“The challenge of a lifetime.” That’s how American Library Association executive director Keith Fiels described the situation facing libraries at the ALA’s annual National Library Legislative Day in Washington, D.C., in May of this year. Speaking just weeks ahead of his July retirement, and after 15 years leading the organization, Fiels took a moment to congratulate librarians on their many political successes over the last two decades. Then he left them with a warning: “It could all go away with a stroke of a pen.”
He wasn’t exaggerating. As the library community prepares to gather in Denver for the 2018 Midwinter Meeting, February 9—13, librarians are facing some of its most serious challenges to their work in memory, from funding threats, to key tech and education policy changes, aw well as the Trump administration’s attacks the free press, and on some of the library profession's core values, including equity and diversity.
In 2017, the library community was able to successfully push back against some of the administration’s more draconian policies, including a Trump proposal to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and virtually all federal library funding. But the funding threat remains, especially with the administration’s tax bill, which is now in conference.
“Those tax cuts are going to have be paid for in some way,” warns ALA president Jim Neal, who noted that the current tax bill, which independent analysts say would add about a trillion dollars to the national debt over the next decade, could ultimately put all federal programs at risk, including library programs. “There’s a lot bundled up in the law that could have both a primary impact on libraries, in the case of the IMLS, and a secondary impact on the work of libraries in various types of settings,” he says.
In January of 2017, the ALA Midwinter Meeting, which was held in Atlanta the same weekend as Trump’s inauguration, helped set the tone for a year of engagement and resistance from the library community. And as librarians prepare to gather in Denver for the 2018 Midwinter Meeting, ALA leaders will seek to keep librarians engaged for what looks like another tough year.
Once again, library values will be on display in a typically strong program of authors and speakers. The main program will officially kick off on Friday, February 9, with a conversation between Marley Dias and Patrisse Cullors (4:00-5:15 p.m.).
In 2013, Cullors co-founded a global movement around the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, which has since become an international organization fighting anti-black racism worldwide. Her memoir, When They Call You A Terrorist (Macmillan), comes out in January 2018. Dias, meanwhile, made headlines as a sixth grader, when she started the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign to collect and donate 1,000 books that featured black girls as the main characters. Her new book, Marley Dias Gets It Done (Scholastic), is also out in January. The two will discuss the kinds of issues and thinking that motivated them to take action.
The Auditorium Speaker Series kicks off on Saturday, February 10, with a talk by acclaimed author and McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers (10-11 a.m.). Eggers will discuss his latest picture book, Her Right Foot (Chronicle), with art from debut illustrator Shawn Harris. The book was inspired by Eggers’s realization of a little-known fact: the Statue of Liberty is actually in mid-stride.
“The Statue of Liberty is not a symbol of xenophobia, fear, or isolationism,” Eggers writes. “The symbol of America is a symbol of welcome. It’s a woman in a robe walking out to sea, to light the way for those coming to our shores.” In addition, Eggers’s new adult nonfiction book The Monk of Mokha (Knopf) will be released in late January. The book explores the struggles of everyday Yemenis living through a civil war through the courageous journey of, Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a young Muslim man born in the U.S., who starts a coffee business against all odds.
Later on Saturday, poet Elizabeth Acevedo will deliver the Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture. Raised in New York City, the youngest child of Dominican immigrants, Acevedo is the author of two poetry collections: Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths and Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm, winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize. Her novel The Poet X (HarperCollins Children’s Books) is scheduled for release in early 2018.
On Sunday, February 11, acclaimed author Junot Díaz takes the stage (10-11 a.m.). Díaz will discuss his new book, Islandborn (Penguin Young Readers), illustrated by Leo Espinosa, his first work of fiction for young readers, which is scheduled for release in February 2018.
And on Sunday afternoon, don’t miss what promises to be a lively ALA President’s Program (3:30-5:30 p.m.). In a departure, this year’s event will not feature a keynote speaker, but will instead be a debate on an important question in today’s fractious political climate: “Are libraries neutral? Have they ever been? Should they be?” In the formal debate, moderated by ALA president Jim Neal, two speakers will argue in the affirmative and two in the negative, followed by commentary from a panel and audience participation.
On the affirmative side will be Em Claire Knowles, assistant dean for student and alumni affairs at the Simmons School of Library and Information Science, and James LaRue, director of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. Arguing in the negative will be Chris Bourg, director of libraries at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and R. David Lankes, director of the University of South Carolina’s School of Library and Information Science.
The panel of commentators will feature: Emily Drabinski, coordinator of library instruction at Long Island University, Brooklyn; Kathleen de la Peña McCook, professor at the School of Information, University of South Florida in Tampa; Emily Knox, assistant professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Kelvin Watson, director of the Broward County Libraries Division.
“The historical approach has been to have an invited speaker, and I gave a lot of thought to that, but I became very interested in this passionate debate around library neutrality, and we really need to have a community conversation about this,” Neal said. “The issue of library neutrality is coming up in all sorts of ways—for example, librarians being asked to provide space for groups whose politics or philosophy they may not agree with, or challenges to what they are putting into the collection. It’s going to be very informative, and hopefully entertaining, to get these arguments out on the table.”
On Monday, February 12, Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy!) and Gregory Mone will be keynote speakers at the closing session (2-3 p.m.). A bestselling author and TV personality, Nye, who now appears in the Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World, has been on a mission to help foster a scientifically literate society—no easy feat in today’s fact-denying political climate. Nye will take the stage with Mone, his co-author for the new book Jack and the Geniuses, the first in their new middle-grade series from Amulet Books that takes middle-grade readers on a scientific adventure featuring real-world science.
Awards and More
The highlight of every ALA Midwinter, of course, is the announcement of the coveted Youth Media Awards, which will take place from 8 to 9 a.m. on Monday, February 12. The ALA Youth Media Awards, including the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and Coretta Scott King awards, are recognized worldwide as the most prestigious awards celebrating children’s and young adult literature and media.
And on Sunday, February 11, from 5 to 7 p.m., the ALA’s adult book awards, the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, will be announced. This year’s shortlist for fiction: Jennifer Egan for Manhattan Beach (Scribner); National Book Award–winner Jesmyn Ward for Sing, Unburied, Sing (Scribner); and Booker Prize–winner George Saunders for Lincoln in the Bardo (Random House). The nonfiction finalists are Daniel Ellsberg for The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner (Bloomsbury); David Grann for Killers of the Flower Moon (Doubleday); and Sherman Alexie for his memoir You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (Little, Brown).
And don’t forget the exhibitors—some 350 vendors and organizations will exhibit at ALA Midwinter, showing off a range of new library products, services, books, tools, and technologies—in addition to the author readings, signings, and professional presentations held at multiple pavilions and on stages on the show floor. The exhibit hall opens with a reception on Friday evening, February 9, immediately following the opening general session.