Why Are You Here? Reflections on ALA MidWinter #alamw12

This Midwinter was different for me. It is the first one I have attended since returning to school full-time. It means I paid my own way, every penny of it, and I was on my own time. It also means I chose to have my badge just say my name and city and state. This is not my first conference since returning to school, I was at Internet Librarian in October, but MidWinter was markedly different. The first question you are often asked when you meet new people is where you work or what type of library you work in. My response was usually that I wasn’t currently working full-time in a library, that I do consulting work with libraries and I am working full-time on my masters in public policy. If people wanted to know more about my masters and how it relates to libraries I happily told them, if not they had enough information and we could move on and I’d talk about Council or OITP or my other ALA involvement.

Once or twice this introduction led to the very direct question – Why are you here? Despite getting this question multiple times I don’t think I ever really answered it well so it has been running around in my head while I traveled home. Honestly I’m not sure it’s a fair question, aren’t we all there because we love libraries and love what we do? But I thought I would attempt to break it down. I was there because I serve on Council as a councilor-at-large, which means I represent all ALA members. I take that seriously. (more on this later) I serve on the OITP Advisory Committee. That is ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy. I serve as the LITA (Library and Information Technology Association) representative to the Digital Literacy Task Force. I chair an Interest Group on transliteracy. I’m there because I am honoring the commitments that I made. I didn’t make these commitments because of the library I was working in or the position I held at the time, I made them because I believe in libraries and the issues that I’m passionate about, I made them because I believe in getting involved, making a difference and giving back. Those are the same reasons I also went back to school to get my degree. But honestly I don’t think the person shaking my hand and asking me the question wanted to hear that type of answer, I don’t think they would believe it, but there it is.

So how did I spend my time at conference? (Please note I am happy to answer any questions about any of the things I mention, but knowing this is going to be a rather longer & dryer post that normal I’m attempting to keep things brief).

OITP: I spent the first two days at the OITP retreat. We heard from Program on America’s Libraries in the 21st Century,  Copyright Education SubcommitteeDigital Literacy Task Force (pdf), E-Rate Task Force and Telecom Subcommittee.  ALA President Molly Rapheal spoke to us and answered questions about the Digital Content and Libraries Working Group (DCWG). You can read up on their first meeting here. Like most all of us I think ALA is behind the curve on e-content but I was heartened to hear that Raphael and other ALA leaders will be meeting with Macmillan, Simon & Schuster (S&S), and Penguin soon and what they hope to accomplish with such a meeting. Robert Horton from IMLS spoke to us about the strategic plan and vision of IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services). There are some great things coming from IMLS if you are not already aware of and watching their work I encourage you to do so.

We were heard an update on the great work the Copyright Advisory Network is doing, seriously if you’re not familiar check it out. After that was a brief on some of the current copyright lawsuits (one of my favorite parts). Unfortunately there wasn’t a handout and I was too busy listening to take adequate notes.

There was much brainstorming on the future of libraries and ways to demonstrate our value.  If you have suggestions I’d love to hear them!

Digital Literacy Task Force: The Digital Literacy Task Force meet in person, we have been meeting virtually for months. Our task force will disband after Annual, so we came to a consensus (I think) on what we want to accomplish before our time is up. I have to say I am proud of what we’ve accomplished so look for some great things. Renee Hobbs, an expert on digital and media literacy, has been named as an OITP fellow and we are all looking forward to working with her in the next six months.

Presidential Candidates: I watched the candidates for ALA president speak in person, you can watch the video here. If you’re a voting member I strong encourage you to do so.

Council: This was my first conference serving officially as a Councilor-at-large. Unfortunately I had to miss the last session when they finally discussed the econtent resolution and I deeply regret that. I don’t tweet much from council floor but I have created a Twitter list of tweeting councilors so it is easy to follow along from a distance. As a councilor-at-large I represent all ALA members, not a particular interest or type of library or work. I spent a lot of time talking to all types of people in all types of libraries about what issues they were facing and what they thing the solutions are. I’m equally happy to answer emails.

