Some 8,099 attendees were on hand in Philadelphia for the penultimate American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, which wrapped up January 28—the lowest attendance for the conference since 1992, and a significant drop from the 9,211 attendees in Seattle last year. In 2014, the last time the event was in Philadelphia, it drew nearly 12,000 attendees. The drop was expected however, with ALA in the midst of an organization-wide retooling that will see the meeting morph into something new in 2022.
“This year’s event was the association’s first step toward a new Midwinter model and provided the ALA with an opportunity to try new methods of delivery while gathering feedback from members and exhibitors,” the ALA said, in a statement that described the transition as “a marathon effort, not a sprint.” The final ALA Midwinter Meeting is set for Jan. 22–26, 2021, in Indianapolis. After that, the schedule shows only a “new January event” listed in 2022 in San Antonio, and in New Orleans in 2023. Though no further January events are currently scheduled, the ALA said it expects to host January events beyond 2023.
Despite the lackluster attendance, the 2020 meeting, which kicked off January 24, was a busy show, featuring the usual slate of committee meetings, including meetings on the future of the ALA. And, though she doesn’t officially start until February 24, the association’s new executive director, Tracie D. Hall, was on hand to meet members for the first time since her appointment on January 15.
Among the headlines from the show, ALA announced the winners of this year’s Youth Media Awards (see “The Week in Publishing,” p. 4, for the winners). On the adult side, Valeria Luiselli was named winner of the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for Lost Children Archive (Knopf), and Adam Higginbotham won for nonfiction for Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster (Simon & Schuster). The authors will be awarded their medals at a reception at the 2020 ALA Annual conference, set for June in Chicago.
From the professional program, the talk of the show was a 90-minute “Ask Me Anything” session featuring Macmillan CEO John Sargent, who sparred with librarians over the publisher’s controversial eight-week embargo on new-release e-books in libraries. Though Sargent said Macmillan would not reverse the embargo until more data came in, he did not rule out changes in the future. “It’s clear that the library community did not like what we tried,” Sargent told librarians. “I still think there’s value in it. But, is it the right thing to do? I don’t know.”