For decades, the ALA has held two major association-wide events each year: the Annual Conference in June and the Midwinter Meeting in January. The former, a gargantuan show, features a huge exhibits floor, association-related meetings, scores of authors, and programs, programs, and yet more programs. When it’s in a popular location—like Chicago or San Francisco—the Annual Conference attracts well over 20,000 attendees.

The Midwinter Meeting, on the other hand, has always been billed as the working meeting of the association, when awards committees make their decisions, business meetings take place, and committees on topics such as bibliographic standards tackle their issues. And, like a cruise ship to nowhere, there are always a handful of featured authors and inspirational speakers, too.
But along came the 21st century, and Midwinter’s value proposition began to weaken. Dragging yourself across the country for a 90-minute meeting in the Colorado Convention Center in January, when half your committee was probably stranded at O’Hare, started to seem a little silly. After all, librarians are nothing if not wired and there are few committees that can’t conduct their business virtually, especially with library budgets and institutional support for conference attendance under constant pressure. And besides, aren’t we all supposed to be worrying about our carbon footprint?

So, Midwinter is getting a makeover. Starting in 2021, the plan is to have fewer business and committee meetings and more content and leadership development offerings. The Youth Media Awards (Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and Coretta Scott King awards, and more) will remain a focus, as will other award events. By 2022, ALA hopes to rebrand Midwinter as the “new January event.” And attendees in Philadelphia will see parts of this transition in action.

As for this year’s show, the meetings for the most part remain intact, as well as the many discussion groups—oftentimes a great venue for professional development. But the programming schedule is typically robust, with some great headlining speakers, as usual, and some of the best content coming from the Center for the Future of Libraries program. Below is a selection of the most compelling offerings. The programs are all in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, but as always, check the program for any last-minute changes.

Panel Picks

Saturday, January 25

“Ask Me Anything” with Macmillan CEO John Sargent
(8:30–10 a.m., Room 108B)
This should be a lively start to the day. Macmillan CEO John Sargent will hear librarian questions about the company’s controversial e-book policy.

Intellectual Freedom and the Law: Social Media, First Amendment Audits, and the Library as a Public Forum
(9–10 a.m., Room 201-ABC)
Important content that public librarians often don’t know, such as librarians’ responsibilities in moderating social media as well as managing and regulating photography and recording activities inside the library.

2020 Census: How Libraries Can Support a Complete Count
(10:30–11:30 a.m., Room 122A)
If you’re a librarian who is not active in your community’s complete count effort, then get yourself to this program. The census begins in March, and the results will shape economic and political opportunities for the next decade, not to mention allocating more than $800 billion in federal funds plus seats for every level of government, from Congress to local school boards.

Introducing the ALA/AASL/CAEP School Librarian Preparation Standards
(10:30–11:30 a.m., Room 122-B)
These standards replace the previous 2010 Standards for the Initial Preparation of School Librarians and will guide programs to prepare future school librarians. They are also the standards by which school library preparation programs are reviewed for AASL National Recognition.

Sustainability Is Now a Core Value. So... Now What?
(10:30–11:30 a.m., Room 201-ABC)
Remember how, in 2019, the ALA Council voted to make sustainability a core value? Here’s how librarians can embed this new core value in their work, with the discussion led by the indomitable Rebekkah Smith Aldrich.

Tomorrow’s Scholars Today: Collaborating to Empower Undergraduate Students to Become Knowledge Creators
(1–2 p.m., Room 203-AB)
College and university students needn’t be just passive consumers of information; they increasingly have opportunities to engage in innovative research and contribute to scholarly knowledge. Here’s how librarians can step up and share their expertise as equal instructional partners with faculty.

Big Shifts: Libraries, Collections, Networks
(3–4 p.m. room 203-AB)
Student success, research support, and community engagement are increasingly how academic librarians judge themselves as libraries shift from the centrality of the collection to services and deeper engagement with research, teaching, and learning practices. This presentation will frame important changes, identify patterns in library responses, and discuss how libraries can use trends to their advantage.

From Non-voters to New Voters: How Libraries Can Engage Their Communities in the 2020 Elections and Beyond
(4:30–5:30 p.m., Room 122-B)
Hear from voting experts and libraries about how libraries can deliver nonpartisan information and programs that advance equitable participation in the upcoming 2020 elections and beyond.

An Awesome Ideas Pitch for Libraries
(5–6:30 p.m., Room 201-ABC)
Selected presenters will pitch short ideas that could impact their community, demonstrate a new idea, or improve a tool or service, while judges (and the audience) choose who walks away with $1,000. Visit for more info.

Sunday, January 26

Introducing the Services for Refugees, Immigrants, and Displaced Persons Committee
(9–10 a.m., Room 122-A)
An opportunity to share ideas about how libraries can improve services for refugees, immigrants, and displaced persons.

PLA Legal Issues in Public Libraries Forum
(11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Room 117)
This new—and much needed—event from PLA provides open discussion about such legal issues as patron privacy; challenges to both in-house and online content; patron behavior; copyright and licensing; other liability issues, such as those relating to maker spaces; and more.

LITA Top Technology Trends
(1–2 p.m., Room 122A)
A classic event that rarely disappoints. Panelists hold forth on changes in technology and suggest what libraries can do to take advantage of these trends. 4–5 p.m.

#eBooksForAll Campaign Update
(4–5 p.m., Room 122B)
Hear the latest news and resources from ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy team and join in a discussion about the changing digital content landscape.

Monday, June 27

How to Navigate a Divided Congress: Pros and Cons
(9–10 a.m., Room 122A)
A divided Congress has resulted in mixed results for library policy and funding. What can we expect in 2020 as the country heads to the polls for what will be a momentously important election?

Aspiration, Legacy, Vision, and Function in the Design and Realization of Temple University’s Charles Library
(10:30–11:30 a.m., Room 201ABC)
Temple University’s new Charles Library—designed by Snøhetta, a firm internationally recognized for its groundbreaking library projects—is one of the most talked about new libraries in the country. Come hear an overview of the planning, design, and realization of the project, culminating with an opportunity to tour the facility.

Measuring the Library’s Impact on Your Community’s Social Infrastructure
(10:30–11:30 a.m., Room 204A)
Discover how economists, psychologists, academics, and urban planners are incorporating outcome measurements to quantify health and well-being factors, including happiness. Librarians will learn to apply outcome measurement techniques in their daily work.

Skills for Community-Centered Libraries: Developing a Curriculum for All Public Library Staff
(10:30–11:30 a.m., Room 122B)
It’s what we all want: a community-centered library. But how to get there? Hear about the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Skills for Community-Centered Libraries, which provides community engagement training for staff across the library, including clerks, library assistants, digital resource specialists, librarians, and administrators. Learn about the most promising outcomes and strengths and some of the most powerful exercises and techniques that attendees can put to use in their own libraries.

PW contributing editor Brian Kenney is director of the White Plains (N.Y.) Public Library and a former editorial director of Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.