ALA Midwinter Meeting Draws 13,600 to Philadelphia

ALA Midwinter Meeting Draws 13,600 to Philadelphia

Sports legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar delivered a heartfelt address at the Midwinter Meeting of the American Library Association, January 11–16, in Philadelphia. The athlete-turned-author told a packed house, “I am not standing here as a basketball player but as a historian and book lover, all because of a library and librarians like you.” Discovering the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center while researching the Harlem Renaissance, he said, was a revelation that turned his life around.

Another highlight of the meeting, attended this year by more than 13,600 librarians and library supporters, was the announcement of the Newbery and Caldecott medals, as well as other youth media awards. ALA President Loriene Roy traveled from the conference to New York City to appear with the winning authors on the January 15 Today Show. Especially noteworthy was the fact that the Newbery winner, Laura Amy Schlitz, is a librarian at the Park School in Baltimore.

Speakers and discussion forums added variety to the Association’s annual business meeting, foremost among them an appearance by FBI whistleblower Bassem Youssef at the Washington Office session. Despite a warning from his superiors, Special Agent Youssef appeared at the meeting with his attorney, cautiously explaining his dilemma and answering questions from the audience about problems with the FBI’s counterterrorism program.

Jazz violinist Regina Carter helped conferees take a format break with a concert at the ninth annual Arthur Curley Memorial Lecture. And legendary journalist Anthony Lewis spoke candidly about his career and key Supreme Court decisions on the First Amendment with Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, in a fundraising session sponsored by the Freedom to Read Foundation. Asked if the pendulum has swung today in favor of too much press freedom, he noted that “the press can be abusive of privacy.”

Midwinter-goers spent much of the conference attending some 800 meetings, many of them planning sessions for the forthcoming Annual Conference in Anaheim, California. Some 500 technology vendors and publishers filled the exhibition hall in the Pennsylvania Convention Center, enabling attendees to examine firsthand a wide variety of information-industry products. The Exhibits Round Table sponsored an Author Forum with Random House author Mary Doria Russell and the Penguin Group’s Geraldine Books, who touched on many hot-button issues. ERT also sponsored a Technology Showcase, where leading players in the information science and technology industry touted their latest innovations.

The ALA Council grappled with a number of governance issues, but bubbling to the top was a debate over whether or not divisions and other units of the Association should endorse candidates for the ALA presidency. The argument against endorsement was that it would stifle debate if special interests controlled the election. Proponents said restrictions against endorsement are a violation of free speech. In the end, the ALA Executive Board was directed to revisit campaign guidelines and report back to Council.

Camila Alire, dean emerita at both the University of New Mexico and Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, and J. Linda Williams, coordinator of library media services for Anne Arundel County (Md.) Public Schools, candidates for the 2009–2010 ALA presidency, presented their platforms and took questions from the audience at a forum moderated by ALA Immediate Past President Leslie Burger.

A full Midwinter Meeting report and statements by the presidential candidates are scheduled for the March issue of American Libraries.

Posted January 15, 2008.