More than 9,000 librarians and vendors attended the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, held January 25–29, a welcome rebound for ALA after two straight years of lagging attendance. In all, ALA reported 9,211 total attendees, up significantly over the 8,036 attendees at the 2018 Midwinter Meeting in Denver (the least-attended Midwinter Meeting in 30 years). And with the 2019 ALA Annual Conference set for Washington, D.C.—a location that has traditionally yielded ALA’s best-attended conferences—the 13 % attendance boost in Seattle is a good start to what is setting up to be an important year for the association.
Among the conference highlights was an inspiring opening keynote by Melinda Gates, whose upcoming memoir, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, is due out from Flatiron Books in April. In her 45-minute talk, Gates spoke passionately about the fight for gender equality and challenged librarians to act. “The demand for gender equality is growing louder, and it is coming from all over the world,” she said, while warning that continued progress is not inevitable. “If we want to summon a moment of lift for women and girls, a moment that will lift up all of humanity, we all need to step up, every single one of us in this room.”
In her closing keynote on January 29, former CNN anchor Isha Sesay struck a similar note. “You’re either a bystander or an upstander,” she said. “By not taking a side, you’re taking a side.” Sesay is the author of the forthcoming book Beneath the Tamarind Tree (HarperCollins, July), which details the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014. She won a Peabody Award for her coverage.
Other speakers included Girl Scouts CEO Sylvia Acevedo; author and sociologist Eric Klinenberg; award-winning travel author and television host Rick Steves, who delighted librarians with his talk and signed copies of his latest book, Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind (Hachette); and Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Beacon).
Librarians also took time out from the show for a rally at Seattle’s famous main library, the latest stop in a series of rallies hosted around the nation by ALA president Loida Garcia-Febo as part of her Libraries=Strong Communities initiative. In honor of the event, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan issued a proclamation, dubbing January 26 Take Action for Libraries Day.
On the professional side, after years of relative calm, e-books and digital content were again a hot topic, with numerous sessions and meetings seeking to address the challenges still plaguing libraries in delivering digital content. Among the notable events was the release of a report drawn from a National E-book Summit convened at the 2018 ALA annual conference, in New Orleans. Billed as a step toward establishing “a national agenda” for addressing matters regarding e-books and other digital content in libraries, the report identifies a host of issues affecting the work of libraries in the digital space, including technical challenges; licensing, accessibility, curation, and communication issues; and the need for more training, skills, and data collection.
Meanwhile, a session convened by the library e-book advocacy group ReadersFirst focused on the more immediate challenges libraries face—among them, signs that the major publishers may be pulling back from the library e-book market, including Macmillan’s “experiment” with embargoing frontlist e-book titles from its Tor imprint, and Penguin Random House’s unpopular move from “perpetual access” to one-year licenses. And with audiobook demand on the rise in libraries, librarians expressed growing concerns over Amazon’s Audible subsidiary, which is signing exclusive deals with major authors that do not allow for library access.
Yet another panel discussed the Panorama Project, a nascent research initiative launched by leading library e-book vendor OverDrive to collect data on how libraries “impact book and author discovery, brand development, and retail sales.” In introductory remarks, Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, said he started the project because libraries are simply not getting credit for the work they do on behalf of publishers and authors. “We’ve had progress,” he noted, “but there is still a lack of hard, objective data and information to educate every publisher and every agent and every author that it is in their economic interests to appreciate, to leverage, and to love the channel of libraries and librarians.”
And among the major highlights of every Midwinter Meeting is the announcement of the Youth Media Award winners. Meg Medina won the 2019 John Newbery Medal for her novel Merci Suárez Changes Gears (Candlewick), Sophie Blackall won the 2019 Randolph Caldecott Medal for Hello Lighthouse (Little, Brown), and Elizabeth Acevedo took home the 2019 Michael L. Printz Award for The Poet X (HarperTeen). It was the first ALA win for Medina and Acevedo; Blackall had won the 2016 Caldecott Medal for Finding Winnie. Acevedo also won the 2018 National Book Award for The Poet X.
On the adult side, Rebecca Makkai was announced as winner of the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for The Great Believers (Viking), and Kiese Laymon took the nonfiction honor for Heavy: An American Memoir (Scribner). Both authors are expected to be on hand to receive their medals at the ALA Annual Conference, which is set for Washington, D.C., June 20–25.