Magazine article Information Today

Conversing at Ala Midwinter

Magazine article Information Today

Conversing at Ala Midwinter

Article excerpt

The promise of this year's American Library Association's (ALA) Midwinter Meeting was rolled into the theme of The Conversation Starts Here. If that was meant to indicate a radical change in format, it didn't happen. Midwinter is where committees meet, divisions have discussion sessions, and librarians visit the exhibit hall to talk about new products. It's pretty standard fare, and Midwinter 2013 (Jan. 25-29) in Seattle, had few surprises in structure.

But this is not to discount the importance of the conversations. The opportunity for informal exchanges of views with colleagues is an important part of any conference experience. It explains why, even when some of the business that transpires at Midwinter (particularly the abundant awards committees) could easily be done online, people still flock to the conference for face-to-face meetings. One children's librarian, who was in Seattle for an awards committee meeting, said she likes Midwinter because of its "intimacy." There were 10,731 people attending Midwinter (6,694 attendees and 4,037 exhibitors), which does not suggest intimacy to me. However, she was comparing Midwinter to the overwhelming size of the ALA Annual Conference, where attendance usually numbers about 25,000.

This year's conference was replete with conversations, both formal and informal. A Networking Uncommons area in the convention center was open all 4 conference days. However, self-organized groups could be found in hotel lobbies, sitting around tables in the exhibit area, and practically anywhere attendees were gathered. ALA divisions scheduled discussions via interest groups in assigned rooms. Topics ranged from open source to search engine optimization, from digital libraries to standards, and from serving special populations to the role of reference librarians. Ebooks were the subject of many conversations, both on and off the exhibit floor.

Tips and techniques were exchanged and grievances aired. For example, in a discussion about managing electronic resources, librarians agreed on the necessity for COUNTER-compliant statistics, bemoaning how some publishers, particularly smaller ones and learned societies, were not particularly good at supplying these. They also agreed that librarians should be more forceful with their vendors to achieve the change they needed.

The Community of Libraries

In a stirring keynote session, ALA president Maureen Sullivan interviewed Caroline Kennedy, whose new book, Poems to Learn by Heart, will be published March 26. Kennedy called upon libraries to continue to encourage collaborative composition. She grew up in a family that valued reading, which was a factor that caused her to become a strong advocate for libraries. But she worries about the future, given funding decreases, perceived obsolescence, and public indifference. Libraries historically have been under attack; she cited the destruction of the National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the U.S. PATRIOT Act because they represent a commitment to personal freedom. She lauded librarians for their commitment to positive change in their communities and their ability to give knowledge to individuals.

The library community includes its vendors. The exhibit floor featured both established companies and first-time exhibitors. Gale, part of Cengage Learning, announced that its metadata is now discoverable through OCLC WorldCat Local. …

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