The American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting is where the association conducts its business—committees move forward (however glacially), and hardworking but fun-filled awards committees arrive at their hotly contested decisions. But there are also a number of professional programs, workshops, News You Can Use sessions, “unconference” gatherings, tours, and parties. What follows is my (as always) highly subjective list of some of the best offerings at the conference (with a little grousing thrown in for good measure!).


It’s no secret that some of the best sessions of the conference are actually presented on Friday, before the conference officially starts, at the Pre-Midwinter Institutes. These full and half-day events are also an opportunity for ALA divisions that are under financial pressure to bring in some extra cash—as much as $500 for some workshops. But in what I believe is a first, the pay-to-play sessions don’t end on Friday at this Midwinter Meeting; members will have the opportunity to pay for programs on Saturday and Sunday as well. Billed as Deep Dive sessions, each three-hour program costs conference attendees an additional $95 on top of their registration fees. I have to question why ALA is charging for previously free content. Maybe if the topics were better I could see it. But the (digital) user experience? More from the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation (a president’s initiative from three years ago)? Sorry, those just don’t cut it for me. You’ll find me at the participant-guided Unconference (Friday, Jan. 8, 9 a.m.–12 p.m.), hearing (for free) about some of the everyday problems libraries are facing—and their creative solutions.

ALA Masters Series

One program I won’t miss this year is Jason Griffey in Measuring the Future, How Understanding Your Spaces Can Make Your Library Better for Everyone (Saturday, Jan. 9, 12:30–1:30 p.m.). Griffey hits the nail on the head when he writes that one of any library’s most valuable assets is the physical library building. “But aside from gate count,” he observes, “we have remarkably little information about how it’s used.” As part of the ALA Masters Series, Griffey will discuss how to use longitudinal data about the way your library is used, in order to make your library better for staff and patrons—a topic that too often gets short shrift.

This year’s ALA Masters Series also features Rebekkah Smith Aldrich—someone always worth listening to—in a presentation titled Sustainable Thinking (Sunday, Jan. 10, 12:30–1:30 p.m.). At the 2015 Annual Conference in San Francisco, ALA passed a resolution on the importance of sustainable libraries, and Aldrich will explore how libraries can take an active, visible role in building sustainable, resilient, and regenerative communities.

At press time, the room number for these sessions was not yet posted, so check online as the meeting approaches (at

Sessions & More

The ALA’s News You Can Use series focuses on the latest policies, research, statistics, and technology trends, and it includes some of the richest programs of the weekend. On my list:

Foundation of Young Adult Success: A Development Framework (Saturday, Jan. 9, 1–2:30 p.m.). This session presents decades of research from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research about what teens need to grow and learn—beyond strong academic skills—and how adults can foster their development,

Knight News Challenge on Libraries (Sunday, Jan. 10, 3–4 p.m.). Remember the Knight News Challenge—the grant that nearly every public library applied for last year, but precious few actually won? Well, it’s coming back in 2016, and we’ll all be able to learn the criteria the Knight Foundation will use in distributing $3 million toward library innovation. Good luck this time!

How You Can Use WIOA (Saturday, Jan. 9, 8:30–10 a.m.). This session promises to show how we can support workforce readiness in our communities, an issue all libraries struggle with. With the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), libraries now have the opportunity to partner with adult education and Workforce Investment Boards to enhance job preparedness and readiness services.

Data Visualization for the Rest of Us: A Beginner’s Guide (Saturday, Jan. 9, 8:30–10 a.m.). At my library, I can’t afford a graphic designer, so one of my goals in 2015 was to get better at using data visualization—you know, creating those punchy, quick-to-grasp infographics to help me tell my library’s story. Here’s hoping that this session will finally get me started.

Top Technology Trends (Sunday, Jan. 10, 10:30–11:30 a.m.). Check out this always-entertaining session and hear about the changes and advances in technology that will have an impact on the library world. You’ll leave smarter!

Mathical Books! For Librarians—and Tots to Teens (Monday, Jan. 11, 10:30–11:30 a.m.). Here’s a new portmanteau word for you: mathical (math + magical), to describe books that inspire a love of math—pattern, sequence, creative order—in everyday life. It turns out there’s a new award for these books, from the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute and the Children’s Book Council, and the selections look really good, including a mystery in which the heroine uses logic to solve puzzles, and picture books on counting and sharing.

Check the Schedule

Many Midwinter sessions are closed, or focused on committee work, but there are plenty of discussion forums and interest groups to engage any librarian, in addition to providing great opportunities for networking. At press time, final times were not yet published for the session topics below, so check online closer to the show dates (at

Assisting Low-Skill Workers and Non-Internet Users with Job Searches. One challenge that nearly every public library faces is helping job seekers with little or no experience with technology, especially when job seeking and the applications process have moved almost entirely online. This session promises to offer ways to best help these patrons find the information they need to find work.

Check Out a Librarian. Have you heard about libraries “checking out” humans—yes, libraries loaning people with particular stories to tell or expertise to share? For librarian job seekers, those interested in refocusing their careers, or anyone just hoping to move up the library ladder, this is a good opportunity to get fresh insight from someone who isn’t a boss, colleague, or friend. No appointment is necessary, and all libraries will be represented. Does checking out a librarian seem like too much of a commitment? Then try a Speed Mentoring Session, where everyone from MLS students to mid-career librarians can obtain advice from Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) leaders.

The Information Commons Discussion Group. The hottest topic having to do with public services, whether in academic, school, or public libraries, is the viability of the information commons. This session covers the planning, development, and management of information commons and is useful for those considering implementing a commons, or for seasoned veterans looking for new tips.

Northeastern Universities Digital Media Commons. Midwinter attendees will be able to take a tour of a dedicated media lab and digital creativity center that offers work areas, professional-grade audio-visual technology, and high-power hardware. This tour is sponsored by the Video Round Table; please email Debra Mandel at by January 5 to confirm a spot and for further information.

The 3D Printing Interest Group. Interested in 3-D printing? At this session you’ll get information on how to get started and hear big ideas about the future of 3-D printing in libraries. Me? I just want to know what brand doesn’t break every other day.

The Programming Library Interest Group. Though circulation at many libraries may be flat, or even declining, participation in programming continues to grow, with the public hungry for opportunities to learn and connect. At this session, you can learn how to advocate for programming in your institution, discover what’s working at other libraries, share war stories, and connect with ALA’s Public Programs Office.

AAP Author Breakfast

In addition to the authors appearing on the main program, one of the best parts of any ALA is meeting an author at a publisher’s booth, or hearing an author read on one of the stages. On that score, the Association of American Publishers/LibraryReads BookTalk Breakfast (Monday, Jan. 11, 8:30–10 a.m. at the Seaport Hotel Lighthouse) is a great way to start your day. Space is limited, so look for the invitation, and make sure you RSVP.

This year’s breakfast features Adam Haslette (Imagine Me Gone, Little, Brown & Co.), Ann Leary (The Children, St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan), Simon Van Booy (Father’s Day, HarperCollins), Helen Simonson (The Summer Before the War, Random House), Lawrence Hill (The Illegal: A Novel, W.W. Norton & Company), and Chris Cleave (Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, Simon & Schuster).

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