ALA Midwinter: Beyond the Exhibit Hall

When many bloggers or non-professionals hear about the American Library Association (ALA) they think about the floor. The big glitzy exhibit hall where the publishers man booths and there is swag and ARCs to be had. As a librarian, I love this part, too, because I get to take amazing books back to my teens or talk to my vendors, but it’s a very, very small part of my ALA experience. I’m talking less than 10% of what I do. You may think I’m pulling your strings, but I’m not! And I’m about to prove it.

ALA, especially Midwinter, is about meetings. I am on YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association) Fabulous Films for Young Adults, a list were we pick 25 titles that best fit a theme. This years was Song & Dance and we picked an amazing list. I already talked about that over here, so I won’t go on about the titles again. However, I will talk about how much time and effort goes into this list. At midwinter, my fellow committee members and myself, spent 10 hours in a room whittling down the titles. And this was almost 10 hours of pure discussion as we had completed all the viewing before ALA. That’s right, I said before ALA! We had over 100 titles nominated this year, which means I spent easily 200+ hours watching movies on my own time. I don’t watch a single title while I’m at work. This also doesn’t include the time I spend on our discussion board proclaiming why I loved or disliked a title or if it had teen appeal. It’s a lot of work, but I love it! I love knowing that our list will be used across the nation to buy materials in libraries.

In fact, I love it so much, I have accepted the position of chair (aka head) of the committee for next year! Of course, this meant I spent another 2-3 hours in leadership meetings that would make the transition between outgoing and incoming chair go smoothly. Since I’ve been on the committee for the past 2 years, I had a good grasp on things, but it was still nice to be able to talk to my chair about things I may not have know about.

Enough about the meetings you say? Okay, okay fine. Then lets talk about BFYA or Best Fiction for Young Adult. Another YALSA  selection list that looks at books published in a 16 month time period and selects the best. The best part for me (and many librarians) is the teen session that happens the Sunday of every conference. Local teens come in and share their thoughts on the books that are nominated. This year they spent 2.5 hours commenting on 10 pages worth of books. Their comments were insightful and amazing and I enjoyed every minute they spoke. If you search twitter for #BFYA you’ll see many of the teen comments. They also write reviews during the year and send it to committee members. (For those wondering, these are the teens you see wandering in YALSA t-shirts on floor Sunday morning.)

What else? Let’s talk about the awards. Midwinter is seriously the Oscars for Librarians; this is when we learn who won the Printz, Newbery, Caldecott, & much more. The excitement is hard to explain during the Youth Media Awards (YMA) unless you witness it first hand. The gasps and cheers as each award is announced fills the room. There is video of the YMA, but I doubt it can equal to the thrill of being there. Of hearing your friends scream and jump in their chairs because one of their favorites one. (Or feel the heartbreak when a favorite lost.)

The cool thing about this years awards was that Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley won both the Morris and the Printz. Honestly, I think only one other person could have done that in my mind, which would have been John Green (if the Morris has existed then). It was a special treat hearing him and the other Morris & Non-Fiction noms/winners give their speeches. If his Morris speech is any indicator, we’ll be in for a very special treat when he gives the Printz speech at Annual.

I would be remiss not to talk about the book buzzes. I was lucky enough to attend 4 this Midwinter either through special breakfasts, lunches, or buzz sessions. I love these sessions because I learn so much about what is coming out by all the publishers. I love the packet I walk away with.  It includes information such as titles, authors, pub dates, and descriptions, which is invaluable to me as I begin my ordering process when I return to work. I did a special Book Buzz post if you want to see what books I’m most excited about after sitting through the sessions.

Last, but not least, I want to touch on networking. Not only do I room with fellow librarians, but I have lunches and dinners with them as well. This is a time were we share programming ideas, rant and rave about books, and just talk about working in libraries in general. These meetings have lead to me having invaluable support groups that I reach out to all year long who encourage and help me to become a better Teen Services Librarian.

That my dear readers, is my ALA in a nutshell. I hope it was a good glimpse of what happens beyond the floor. This world is open to anyone who buys a full badge, including non-librarians! And if anyone has questions regarding ALA I am more than happy to answer them.



  1. What a great, informative post! Sounds like you had a fantastic time at Midwinter, and congratulations on the excellent Fabulous Films list generated by your committee. So exciting that you’re taking on the role of chair. You’ve got a full plate, but it sounds like a happy one!

    I’ve never gotten the opportunity to full participate in a Midwinter, but I’m hoping to be chosen for a selection committee and increase my participation. Right now, I’m the chair of YALSA’s Local Arrangements Committee for Annual in Anaheim, so I hope I’ll see you there!

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