Attempt at Midwinter

In youthful naiveté, I assumed being a new member of the profession (and ALA) that I would just go to Midwinter, attend some stuff, get involved, etc. My brother moved to Philadelphia a few months ago so it sounded like a great time to make a visit to him and attend my first ALA conference as a professional. So why do I get the feeling I’m not actually invited?

ALA does make a big deal about saying that Midwinter is for “handling the business of the association” so I wasn’t in the dark about that; I just somehow assumed that by being a member I was therefore a part of said “business.” Now, I’ve never been to Midwinter of course, but it seems from looking at the bits of program information I can see online that there are plenty of meetings going on hosted by various sections – but am I allowed to go to any of them? I am a member of ACRL of course, and even of a specific section as well, but I’m not even sure if anyone would let me in the doors of their business meetings. Would it be a waste of my time (and travel budget) to go at all?

Again, I’m new here, so I’m still figuring out how all this works. But it does seem to me that more could be done to encourage new members to get involved. I have received a newsletter and invitation to events from my section (thanks, LES), but I don’t really know if I would have anything else to go to if I made the trip. From this distance it almost seems like Midwinter is an exclusive club closed off with bouncers and a velvet rope – Sorry, Josh, you’re not on the list.

I joined ALA and ACRL as a new professional specifically because I wanted to get involved. I’m aware that there are grumblings in the blogosphere (and regular-sphere) about how ALA doesn’t actually return any real benefits to its members, and I’m also aware of the discussions of how virtual conferences and committee participation need to be embraced by the Association. I’m not old and cynical enough about the profession to think things like Midwinter are pointless yet – I’m here, I’m new, I have energy, and I’d like to get involved, so why is that so hard to do? It took a good deal of poking around to even find the ACRL New Member Wiki, which did have some decent information, but I feel like all the Associations could do a better job of telling their new members (once they’re in the door) how exactly it is they can really get involved. Perhaps a more pointed email could be sent to new members describing the workings of the Association, how committees are structured, what they do, how to get involved, and what exactly goes on with the “business” of Midwinter. I feel like I know nothing about what I can do at this conference, yet it’s the only one I can go to this year (Anaheim? Are you joking?)

So, seasoned friends, should I bother taking the train (12 hours, though it is my preference) down to Philly? Will you let me lurk in your meetings or will beefy librarians toss me out on my ear? I have this platform to query the ACRLog readership, but what about the rest of the MLS class of ’07 that has the enthusiasm but no clue how to get started?

20 thoughts on “Attempt at Midwinter”

  1. I suppose someone more active in ACRL should respond but since that hasn’t happened (yet!), here goes. The big orientation to ALA occurs at annual and is sponsored by NMRT. It’s a great way to get an overview of ALA and find out how to participate. I wish I had done this when I first joined—it would have helped me navigate those first few years much better!

    That said, most meetings at midwinter are open—the program will specifically identify which meetings are closed. A great way to get involved is to identify the committees that you’re interested in and then show up to the meeting. Identify yourself to the chair as a guest who is interested in joining the committee. Follow this up with a note of interest to the chair AFTER the meeting. Then submit your volunteer form and identify that committee. I’ve known folks who were put on the committee on the spot, simply for showing up—but that does not always happen.

    I’ve also found that some of my most useful exchanges occur in the vendor area. I lead our library instruction program—which means I have to be familiar with the over 260 different databases we support. Networking with the vendors is a great way to find out about new developments, new products coming on the market and to (sometimes) give them an earful about what I don’t like. I usually write up a summary of these discussions and send it around to our entire LI team. Many vendors also host more formal events where libraries or company reps present applications of their products.

    Also, while there are not formal programs at Midwinter, there are often informal roundtable discussions or sessions that are informative.

    So I think you will find there are things to do at Midwinter!

  2. Josh, I can only speak for my experience with my section (RBMS) but aside from two meetings which are always closed, every meeting is open and non-committee-member attendees are not only permitted but expected as a matter of course. And while Midwinter is more oriented toward committee business, our discussion groups meet at both Midwinter and Annual. They have no membership, so everyone is welcome, and as I often say, they are the most valuable and rewarding thing I do within ALA.

