No Longer Business as Usual

The evolution of ALA’s Midwinter Meeting

January 10, 2012

My first American Library Association Midwinter Meeting was in 1976. After stimulating learning experiences at two Annual Conferences, I really wanted to get involved. Colleagues advised me that Midwinter provided the best venue to do that with its focus on ALA business meetings. ALA’s open meeting policy allowed me to observe meetings related to my interests then, e.g. serving the deaf community.

Now, decades later, Midwinter has evolved into a multifaceted event. The reinvention of Midwinter really happened as a result of many factors, including our ability to work and collaborate electronically and increasing demand for opportunities to network and discuss emerging issues. Midwinter offers so much more now and draws thousands of librarians and library supporters who have little or no committee involvement. What’s changed?

First, discussion groups, which were few in number 25 years ago, have exploded in depth and breadth. Now, more than 200 discussion groups bring people together to explore a wide variety of topics and are open to anyone who is interested in sharing ideas, experiences, and a desire to learn. These groups often result in opportunities for newer and younger members to engage and network with more senior colleagues who share common interests.

Second, ALA’s many divisions and other units have created other ways for attendees to meet and connect with one another. In recent years, we have seen new communities of interest form. In addition, Midwinter proves to be an ideal time to offer forums for updates, such as what’s happening at the federal level that affects libraries. For example, regular events, such as the Friday afternoon Advocacy Institute, offer a fresh look at how to mobilize community support.

Third, with reduced travel budgets, many members choose to attend ALA gatherings when they can, often in their own region of the country. We know that 25%–40% of ALA meeting registrations are from local regions. The growth of opportunities at Midwinter for engagement, conversation, and networking—beyond the formal committee and board structure—provides a rich and attractive panoply of activities.

Midwinter just keeps expanding opportunities and building connections. Among the varied and exciting events are the Sunrise Speakers Series; multiple author presentations; memorial lectures; and award announcements, including the Youth Media Awards, the Stonewall Book Award, and many others. Then, there are the hundreds of exhibitors, many of whom find Midwinter a perfect venue for previewing new products and services.

New this year in Dallas are two ALA-wide opportunities for deep conversation about the evolving needs of library communities and how we can transform libraries and librarianship to meet new challenges. “Empowering Voices, Transforming Communities” will feature renowned Syracuse iSchool Professor David Lankes. The program will launch two separate small group conversations on Saturday, January 21, and Sunday, January 22, from 1 to 3 p.m. to address questions about our evolving communities and how we transform our libraries and our profession to meet these new challenges. Facilitators from a graphic recording company will help create visual images of the plenary conversations that conclude each afternoon’s conversation.

Then, Rich Harwood of the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation will inspire us at my President’s Program on Sunday, January 22, at 3:30 p.m. Harwood, a leading national authority on improving America’s communities, raising standards of political conduct, and reengaging citizens on today’s most complex and controversial public issues, will continue the focus on transforming communities and how we in libraries can play a leading role in that transformation.

Yes, indeed: It’s no longer “business as usual” at Midwinter. We hope you can join us!

MOLLY RAPHAEL is the retired director of Multnomah County (Oreg.) Library and the District of Columbia Public Library in Washington, D.C. Visit; email:



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