Great Conversations Abound — ALA Midwinter 2015 Recap

ALA Midwinter 2015For many, the 2015 American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting (ALA MW) will be remembered for the diverse weather conditions during the 5-day run of the conference.

The conference opened to amazingly warm temperatures and sunshine, only to end with the 5th largest snowstorm in Chicago’s history (19.3″ in all)!

It reminded us all why Chicago is known as the “windy city.”

Weather aside though, I walked away with some very interesting points from ALA MW 2015 that are important to us all — regardless of how we fit into the library.

Top 3 ALA MW 2015 Takeaways

1. Libraries are key partners in learning.

Specific components that are at the heart of the discussion of learning in libraries include early learning, Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) learning, makerspaces and workforce-adult learning. Numerous ALA MW 2015 sessions and discussions included these themes.

The encouraging thing about these topics is that several of them can work across and actually connect different types of libraries, empowering them to work together to strengthen the education ecosystem and keeping libraries relevant.

The other exciting aspect is they address the theme of life-long learning and extend the role of the library to a more global role in extending learning, not just reading.

The Urban Library Council recently published a Leadership Brief called Partners for Education. This piece does a great job of positioning the library as a key part of the changing educational landscape, includes examples of how libraries are committing to this mission and provides strategies for strengthening these educational partnerships.

2. Libraries have a marketing and branding crisis.

Public perception of the library is incredibly important as many important legislative issues — Museum and Library Services Act (MLSA), Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — are coming to pass that will influence the operation of the library for years to come.

According to many of the leading library organizations facilitating discussions at ALA MW 2015, developing a culture of advocacy and conveying a unified story that can help to position libraries on a global level would give libraries a more powerful voice.

On a local level, providing a consistent view of what the library offers and positioning it in creative new ways can gain new or more frequent library users. Libraries have historically been relatively modest about the impact they have on their communities but they could be positioning themselves as “the largest provider of afterschool learning” in their community or “the place to access digital technology” or whatever might resound well with their constituents.

Changing the perception of what the library has to offer and doing it in a bold or unexpected way can have positive results as Ben Bizzle conveyed in his well attended ALA Master Series program, Start a Revolution: Stop Acting Like a Library.

3. Collaboration is a key component of success.

No one can afford to go it alone these days. Collaborative learning has been given a lot of attention, but for libraries, collaboration with other libraries, community organizations, industry partners and library vendors will be critical to future success.

Sharing rather than duplicating resources can be a win-win by raising awareness of services that are available through the multiple organizations working together and providing outreach opportunities in places that those services normally wouldn’t reach.

The ALA has been working hard to help to educate libraries on how to foster these types of relationships and has developed some partnerships themselves to facilitate this. For the past couple of years they have been working with the Harwood Institute to help educate libraries on how they can better engage their communities.

At ALA MW 2015 there were a number of sessions that provided practical tools for getting the process started and reaching out. In addition, there is a helpful ALA guide that provides a framework for getting started.

Conferences never fail to provide thought provoking new ideas and I am always so impressed at how the library community comes together to actively solve problems and overcome challenges!

I have 2 parting thoughts that I picked up from Ben Bizzle’s presentation that will help us as we think about and act on the challenges in front of us:

  • If we nurture a “culture of creativity where people can fail with confidence,” we are more likely to get to outstanding results faster.
  • Finally, we should charge ourselves with “being leaders, not managers” and allow the great people around us to truly shine.


Janet Nelson

Janet Nelson

Janet is the former Director of Library Engagement and Solutions at Demco. She managed and developed relationships with key industry leaders to understand changing library trends and services.