor. He added that "seeing the tax on our libraries…made me swear to myself that if I was ever in the kind of position where I did have the power, as a governor or a senator, that I would be committed to [libraries].”
Always the highlight of the ALA Midwinter Meeting, the Youth Media Awards were announced early on January 11, with Matt de la Peña winning the 2016 John Newbery Medal for his picture book Last Stop on Market Street (Putnam). Sophie Blackall took home the 2016 Randolph Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, written by Lindsay Mattick (Little, Brown). And Laura Ruby won the 2016 Michael L. Printz Award for Bone Gap (HarperCollins/Balzer+Bray).
And, for the first time in their five year history, the American Library Association’s adult book awards, the Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, were announced at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. In fiction, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press) took home top honors, while Sally Mann’s Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs (Little, Brown) took home the award for nonfiction. Both books earned starred reviews from PW.
A reception for the winning authors will be held during the ALA Annual Conference in June. At the event, in Orlando, each author their medal and $5,000 prize. Now in their fifth year, the Carnegie Medals have grown quickly and become a prestigious and coveted literary award adult literary; the reception has become a popular event, with the winning authors attending and giving speeches.
Some 450 companies also exhibited at the show, with vendors reporting decent traffic in the exhibit hall.
Editor's Note: this story was updated to include revised final attendance numbers.