    My assumption would be that you will be more than welcome to attend the vast majority of your section’s meetings and I urge you to keep an eye out particularly for the discussion groups.

  3. I have noticed more and more programs at Midwinter–programs that would normally be during Annual. I haven’t been going to them because most of them seem to be on Monday–when I normally leave. This year I will be staying until Tuesday.

    As far as the usefulness of Midwinter, as Deborah said, most of my useful exchanges happen outside of the meeting room–with the vendors, meeting other librarians on the shuttles, seeing friend/colleagues I only see at conferences, etc. If you have a place to stay and the money (either yourself or your library), I recommend it.

  4. I third the comments. I know it’s intimidating, but I speak from experience in saying that indeed, if you show up to a meeting, you’re not only welcome but maybe about to be drafted for the committee! I recommend also taking a look at the ALA-APA meetings. We need more participation; the volunteer form is at

    You can get more info from Jenifer Grady, the Director of ALA-APA, at

  5. Hi Josh! I am an almost-graduate (MLIS from Syracuse University this upcoming May) and I am in a similar position. I feel almost lost as to what I should be doing to participate in ALA-related activities. Hopefully once I obtain my first professional position, I will be able to investigate further. I decided against going to midwinter just because I was so lost as to what really goes on there and how I could be of help. I am attempting to get funding to go to Annual so that I can get the big NMRT overview that Deborah mentioned in the comment above. Best of luck with your introduction into the profession!

  6. I’ll add to the chorus of those saying that Midwinter can be a good way to get started with ALA. Very few meetings are closed to non-committee members and visiting a few is a good way to get a sense of what the committee is planning for Annual. The divisions sometimes run volunteer forums at Midwinter where they talk about how to get involved–definitely go to those if you see them advertised (I’m not sure if ACRL is doing something like this in Philadelphia). Also, don’t overlook discussion or interest groups. Though they might not run official “programs” at Midwinter, they often have very informative discussion leaders/panels and they’re often recruiting new leaders for the post-Annual leadership transition (and they sometimes get lost in the crush of activities at Annual; I think they shine at Midwinter). It does help to go to your first (or any) conference with a friend or colleague, just to have someone to touch bases with. The size of Midwinter is also less intimidating. Good luck!

  7. Josh, almost all ALA meetings are open; you only have to be a little brave to go into an unfamiliar group. While there aren’t supposed to be programs at Midwinter, often discussion groups will have a local expert present, and a discussion of a topic of interest to you will be worth your while. Also, committee rosters will be filled out right after Midwinter. Introduce yourself to the chair of groups that appeal to you and indicate your interest. If you’re a member of whatever umbrella group the committee is part of, you might get a committee assignment — and then you’ll have a business meeting of your own to go to. Sandy

  8. Great post! Your questions are relevant not only for new librarians, but also librarians who have yet to join committees at the national level.

    My first ALA meeting was the mid-winter session in San Antonio two years ago and I had the same reservations regarding attendance. That said, I very much enjoyed the conference and had opportunity to attend several open meetings, sponsored sessions, discussion groups, and visit with vendors. After attending mid-winter, annual was not as overwhelming.

  9. Hi, Josh –

    Thanks for your eye-opening post! I can see how the emphasis on “section business” would feel off-putting. I wonder if it was intended to encourage librarians who cannot attend both annual and midwinter to feel that they’re not missing out if they can only attend the annual meeting?

    In the case of the Literatures in English section, a big part of our “section business” is providing a venue to bring lit librarians together to talk shop and share ideas, and as you can imagine we want to include as many interested colleagues as we can.

    The Literatures in English section schedules its formal programs (panels, guest speakers, and the like) for the annual meeting, but also hosts a range of meetings and events for networking and comparing notes with lit-librarian colleagues at both annual and midwinter meetings.