Executive Board: I also ran for ALA Executive Board. Candidates for Executive Board are nominated by the Committee on Committees (and can be nominated from the floor during Council I), candidates accept or decline the nomination. During Council II at Midwinter they are each given 5 minutes to speak, then if there is time there are questions from the floor. Only councilors may vote for the Executive Board. It was a fascinating experience to go through and I am truly honored to have received a nomination.  The whole process brought home to me home to me how important it is that we know who represents us and how they get in that position. Most people I talked didn’t know or understand how the Exec Board process works and granted only standing councilors may vote, but in effect Council represents ALA and Exec Board represents council, so as members we should be paying attention to this process. So pay your dues (yes I know they aren’t cheap) and vote. It is ridiculous how many people don’t vote in the ALA elections.

To find out more about what happend at MidWinter check out the American Libraries and Library Journal coverage.

11 thoughts on “Why Are You Here? Reflections on ALA MidWinter #alamw12

  1. I’m library support staff back working in a high school Media Center this school year. I can’t help but wonder if I’d get asked the same question if I’d been there. I want to participate in more ALA and CE opportunities, but find support staff are such a monitory at these events. What are your thoughts on the Midwinter offerings for someone in my role?


    1. Hi Dawn,
      First I’d ask why you want to participate more in ALA? Is there a particular interest or cause you’re interested in? What role do you want to play? Midwinter is generally more business meetings that programming events so it might not be the best choice for general attendance. Annual is full of great programs and events that are open to everyone. If you’re looking to get involved check out the MidWinter schedule, it’s still up http://alamw12.scheduler.ala.org/sessions There are a couple of things that come up related directly to support staff issues

      There is a Library Support Staff Interests Round Table too. and there are plenty of things for School librarians that you would be welcome at!

      Hope that helps.


  2. Re: “the future of libraries and ways to demonstrate our value.”: During the Lankes Conversation sessions, an idea formed in my head about outreach. Dr Lankes suggested we need to train the public to use the newer aspects of the library, to help them break free of outdated, physical-library limitations. I propose being available at soccer (or other sport) events where parents and kids remain for an hour or two. There, librarians can model early literacy exercises, lap-sits, remote database access for homework help or researching Opposing Viewpoints, or the library’s website. The stories of “oh!” epiphanies, increased literacy, or library usage that might arise will become the foundation for evidence of value. Outreach events at senior centers, medical clinics (especially indigenous?), or business associations could target the needs of more perspectives. My library has difficulty timing presentations for when to draw in visitors, so reaching out might work better (if we can manage the staffing). I would appreciate more realistic views or current experiences on my plan, too.


  3. Bobbi,
    Nothing that irks me more than the converse of your post, when someone turns up at a conference “because their library sent them.” What a waste of resources! I do really appreciate the time and thought you devote to the profession, you are inspirational, and on the forefront of anticipating and appreciating the role of policy on information in a digital age…


    1. Hi Wendy, I agree. I’m all for spreading around the opportunity to attend conferences. but at the same time all too aware that there are many who want to go to get a “vacation” or just because someone else got to go last year. I’ve started asking people what their favorite thing about the conference is instead of asking where they work. I find this tells me far more about them and lets me find out about the great things I missed. 🙂


  4. Bobbi, very cool that you are taking a break from work to get your MPA. I got my MPA mid-career and it took me places I never expected. Best of luck. You won’t regret this decision.


  5. What an interesting post! I attended ALA Midwinter a year ago and I debated what to put on my badge. I completed my MLIS but after the company I worked for went out of business I wasn’t able to find a library job so I returned to my software career. I am a book blogger but I know often we get a bad rap at these types of events. I went not just to see the books but also to learn more about the industry, check out the sessions and just get a feel for what it is like. I was asked the same question about what was I doing there and given the look of disgust that told me they assumed I was just there for the free books. It was quite discouraging as an aspiring librarian and I was already feeling like the ugly step child as I was unable to find a position in a library. It almost felt wrong to try and learn more about the profession and keep up to date if I didn’t currently hold a librarian position.


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