I vividly remember my first ALA Midwinter Conference. It was January 1979 in Washington, D.C.—and I was on the hunt for a job. As a relatively new MLS graduate, I was fortunate to have a position at the Cook Memorial Library in Libertyville, Ill., and I couldn’t believe I was actually getting paid to promote books to teens. But I was homesick and wanted to get closer to my parents and siblings by finding a position in the east.

At that time, Midwinter was a purposeful conference designed more for committee meetings and the work of the association, with just a few programs and speakers. Had I not been on a job search, I probably would not have attended. But I’m glad I did. And the networking I did at that conference led me to my next great professional opportunity (as well as the one after that).

Decades later, as I prepare to travel to Denver for this year’s meeting, I’m still relishing the opportunity to connect with colleagues and friends. Like many conference participants, I will be traveling with a big suitcase. Even though as director of a large library system I have access to a wealth of books, I admit that I’m a greedy hoarder of advanced reader copies (ARCs). Yes, I will be standing in the crush of librarians at the opening of the exhibits and rushing publishers’ booths for a chance to pick up buzzed-about titles.

I will also spend time perusing the tech and digital side of the exhibit floor as well. Often my library is looking for a specific kind of product to advance our work or improve service to customers, and I do use the exhibit time to engage with library vendors. In fact, some of my most productive conference experiences have involved relationship building with vendors, and I hope more conference participants take advantage of this part of Midwinter.

Among this year’s program highlights, I hope every attendee can make the opening session on Friday, February 9 (4-5:30 p.m.) to hear the conversation featuring Marley Dias, the creator of the #1000blackgirlbooks campaign, and Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Listening to these two women talk about their efforts to combat racism locally and globally will help attendees better understand the fight against inequity and injustice. Librarians and library workers grapple with these issues every day, in all types of libraries, and we must recognize how diverse, powerful voices can lead and influence our work.

I’m no longer looking for a job, but I am always looking for ways to do my job better...

In my role as senior fellow to the ALA Office of Information Technology Policy (OITP), I’m particularly interested in the OITP events at Midwinter. On Friday, February 9, OITP will be hosting a discussion called Creating Inclusive CS/Coding Programs for Youth (1:30-4 p.m.). People from the ALA’s Libraries Ready to Code initiative, Google, and the National Center for Women and Information Technology will lead a workshop exploring how libraries can increase youth participation from groups underrepresented in the tech field. And Jim Neal’s ALA President’s Program will have a creative twist: rather than a keynote speaker, it features a debate that will address the thought-provoking question of library neutrality.

As a former ALA president (who is still active in ALA), I truly care about the future of libraries and our association, so I will be at the candidates’ forum on Saturday, February 10, (4:30-5:30 p.m.) to hear the 2019–2020 ALA presidential candidates Wanda Brown and Peter Hepburn. Politically, we are at a critical moment for libraries in this country, and good leadership at ALA is vital.

Wanda is the director of library services at the C.G. O’Kelly Library at North Carolina State University, Winston-Salem, and Peter is the head librarian at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California. I speak from experience when I say that the candidates’ forum is a milestone in the ALA election cycle—and hats off to Wanda and Peter for stepping up for our association. I also plan to attend an ALA Council debate or two.

What programs and events are you most interested in this year? How do you do ALA Midwinter? How I’ve used the meeting has certainly changed over the years. I’m no longer looking for a job, but I am always looking for ways to do my job better, and Midwinter always provides me an opportunity to hear new ideas and to renew and refresh my professional commitment.

PW columnist Sari Feldman is executive director of the Cuyahoga County Public Library in Cleveland, Ohio—one of the nation’s largest and highest-rated public library systems—and a former president of both the Public Library Association (2009–2010) and the American Library Association (2015–2016).