    We offer discussion groups in reference and collections, plus a discussion forum for new members and a social hour. There is a general membership meeting that gives members an update on section projects and planning, and usually the second half of this meeting is a general discussion of a topic of interest in the field of literature librarianship.

    While the “invitation” (via Biblio-Notes and the section email list) only reaches ACRL members who have signed up for the section, any ALA attendee is welcome to attend and become a new member of the section.

    For details about ACRL LES’s midwinter schedule, please see the most recent BiblioNotes at

    – if you decide to make the trip, we hope you’ll stop by and discover that the “business” of this section is stimulating and enjoyable!

    Priscilla Finley
    chair, membership committee, ACRL Literatures in English Section

  10. Wow–I am having the same experience. I actually didn’t know ALA Midwinter was primarily for ALA business, as they didn’t note that on the website until after their schedules were posted. I still plan to go, but I feel very lost as to what I should be doing there, and as a new MLS student, none of those acronyms make sense to me yet. Will I be wandering around the conference hotel all day long, unsure where I should go or what I should be doing? Possibly…all that to say, I feel you on the not-feeling-very-welcomed-by-ALA thing. Maybe all of us newbies should meet up? 🙂

  11. I guess ALA isn’t as clear as it could be…but I agree that Midwinter is a great time to find out what might interest you. Committee meetings must be open unless they’re dealing with awards or certain personnel matters: That’s one (somewhat flimsy) reason that committees can’t have virtual meetings. All interest groups (in LITA) and discussion groups (in most other divisions and sections) are open by nature, and most (I believe) do hold discussions at Midwinter–typically less formal ones than at Annual. And, as noted, it’s a great time to talk to vendors and meet other people, since the crowds aren’t nearly as thick as at Annual.

    It’s also a great time to check out committees because there aren’t programs competing for your time.

  12. Josh, if you come to Philadelphia I’ll treat you to a cheesesteak. That might make the long train ride worth it. But seriously, you have some good advice in the other comments. You’ve got the exhibits – a great learning experience right there. You can find out what committees you might like to get involved in – I recommend CLS (college libraries section). I’m the chair this year and you are welcome to come and join our executive meeting. True, there are not a lot of programs – but there are some good discussion groups where you can learn a lot about who is doing what. But no one gets an invite to this stuff. You’ve got to take the first step. The good news is there are plenty of colleagues out there who will help you take it.

  13. I think you’ll find an awful lot of “programming” even though Midwinter officially does not include programming. Beyond the “programs” from ALA groups, vendors sponsor a number of speakers, workshops, etc. As already said – the meetings are all open unless specifically stated they are not (and those are relatively few). There will also be a variety of social events (e.g., ACRL Instruction Section Soiree).

    But, I think you’re larger point about what ALA et al might do to better invite in new members is well-taken. Working as I do at a large research library at a large research institution, my experience with large organizations in addition to ALA leads me to suspect that the better information will come from divisions/sections rather than ALA as a whole. Most of the small divisions/sections have a Membership Committee or something like that. They are usually trying hard to figure out how to connect with new members – perhaps you can stop by and make some suggestions!

    I’ll watch for you in Philly!

  14. Josh, I graduated in May 2006 and assumed I’d join right in with attending twice annual ALA events, so I could be involved in committees. When I found out my employer would likely only cover one conference a year, it became apparent to me that there wasn’t a lot of value in ALA for me, because most committees require attendance at midwinter and annual, and ALA has a lot less value if you’re not on a committee, and it’s also not always easy to get involved in committees as a virtual attendee. Plus I wasn’t willing to pay $1000/year plus to attend one of the meetings, the one my employer wouldn’t subsidize.

    I have only attended mid-winter, and that was when I was still in my LS program, in January 2006. I’m going to be a voice of dissent here and say that I don’t think MidWinter is worth it if 1) you have to spend any of your own money and/or 2) this will limit future conference travel on your part.

    No one will toss you out of meetings, and there is some programming that might be of interest, and you’ll probably see your LS buddies, but if you’re limited in money, I’d say save your money for a regional conference (like a state library association), where it might be easier to take on a leadership role sooner; a national conference that focuses in on your area; a conference where you can present; or something else that more narrowly matches your interests. Or, if you’re going to attend only one ALA, make it annual.

