After an energetic in-person debut in New Orleans in January 2023, the American Library Association’s LibLearnX conference is back for its second live event.
Set for Friday–Monday, January 19–22, 2024, at the Baltimore Convention Center, LibLearnX will again offer librarians and publishers a more learning-focused program than the meeting’s forerunner—the discontinued ALA Midwinter Meeting—and a chance for librarians to share ideas at the first major library conference of the year.
“I think this is going to be an important, valuable time for all of us,” says ALA president Emily Drabinski. “LibLearnX is a sort of retooled conference that is meant to be more intimate, and more about on-the-ground library workers teaching and learning from one another. And the big thing I think we learned in New Orleans is how vital it is for librarians to have an opportunity to connect in person to share best practices and to talk about advocacy efforts.”
As a concept, LibLearnX had been in the planning stages since well before the pandemic, a replacement for the ALA Midwinter Meeting, which, despite drawing relatively large (if declining) numbers, was no longer meeting the needs of ALA members. In 2022, LibLearnX’s first year, the pandemic forced the event to go virtual only.
The 2023 show in New Orleans—coming on the heels of the pandemic and amid a tough budget climate for librarians nationwide—drew a modest 1,712 registered attendees (librarians, library workers, and library supporters) and 757 exhibitors, authors, publishers, press, and staff. In contrast, the ALA Midwinter Meeting in its final years generally drew more in the neighborhood of 7,000—the last in-person show, in Philadelphia in 2020, drew more than 8,000.
But librarians and vendors who attended the event in New Orleans in January told PW that LibLearnX in many ways delivered what ALA membership asked for when the association began to reenvision the ALA Midwinter Meeting: fewer committee meetings, more educational offerings, more time on the exhibit floor, and more time to connect with peers. And after years of mostly virtual meetings, librarians were clearly energized to be together in person, especially during such a challenging time for the profession.
“The time we have together as ALA members is precious,” Drabinski says. “In New Orleans, I think we saw what really worked for attendees, and we’re going be reproducing those things in Baltimore. This is a new kind of conference, so there’s a new kind of story that we will tell. For example, one of the things I learned from LibLearnX earlier this year is that the focus on collaborative learning is really important, and a little bit new. That’s one story I think we’ll try to tell a little better.”
Several main program speakers have already been announced, but more will likely be unveiled in the coming days, so be sure to visit the LibLearnX website for updates.
Among the speakers announced so far is journalist, author, and podcaster Michele Norris, who will open the LibLearnX main speaker program (Saturday, 8–9:15 a.m., BCC Ballroom I–IV).
A Washington Post opinion columnist and former cohost of NPR’s All Things Considered, Norris is also the founding director of the Race Card Project, a Peabody Award–winning narrative archive where people around the world share their reflections on identity. At LibLearnX, Norris will discuss her forthcoming book Our Hidden Conversations: What Americans Really Think About Race and Identity, (Simon & Schuster, Jan. 2024), which the publisher bills as “a compilation of stories, richly reported essays, and photographs providing a window into America during a tumultuous era.”
Comedian and actor Jesús Trejo will take the stage as part of the LLX Studio program (Saturday, 1–2 p.m., LLX Marketplace, Level 100). A popular stand-up performer, Trejo is also an actor on the Netflix series Mr. Iglesias and a writer for the second season of This Fool on Hulu. Trejo will discuss his forthcoming children’s book Raising Mamá’s Plantitas (Minerva, fall 2024), which follows a young Jesus after his mamá appoints him “honorable Chief Plant Officer, Branch Manager, and big brother to her precious houseplants.”
Next up in the LLX Studio program, Antonia Hylton, NBC News correspondent and cohost of the Southlake podcast, takes the stage (Saturday, 3–4 p.m., LLX Marketplace, Level 100). Hylton will discuss her forthcoming book Madness: Race and Insanity in a Jim Crow Asylum (Legacy Lit., Jan. 2024), an exploration of Crownsville Hospital in Anne Arundel County, Md., one of the nation’s last segregated asylums with surviving records. The book chronicles the stories of Black families “whose mental health suffered as they tried, and sometimes failed, to find safety and dignity,” according to the publisher, and explores Hylton’s own family’s experiences with mental illness.
The next day’s LLX Studio program will feature actor, model, and voiceover artist Mia Armstrong (Sunday, 11 a.m.–noon, LLX Studio Marketplace, Level 100). Armstrong—who once declared in a Good Morning America interview that Down syndrome is her superpower—is credited with changing the way people with intellectual disabilities and differences are perceived.
Armstrong will appear in conversation with her mother, Cara Armstrong, and her editor, Sara Sargent, to discuss her debut picture book, I Am a Masterpiece! (Random House, Jan. 2024), which offers a glimpse into the life of a child with Down syndrome.
Awards and more
The upcoming LibLearnX will once again feature a number of receptions and award celebrations, beginning with the popular I Love My Librarian Awards. Given annually, the awards recognize the outstanding public service contributions of librarians working in public, school, college, community college, and university libraries. Attendees can hear from the 2024 recipients at the LLX Welcome Reception (Friday, 6–8 p.m., Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor, Key Ballroom 7–12). The event is free.
The RUSA Books & Media Awards event at LibLearnX will once again feature the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction, the ALA’s prestigious adult book awards that recognize the best books in each category published in the U.S. in the previous year. The 2024 winners will be announced at the event (Sunday, 9:45–10:45 a.m., LLX Marketplace, Level 100).
And then there’s the most anticipated awards ceremony of all, the ALA Youth Media Awards, (Monday, 8–9:30 a.m., BCC Ballroom I–IV), which includes the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and Coretta Scott King awards. The awards are the gold standard for children’s books, relied upon by parents, educators, booksellers, and, of course, librarians for selecting the best materials for young readers. The event will once again be livestreamed, so check the Youth Media Awards site for the link to tune in.
Program & Exhibits
The professional program at LibLearnX will once again feature more than 100 panels and discussions, including “hands-on workshops” and “bite-size presentations,” organizers say, around a number of timely topics, including book banning and intellectual freedom, technology and AI, and sustainability.
Among the highlights, a panel titled “Fighting Censorship in a Changing Landscape” (Saturday 1–2 p.m., BCC rooms 337–338) will feature members of the ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, including director Deborah Caldwell Stone. The discussion will explore the “multifaceted attempts from organized groups” to stifle access to books, including mass challenges to school and public library materials, the subversion of established challenge processes, and legislation.
A learning lab program titled “Libraries for Sustainable Development: Mobilizing Social Responsibility and Community Change” (Saturday, 4–5 p.m., BCC room 339–340) will help libraries understand the United Nations’ commitment to reaching its 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. The program will focus on how libraries can develop and use “information action briefs” to help mobilize their communities in support of these initiatives.
And a discussion titled “AI and Libraries: A Discussion on the Future” (Sunday, 3–4 p.m., LLX Studio, LLX Marketplace Level 100) will feature of panel of tech-savvy librarians who will share their perspectives on what’s happening now in AI, and what’s going to be most important to the work of libraries. It’s part of a robust program that will explore the rise of AI in libraries at the upcoming event.
Meanwhile, LibLearnX will once again have at its center a vibrant show floor featuring numerous publishers and vendors and several stages for programs and discussions. The exhibits open on Saturday (9:30 a.m.–4 p.m.), and will run Sunday (10 a.m.–4 p.m.) and Monday (9:30 a.m.–noon). A complete list of programs and vendors is available on the LibLearnX website.