Reflections on ALA’s Midwinter Conference: Guest Post by MAWP Student Alexandra Messina-Schultheis

This January I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend the ALA (American Library Association) Midwinter Conference, which was held right here in Chicago. I’m currently interning in the marketing department at Albert Whitman & Company, a children’s book publisher based in Park Ridge, Illinois, and was able to snag a pass for myself (and possibly my mother…) from my boss. Not only was I able to experience the conference as a visitor but I also got a behind-the-scenes look because Albert Whitman had a booth, which I helped set up the day before the conference was open to the public.

Albert Whitman & Co.

The conference is generally geared toward ALA members, which include current and retired librarians, library technicians, trustees, associates, students obtaining a degree related to library science, and even friends of individuals in the field. The conference website describes what the conference offered better than I can: “discussion groups, institutes, speakers, conversations, and other events cover key issues such as innovation and transformation, eBook lending and usability, digital content, community engagement, leadership, the impact and potential of new technologies, books and awards, copyright, outreach, privacy, services for makers, library advocacy, core values, career development, teaching and learning, and best practices on a range of library-related concerns.”

ALA Chicago 2015

McCormick Place was buzzing with individuals trying to grab the latest free ARCs (advanced reader copy) from publishing houses big and small, those learning about the latest and most advanced technology in library science, and those who were making their way to the auditorium to hear the next speaker. I made sure I went to the conference on Saturday specifically so as not to miss Jason Segel speak about his writing process, inspiration, and his first middle grade book, Nightmares! I’m quite a fan, and his interview and Q&A were thoughtful, intelligent, and of course, very funny.

Alex ALA 1

Though I was busy trying to keep my mother’s pace above glacial as we moved throughout the publishing booths, I noticed just how many people were networking all around me. We stopped back at Albert Whitman’s booth every so often, and every AW employee in our booth there was talking and connecting with someone who had wandered by. The conference is a wonderful networking opportunitya fact I will remember for future conferences. As a little sidenote, the annual conference will be back in Chicago in June of 2017. Also, even though this conference seemed huge to me, the annual conference (as opposed to the midwinter one) is supposed to be even bigger, which hardly seems possible.

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I was like a kid in a candy store all day long. Stacks of books were everywhere you looked (all free or for sale for a discounted price), authors and illustrators were signing their pages or reading from them, and walking through the warmly lit Random House booth in the center of the convention was like walking through a coveted department store … for books.

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I was extremely grateful to have been able to attend the conference, especially since I know it is considerably more expensive if you’re not an ALA member or don’t work in the publishing or library science industry. Anyone who is an ALA member and hasn’t had the chance to attend: I highly recommend that you do. And for anyone who ever has the opportunity to attend, for whatever reason, please take it. It’s definitely a fun way to spend the afternoon, and the stack of free ARCs I have on my desk at home waiting to be read can attest to that.

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