    ACRL is great–it’s too bad that it’s every other year, as I’d gladly attend it as my one conference/year. And there are a lot of other interesting conferences throughout the year. So talk to your peers, maybe not at your library, but your LS buddies who are in similar fields, and see what they are attending. I think you are smart to carefully consider the cost of midwinter.

  15. Hi Josh, as a staff member at ACRL let me say that we appreciate your post and feedback! Your comments have created some good conversation here in the office about what we can do to help things be clearer and to introduce new members to their options. All of your colleagues who have commented are correct in pointing out the wealth of opportunities for both involvement and learning at the Midwinter Meeting. Please stop by the ACRL booth and say hello to us! And thanks again for pointing out where we need to improve!

  16. Hi Josh — I’m fairly new to the profession (graduated from library school in 2004) and think that Midwinter is definitely worthwhile. At this point, I’ve consistently volunteered for committees, so I am “officially” involved in that association business that you mention. But as others have said, most all the meetings are open, and you can drop into whatever meetings interest you to find out where you’d like to become increasingly involved.

    Some good things to do at Midwinter:

    –the SPARC/ACRL Forum is about emerging issues in Scholarly Communication. It happens Saturdays at 4 with a follow-up discussion roundtable (for anyone who’s interested in talking about the presentation) on Sunday at 4. This year, the presentation will be about working with the facebook generation — this generation’s views on access and scholarly communication issues. The SPARC forum always has great speakers and is a regular programming-style thing to attend.

    –If there’s an ACRL section you’re interested in, see if they have a General Membership Forum or a New Members Discussion Group or Social Hour that you can attend. I know that the Literatures in English section of ACRL generally has all three of these events during midwinter as well as discussion groups on various topics (reference, collections, etc.).

    –the ALA Presidential candidates forum and the ACRL Presidential candidates forum are fascinating (to me) as well as watching ALA Council or any of the other operations of ALA or ACRL functions that happen at midwinter.

    –the exhibits are always informative (especially if there are some databases you want to learn about, for example)

    –there are always some author forums and other programming events going on.

    That’s a few things off the top of my head in addition to other people’s recommendations to sit in on any committees that interest you (and feel free to leave again if it’s not what you had in mind). In general, I really like Midwinter and think it’s a good introduction to ALA conferences. I do agree that it can be daunting for a first-time attendee though, so let me recommend connecting with some people ahead of time and making plans for dinner one or two nights — or plan to attend a reception or social hour sponsored by a division or section that you’re interested in. Having some people to meet up with will make your experience much better.

  17. Just to briefly chime in, Midwinter is a great way to learn more about ALA. I found it to be less intimidating than the Annual Conference and a much slower pace, especially for a new member. One of the advantages of MW is that you can volunteer for committees (competition for some is fierce). If you are on a tenure track system at your library and are required to participate on a national level then you can use this to your advantage to introduce yourself to committee chairs, etc. I found that the easier committees to join were the discussion groups and this was a good way to learn more about the committee/division. Also, when you come back to Annual in June, you can return to the committee meetings you liked and ask questions about their projects. Finally, my first boss told me to relax and have a good time as this may be the only conference where I am not caught up in the “business” of ALA and to take advantage of the freeness to explore my options, visit vendors and look around the city. Have fun!

  18. Thanks to all for their tips, suggestions, invitations and support. I will see (most of) you in Philly, and yes, I’d love to meet up with any other newbies I can find. I will try to hit new member activities for ACRL and I’m going to get to as much from LES as I can as well. But, if you see me wandering around, don’t be shy about grabbing my arm and pulling me into something you’re attending – or just out to coffee (or cheesesteaks).

  19. Josh – Someone out there must have heard you, because today I got a nice email welcoming me to ACRL, and it included a link to the New Member Wiki. I joined for many of the same reasons that you did, and this message really did make me feel more welcome in the organization. Thanks!

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