Transforming Libraries

Meeting the needs of members and their institutions

March 21, 2011

A key goal of the 2011–2015 ALA strategic plan is to provide leadership in the transformation of libraries and library services for today’s dynamic and increasingly global digital information environment. Virtually every media interview I’ve had during the past seven months has been an occasion to illustrate how libraries, the people who work in them, and the services offered by them reflect the remarkable changes in communications and information access during the past two decades. My mantra is: Libraries have been and continue to transform themselves to be responsive to the needs of the populations they serve.

Reporters are often surprised to learn about the soaring circulation of materials. “Yes,” I say, “People are still checking out books. In fact, more books than ever. And, by the way, we have e-books!” It’s hard to resist asking media representatives if they have actually been in their local library recently. If so, they certainly would have seen that people are often waiting to get on the computers to access online databases and e-government services, file job applications, send e-mail messages, or conduct research related to their small businesses. Libraries are busy because they are central to the lives of millions of families, students, older adults, entrepreneurs, and those who require assistance in weathering the economic challenges of the past few years.

To support the ongoing transformation of libraries, ALA is committed to adding opportunities for its members to share innovative concepts and practices and obtain training in the areas that will keep them ahead of the demands of library users. Whenever and wherever we gather, either for an online webinar or onsite at ALA’s Annual Conference or the Midwinter Meeting, we are preparing for or participating in the transformation of libraries for the 21st century.

Just as our libraries and our services are being transformed, so has the Midwinter Meeting. A document describing the changing vision for Midwinter was broadly distributed for comment prior to January’s meeting in San Diego. We know for some time now that conference calls, e-mail, social networking, and virtual meeting spaces have meant that a greater amount of the “business” of the Association could occur without being face-to-face. In a quiet and natural way, the purpose of Midwinter was gradually being reframed. Our members have created a Midwinter experience that works for them. Will there be business meetings at Midwinters of the future? Of course. However, even those will change as we extend the conversation through virtual capabilities.

Midwinter is being transformed into a venue for flourishing discussion groups to share information and ideas on the latest developments, research, initiatives, and grants. More emphasis will be placed on continuing education programs and preconferences. Leadership and career development, supported by ALA’s divisions and round tables, will grow. Networking, always a reason for being at the Midwinter Meeting, will remain as strong and vital an incentive as ever.

Our data shows that between 25% and 40% of those who attend Midwinter are from the region where it is being held. Unlike Annual, whose size limits the number of potential locations, we are able to move Midwinter around the country and increase the awareness and availability of what ALA offers its members.

Contrary to comments about its demise, Midwinter has evolved into a renewed learning opportunity for 21st-century libraries and library staff.

ALA President ROBERTA STEVENS is on leave from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Visit E-mail: