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Introducing LibLearnX

Stock image of people videoconferencing

For many years, the leadership of the American Library Association (ALA) has been working to reimagine—and ultimately replace—the Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits event traditionally held in January. ALA’s planning, which has involved gathering member input and incrementally tweaking the conference’s format, reflects the shifting dynamics in how associations conduct business and engage members, moving away from in-person governance meetings and focusing more on education and professional development.

That planning comes to fruition when LibLearnX: The Library Learning Experience debuts as an online event January 21–24. (ALA’s Executive Board voted in September to cancel the planned in-person component in San Antonio because of the ongoing pandemic and surge of COVID-19 variants, as well as the size, scope, and location of the event.)

LibLearnX emphasizes active and applied learning in a variety of formats, while including familiar ALA conference components: high-profile speakers, networking opportunities, and celebrations of libraries, books, and authors. This member-focused education experience is designed to motivate, inspire, and engage discussions to help shape the future of libraries and their communities.

Theater Speakers

Headshot photo of actor, comedian, and author Molly Shannon
Molly Shannon Photo: Corey Nickols

Emmy-nominated actor and comedian Molly Shannon, who closed the 2011 Annual Conference in New Orleans, returns to ALA. Shannon’s forthcoming memoir Hello Molly! covers her six seasons on Saturday Night Live, a tragedy that shaped her childhood, and her complicated relationship with her father. Shannon’s recent credits include the film Promising Young Woman and the HBO comedy series The White Lotus and The Other Two.

Headshot of author Jacqueline Woodson
Jacqueline Woodson Photo: John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Jacqueline Woodson is the author of more than 30 books for young adults, middle-graders, and adults, including Red at the Bone, Another Brooklyn, and the National Book Award–winning memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. Woodson will discuss her forthcoming titles for children, The Year We Learned to Fly (January) and The World Belonged to Us (May). She is a four-time Newbery honoree, a two-time Coretta Scott King Book Award winner, and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, the NAACP Image Award, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

Headshot of author Kelly Yang
Kelly Yang Photo: Jessica Sample

New York Times bestselling author Kelly Yang won the 2019 Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association’s Asian/Pacific American Award for Children’s Literature for Front Desk, the first in a series about a 10-year-old Chinese-American immigrant girl who manages the front desk of a motel while her parents clean the rooms (a story drawn from Yang’s own experience). Her latest book New from Here (March) tells the story of an Asian-American boy who fights to keep his family together and stand up to racism during the initial coronavirus outbreak.

Headshot of retired investor and author Dave Liu
Dave Liu

Entrepreneur and retired investment banker Dave Liu completed more than $15 billion in transactions with hundreds of companies during his career and serves as CEO, advisor, and investor with several multibillion dollar companies. His recent humorous book The Way of the Wall Street Warrior: Conquer the Corporate Game Using Tips, Tricks, and Smartcuts (November) is intended to help members of underrepresented communities achieve their career goals.

Headshot of author Angeline Boulley
Angeline Boulley

Storyteller and former director of the Office of Indian Education at the US Department of Education Angeline Boulley writes often about her Ojibwe community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Her bestselling debut novel Firekeeper’s Daughter (March 2021), a young adult thriller about an Indigenous teen who roots out corruption in her community, will soon be adapted as a Netflix series by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company.

Headshot of librarian and author Cicely Lewis
Cicely Lewis

School librarian Cicely Lewis started the Read Woke Challenge in 2017 in response to police violence against young unarmed Black people, regressive immigration policies, and a lack of diversity in young adult literature. She later created Read Woke Books in partnership with Lerner Publishing Group, which published her books Mass Incarceration, Black Men, and the Fight for Justice (August 2021) and Resistance to Slavery: From Escape to Everyday Rebellion (January).

Headshot of author Mariko Tamaki
Mariko Tamaki

Canadian prose and comics writer Mariko Tamaki has won Eisner and Governor General’s awards for This One Summer (cocreated with Jillian Tamaki) and Harvey and Walter Dean Myers awards for Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me (illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell). Both titles received Printz honors. Her latest novel, Cold (February), is a crime story for young adults.

Education Sessions

ALA has designed four types of active learning experiences for LibLearnX, empowering attendees to determine the most relevant content for their educational journeys, for a total of 120 sessions:

  • ShopTalks are bite-sized presentations, about 15–20 minutes long, that focus on a specific idea, project, or workshop. They’re perfect for learning about hot topics and picking up practical tips.
  • Ideas Xchanges are about 30 minutes each and feature creative projects shared in peer-to-peer conversations.
  • Learning Labs delve into current issues with action-based instruction and collaborative learning. Sessions are approximately one hour and focus on methods, approaches, and opportunities that attendees can immediately apply in their libraries. Learning Labs may include panels, Q&As, polls and surveys, games, and breakout discussions.
  • Accelerators are led by expert facilitators and designed to expose attendees to new ideas and challenge traditional thinking. Accelerator sessions last approximately two hours.

Books and authors

Problematic Authors and Problematic Works: An Intellectual Freedom Q&A

While content challenges are familiar territory for librarians, the distinction between challenged materials and challenged authors is often unexplored. Members of the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee will present a new FAQ document, created with ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, clarifying how library staff should handle challenges.

Nonboring Nonfiction: Using Hands-On Activities to Engage Young Readers

This session will share creative, fun, and affordable activities designed to pair with STEM and STEAM books for young readers—from paper airplane contests to eating crickets. Participants will leave with at least a dozen new nonfiction program ideas.

Career development and leadership

What Keeps Us Growing? A Discussion about Late-Career Motivation—for Everyone

This session will be a conversation about what keeps us going and growing. Attendees will discover common experiences of senior library workers through discussion, polling, and a review of research, and will take away research-supported ideas for navigating the late stages of a library career.

How to Think Like a Library Project Manager to Execute Your Ideas

To be change agents, librarians need to bring people together to test the viability of an idea and advocate for the attention and resources needed to usher it to life. This session will demystify the basic steps that project managers effectively use to turn ideas into action plans.

Library Internships and Diversity: How Internship Programs Can Uplift BIPOC Library Students

University of Northern Colorado Resident Information Literacy Librarian Ramón García will share his experience as a former graduate library intern and discuss how internships can help libraries make progress toward their equity, diversity, and inclusion goals.

Servant Leadership in Action: Values-Based Planning for Enhanced Decision Making

Values-based strategic planning can give library leaders a methodology for making decisions in times of rapid change. Participants will work independently and in teams to define their values in the framework of servant leadership. Using case-based learning exercises, they will explore how their values can inform decisions and how assessment can improve planning.

Collection development and readers’ advisory

Adding “Kid Voice” into Your Readers’ Advisory Practices

This session will explore how librarians can use Bookopolis, a social network made for readers ages 13 and under, to find children’s and young adult books based on young readers’ reviews and recommendations.

Diversifying Your Romance Collection

Brigid Black, reference librarian at Lucius Beebe Memorial Library in Wakefield, Massachusetts, will provide 10 steps for finding diverse books for romance (or any other genre) collections.

Now or Never? The Library’s Critical Role in Supporting Research and Scholarship

The library’s position in the wider scholarly landscape has expanded into new areas, increasingly leading to more direct research-related support and services to faculty and students. But languid development in institutional repositories has left incomplete and unrepresentative collections. This session will explore what could happen if the repository pivots to a research information hub that is viewed as a crucial institutional asset.

Community outreach and partnerships

Library Programming for Expectant Parents and Parents of Newborns

In Maryland, the “Mother Goose on the Loose: Hatchlings” pilot project has successfully reached expectant and new parents from underserved populations, including Spanish speakers, letting them know the important role they play in their babies’ development and demonstrating ways to talk, sing, and share books. Project representatives will share challenges, adaptations, and positive feedback from evaluations.

Local History for the People: A Newspaper Partnership

In 2018, Kansas City (Mo.) Public Library began a community reference project with The Kansas City Star newspaper, in which librarians and reporters respond to reader-submitted questions about the city’s history. Library representatives will explain how they overcame challenges caused by institutional differences and demonstrate how other libraries can benefit from this type of collaboration.

Raise Up Radio: Connecting Families, Libraries, and Radio for Educational Equity

Raise Up Radio is a program developed to address educational inequities in rural areas by delivering STEM programs, designed by local youth and families, via local radio stations. Team members will present a community of practice for library professionals seeking to design radio programming.

Sustainable Thinking Builds Strong Libraries and Resilient Communities

ALA President Patricia “Patty” M. Wong highlighted sustainability as one of four areas of focus during her inaugural address at ALA’s 2021 Annual Conference Virtual. In this session, leaders from the award-winning Sustainable Libraries Initiative program will demonstrate how the program can bring about organizational transformation. The session will provide examples from different library settings where leaders used the triple bottom line definition of sustainability as a guiding factor in decision making.

Digital equity

Tackling the Digital Divide: Facilitated, Solution-Focused Conversations

This session will explore issues related to digital equity, as identified through a grant-funded research project. After a briefing on the current status of internet connectivity and broadband access in the US, attendees will break into groups with expert facilitators to tackle specific issues related to equitable internet access. Attendees will be able to both contribute to the conversation and take ideas back to their communities.

New Challenges—and Solutions!—for Technology Skilling and Workforce Programming

In this interactive session, experts will share data on challenges facing workforce development programs—including the difficulties of reaching technology-resistant patrons, engaging populations who have suffered longstanding inequities, teaching technology skills virtually, and moving beyond basic computer literacy to give learners the tools they need for tomorrow’s workforce. Attendees will participate in short working sessions to solve problems and share solutions.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion

Diversity, Author Identity, and Metadata: Encouraging the Discovery of Hidden Voices

Despite surging demand, content authored by people from historically underrepresented groups can be difficult to identify because of a lack of standardized metadata related to author identity. In this session an academic librarian, an aggregator, and a publisher will discuss ethical, practical, and legal ramifications for stakeholders throughout the book supply chain and will feature an extended Q&A session.

Making Our Spaces Accessible: Makerspaces That Include Patrons with Disabilities

How accessible are our makerspaces? This session, developed through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), examines the results of conversations with public library patrons with disabilities that illuminate the need for more inclusive services, equipment, and practices. Attendees will gain practical tips for improving accessibility in their own makerspaces.

Strategies for Inclusion and Diversity: Building Business Communities in Public Libraries

When racism and bias are embedded in business resources, the ability of libraries to meet the needs of entrepreneurs and small business owners can be impeded. Members of the Libraries Build Business cohort will use interactive activities to inform, challenge, and provide examples to help attendees bring intention and renewed focus to equitable services.

Human resources and mental health

Bullying, Incivility, and You: Applying Strategies from Nursing to Library Work Environments

This interactive session will introduce strategies and frameworks that can help librarians address and resolve workplace incivility and bullying. These interventions were first identified from research in the field of nursing, which shares a similar population and service orientation as librarianship. Small groups will workshop ways to adapt these findings and will role-play scenarios in a guided exercise.

Creating Mindful Moments during Storytime

This session will introduce techniques for bringing mindfulness into youth services through mindfulness storytimes. Participants will receive a demonstration that will leave them calmer and more ready to tackle the day.

Trauma in the Library

The IMLS-funded study “Trauma in the Library: Symptoms of PTSD Among Staff and Methods for Ensuring Trauma-Informed Care” is investigating how public library staffers experience symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder because of workplace incidents and how libraries can support traumatized employees most effectively. In this session, researchers will present preliminary findings from a national online survey and interviews and identify tools and policies that libraries can implement.

Library services

Copyright during Quarantine and Beyond

This session will present recent developments in copyright, such as the CASE Act, and discuss how they may affect libraries’ ability to provide materials through course reserves and resource sharing. Attendees will gain a better understanding of copyright exemptions that can be applied to copyright questions in real-world situations.

Creating a Library Usability Service for Online Learning

In 2019, Nevada State College Library piloted a Usability Testing Service to provide instructors with actionable feedback on their Canvas course sites’ organization, navigability, and accessibility. Library representatives will discuss how courses have been improved based on this feedback, and the opportunities for collaboration with other campus units.

Let Teens Lead: Strategies to Build Programs Developed by Teens, for Teens

Using teen literature podcast Bridges & Books as a case study, this session will provide a toolkit to help librarians implement teen voices into project planning and put teens in leadership positions to develop engaging programming. The session will be led by Kelsey Ford, Bridges & Books’ adult advisor and creator of Pittsburgh’s teen book festival Bookish in the ’Burgh.

Technology innovation

A Spoonful of Information Literacy

Chapman University Special Collections and Archives Librarian Rand Boyd will share a case study of his library’s new information literacy program for first-year students. Boyd will discuss how instruction librarians distilled the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education down to its essentials, created helpful learning outcomes, and met different learners’ needs in both online and in-person learning environments.

A Virtual Place of Their Own: Providing Radical Teen Services on Discord

Discord is an online voice, video, and text communication service. San Antonio Public Library has used its 210teenlibrary Discord server to create a virtual library environment with a high level of teen participation and ownership. This session will examine its success and how teen librarians can use Discord to respond to their patrons’ needs.

Personalization in the Catalog with Machine Learning and Linked Data

King County (Wash.) Library System has partnered with BiblioCommons on a pilot project to develop a machine learning system that produces personalized recommendations for patrons, using the patron’s profile, contextual data, and anonymized behavioral click data to predict and promote the most relevant content. This presentation will provide a summary of the pilot and its findings.

It’s Time to Listen: A New Method for Public Engagement

The best way to find out what a community needs is to ask, but traditional methods of public engagement may be losing effectiveness because of unrealistic expectations, broken trust, lack of equity, or apathy. This presentation will address how to create survey questions that uncover residents’ true wants, how to facilitate effective focus groups, and how data combines with input to form a complete picture.


I Love My Librarian Awards
3:30–5 p.m. Saturday, January 22

These awards recognize the impact and accomplishments of outstanding public, academic, and school librarians. Ten winners will share their inspiring stories, and the event will be streamed on ALA’s YouTube channel. A celebration of the winners will follow from 5 to 7 p.m.

RUSA Book and Media Awards
5–7 p.m. Sunday, January 23

The Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) annually recognizes the year’s best in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, audiobook narration, reference materials, and more, including the Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction.

Youth Media Awards
8–9 a.m. Monday, January 24

More than 20 awards recognizing outstanding books, videos, and other materials for children and teens will be announced, including the Newbery and Caldecott medals, and the Coretta Scott King, Michael L. Printz, Pura Belpré, Stonewall, and Schneider Family awards.

23rd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance and Sunrise Celebration
9–9:45 a.m. Monday, January 24

This conference tradition commemorates Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and recognizes the connection between his life’s work and the library world. The event will feature passages from his work, a keynote address, and a call to action from ALA Executive Director Tracie D. Hall.

All times listed are Central. Times and dates of most sessions have not been finalized as of press time. The LibLearnX Scheduler will be available this month.

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