The conference theme of the 2014 ALA Midwinter Meeting, set for January 24–28 in Philadelphia, is “the conversation starts here.” It is a perfectly appropriate theme.

“Midwinter is a great conference because it brings so many members together to do the good work of the organization,” says ALA president Barbara Stripling. “I find many opportunities to engage with colleagues about important ideas in our field. I love getting to see the latest products and services offered by our exhibitors. And, most importantly, I find Midwinter to be the perfect environment for building close relationships with colleagues from across the country and world.”

That “engagement” factor is critical, Stripling says, and she predicts that the conversations at the upcoming meeting will focus on several key areas: from innovation, such as the growth of e-books and the rise of maker spaces and micropublishing in libraries, to breaking down the hot issues of the day—such as the implications of the recent Google Books settlement, and the push for stronger school libraries as the Common Core State Standards take effect.

With a host of challenges facing libraries—from a rocky rollout of Common Core to continued pressure on library budgets, and steady, if slow, progress on digital reading in libraries—now is the perfect time to start a new conversation.

Conversation Starters: The Program

As usual, the ALA program is anchored by an excellent slate of authors, who will address a range of thought-provoking topics.

Kicking things off at the opening general session on Friday, January 24, 4–5:15 p.m., five acclaimed children’s book creators will join Booklist senior editor Ilene Cooper for a discussion about creating great nonfiction for youth.

Authors and illustrators on the panel include the following:

Tonya Bolden, who has written about George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King, and W.E.B. Du Bois (her 2005 book Maritcha (Abrams) was an ALA Notable Book for Children and a Coretta Scott King Honor Book); Brian Floca, award- winning author and illustrator whose most recent book, Locomotive (Atheneum), received a starred review in Publishers Weekly as well as Booklist; Kadir Nelson, the bestselling author/ illustrator who won the 2012 Coretta Scott King Author Award and Illustrator Honor for Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (Scholastic); Steve Sheinkin, whose book Bomb (Brook/Flash Point) was a Newbery Honor Book, National Book Award finalist, and winner of the Sibert Award, as well as the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults; Melissa Sweet, the illustrator who won a Caldecott Honor for Jen Bryant’s 2008 book A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (Scholastic), as well as two New York Times Best Illustrated citations.

At the conclusion of Friday’s opening session the Ribbon Cutting & Exhibits Opening Reception will commence, where conference goers can grab drinks and mingle with some 400 vendors in the exhibit hall.

On Saturday, January 25, the Auditorium Speaker Series will feature another robust slate of talent. Wes Moore will start things off, 10–11 a.m., with a talk about his experiences as a Rhodes Scholar, soldier, and special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. His first book, The Other Wes Moore (Random/Spiegel & Grau), was a New York Times bestseller.

At 1 p.m., Matthew Quick, bestselling author of the Philadelphia-based Silver Linings Playbook, will take the auditorium stage. Quick’s novel The Good Luck of Right Now will be published in 2014 by HarperCollins.

Closing out Saturday, 4–5 p.m., bestselling author Ishmael Beah, who wrote A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, will deliver the Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture in the auditorium. Gone, Beah’s first book, detailed his struggles after being abducted at age 13 and being forced to fight in the government army in his native Sierra Leone. In 2014, Macmillan will publish Beah’s debut novel, Radiance of Tomorrow.

On Sunday, January 26,10–11 a.m., bestselling writer David Baldacci will take the stage to discuss his passion for literacy and reading; Baldacci and his wife established the Wish You Well Foundation to support “family and adult literacy” in America. Baldacci has more than 110 million copies of his novels in print, including books for young readers. In 2014, he will publish The Finisher (Scholastic), a fantasy novel for children

In the afternoon, 3:30–5:30 p.m., ALA president Barbara Stripling will emcee the ALA President’s Program, which features activist Andrew Slack. In 2005, Slack founded the Harry Potter Alliance, a “coalition of fandom leaders and members who feel passionate about the power of story to inspire and affect social change.” The alliance now has more than 170 chapters across the world.

Of course, ALA Midwinter is also the “get things done” meeting, with numerous committees convening to do their work—the most prominent of which yields the highlight of the Midwinter meeting: the Youth Media Awards, including the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott medals, which will be announced early on Monday morning, January 27.

And there’s more than the big stage—be sure to check out the Book Buzz Theater on the Exhibit Hall floor, which will feature a daily lineup of author talks. Also, check the ALA Web site for the final professional program, which always includes a host of panels on the hot topic of the day.


Great authors and panels aside, as Stripling suggests, much of the best conversations at any ALA Midwinter come from engaging with one’s peers. And there are many topics to be discussed.

E-books remain among the hot issues facing librarians in 2014. As 2013 draws to a close, there has been progress on the issue of e-book lending, no doubt owing in part to the patience and good work of the ALA’s Digital Content Working Group. At this time, all of the Big Five publishers are working with libraries, although to varying degrees.

Can conversation yield more progress, and more creativity, in the e-book realm? Although much of the conversation so far has focused on the reticence of the Big Five publishers to engage productively, experimentation is happening, and there are publishers eager to work with libraries on e-book lending.

“Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has always been a great friend to the libraries, for both print and e-books,” says HMH v-p of digital strategy Sanj Kharbanda. “Libraries cultivate the love of reading, but increasingly they are also places that foster digital literacy,” Kharbanda says. “We look at all of our endeavors in this space through that lens.”

Indeed, HMH is a big publisher that has always offered libraries relatively straightforward access to e-books. “We have approached e-books and libraries with two core objectives: simplicity and choice,” Kharbanda says. On the simplicity front, HMH’s e-lending terms are much the same as for print: comparable prices, and no restrictions on the number of uses. And iwith regard to choice, HMH works with an extensive list of vendors—Overdrive, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, 3M, and Recorded Books. HMH is also willing to sell directly to libraries, such as the much-discussed model program in Douglas County, Colo.

“There is a lot of room for new ideas not only in how the content is delivered, but also how patrons learn about titles,” Kharbanda says. “I would love to work with libraries to come up with ways to improve discovery and work to help patrons find the right title for them—especially if it is one of our titles!”

Meanwhile, 2013 will also be remembered as a year in which libraries benefited from some major copyright rulings, which could, at long last, part the clouds that have been hovering over digitization projects. Most recently, Judge Denny Chin delivered his verdict in the long-running Google case.

But the law remains unsettled. Last month, a key 2012 fair use ruling in the Georgia State e-reserve case had a rough hearing at the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. It is a stark reminder to stay engaged, and not to spike the ball too soon—especially as drafts of new copyright treaties begin circulating, and the conversation about potential copyright reform.

And if you thought the rollout for the Affordable Care Act was rocky, the introduction of the new Common Core State Standards has been equally cringe-inducing, as the standards are struggling to escape the fate of many failed educational initiatives. “I think public and school librarians should actively build on the positive qualities of the Common Core and not get embroiled in the testing and political controversies surrounding it,” Stripling says. “We can make the Common Core work well for our students and build supportive collaborations with teachers to bring the best of the Common Core alive in their classrooms.”

As librarians gather in Philadelphia to kick of 2014, there is progress to build on and new challenges to face. Let’s get talking.