Many Flavors of Learning at ALA Midwinter 2018


ALA Midwinter 2018 was held at the Colorado Convention Center from February 8-13, 2018. Midwinter is a time for lots of meetings—committee meetings, interest group meetings, updates, panels, etc.—but it also features traditional conference-style sessions, keynotes, and awards ceremonies.

Several members of the Colorado State Library’s Networking and Resource Sharing Team attended ALA Midwinter in various capacities. Here are their reflections on the sessions they attended, which spanned a wide range of library-related topics.

Mark’s Reflections

Mark Ferguson, Systems Administrator

Denver Public Library’s Plaza Program for immigrant, refugee, and asylee populations was featured during the Project Welcome: Refugee Resettlement Agencies & Libraries panel discussion at ALA Midwinter.

The Plaza program offers more than 48 hours of programming per week at 10 branches with a staff of about 30. All staff are bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual. DPL began the program about 10 years ago with a staff of two. “Anybody who walks in through the doors, we will welcome them, we will help them with whatever they need. If we can’t help them, we will connect them to the resource that can help them,” said panelist Nicanor Diaz, DPL’s Immigrant Services Manager.

Plaza programming highlights include English conversation tables, naturalization test assistance, immigration legal help, and arts and crafts tables. The conversation tables offer a safe environment for English learners and help participants build community.

“We get people from the same neighborhood who meet each other and are in the same place,” said Diaz. “You can see friendships and bonds that are made at the conversation tables.”

The arts and crafts tables are popular among children, but it’s not unusual to see grandparents and grandchildren working together on projects. “A grandmother might be speaking in her native language to give her child that sense that their culture is also important and to maintain that native language,” Diaz said.

To help immigrants, refugees, and asylees connect with reliable local information, DPL has developed their “Denver Resource Guide for New Americans,” available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Somali, Arabic, and Amharic.

“We have those on display for people to grab and it is very comprehensive,” Diaz said of the guide, which is available in English at

DPL is also focused on creating programming for immigrants, refugees, and asylees outside of the Plaza program, to ensure that they see the library as a welcoming place. “We want them to come into the library and feel that the space also belongs to them, because it does,” said Diaz. “Part of our work is to create programs that are targeted for immigrants and refugees outside of the Plaza program so that we can start building that sense of welcoming.”

Diaz credits the program’s growth to working with Jamie Torres, director of the City of Denver’s Office of Immigrant & Refugee Affairs, on helping DPL target branches with the largest immigrant, refugee, and asylee populations. Diaz said he looks forward to working with Torres, who was also a panelist, on finding ways to help doctors, lawyers, and other professionals new to America with professional credentialing needs. “We have a lot of people who are doctors that can’t practice because they’re not accredited within this country,” said Diaz. “They’re experts in that field and they should be working in that field. We want to help them reach that goal.”

Details about the Plaza program are available at

More information about IMLS-funded Project Welcome, which hosted the panel discussion, is available at

Handouts available during the panel discussion included Project Welcome’s Welcome Guide at and a tip sheet at

Amy’s Reflections

Amy Hitchner, Collaborative Programming Coordinator

I attended several sessions on cataloging and metadata, ranging from high-level to highly technical. At the FRBR Interest Group, Kathy Glennan from the RDA Steering Committee gave an overview of changes coming to the RDA Toolkit in June 2018. The new toolkit will get some usability upgrades and will incorporate IFLA’s Library Reference Model (LRM) entities. Ms. Glennan was followed by Rocki Strader from the Ohio State University, who presented a model of user tasks (Want – Find – Get – Manage) which, while taken from the business world, are still applicable to library search.

Later I attended a series of presentations themed around the recently published Core Competencies for Cataloging and Metadata Professional Librarians. Utah State University presented an outline of their staff training model, which they created to develop cataloging expertise in paraprofessional staff. Other catalogers spoke about the need to communicate the importance of metadata to institutional leadership.

As a former cataloger, I was struck by how quickly the cataloging profession is evolving from the relatively small world of MARC and AACR2 to the wider world of linked data, metadata, and coding. These changes have major implications for cataloger education—including the need for training in computer science—in order to fully grasp the complex data models and metadata schemas already being used by larger institutions. Once library technology vendors fully incorporate the new RDA and BIBFRAME standards into their products, smaller institutions will have to address the training needs for staff members who have only ever worked within the MARC/AACR2 framework.

A separate yet complementary session I attended was A Collaborative Future for Libraries, Museums, and More: Chicago Collections and Lifelong Learning Across the Community, presented by Scott Walker from DePaul University. Chicago Collections began as a collaborative of 30+ Chicago-area libraries, museums, and archives, centered on a discovery tool called EXPLORE that provides access to member organizations’ collections through a single search interface.

While the tool was an achievement in and of itself, members quickly moved beyond the what of the tool to how the tool could promote more collaborative projects that directly serve and enrich their communities. This has resulted in shared exhibits, educational programs for K-12 students, speaker series, and shared professional development opportunities for members. One of their future goals is to work with Chicago leaders to include cultural heritage organizations in conversations about city-wide initiatives like tourism.

The Chicago Collections story is a reminder that technology itself should not be the goal of a project or partnership; rather, it should be the tool that helps make greater things possible.

Leigh’s Reflections

Leigh Jeremias, Digital Collections Coordinator

I participated in the RUSA Genealogy Institute’s pre-conference session. This all-day event featured presentations and discussions on family history and genealogy resources available to librarians. I participated in the morning’s newspaper digitization panel that included panelist Michael Church, Kansas Historical Society; Sarah Quimby, Minnesota Historical Society; and Thomas Ivie, Wyoming State Library.  Each of us shared information about our newspaper projects including our history, the extent of our collections, and funding models along with our sustainability models.

While every state’s funding model may be different we all share the same goal of making our historic community news widely available to our shared audience of students, teachers, genealogist and general researchers. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the scope of newspaper content available.

Lori’s Reflections

Lori Smith, SWIFT Coordinator

The majority of my ALA schedule consisted of resource sharing and interlibrary loan sessions and meetings.

A Blockbuster Model in a Netflix World was a discussion on borrowing due dates, presented at the RUSA STARS ILL Discussion Group. The presenters shared information on their new approach to interlibrary loan periods, renewals, overdue fines, and invoices. They encouraged other attendees to consider extending their loan periods vs. renewing interlibrary loan items. They also urged ILL staff to remove other barriers to their procedures by eliminating unnecessary fines, invoices, and correspondence. By removing these additional tasks and lengthening the loan periods, the presenters believed an environment would be fostered where scholarly research would not be impeded by interlibrary loan practices.

Putting Open Access into ILL and the Open Access Button was the focus for the RUSA STARS Hot Topics Discussion Group. The presenters discussed how open access plays a role in their libraries, and how the Open Access Button is being integrated into library catalogs and interlibrary loan systems. More information may be found at

At Seeding the Future: The Innovation in Libraries Awesome Foundation Chapter, attendees learned about the Awesome Foundation and the Library Chapter ( The Awesome Foundation is a global community supporting awesome projects with micro-grants. The Innovation in Libraries Awesome Foundation Chapter was created to support the prototyping of library innovations that embody the principles of diversity, inclusivity, creativity, and risk-taking. Since its founding, the chapter has supported projects from around the world that reflect the potential of citizen and library driven collaborations to address community issues and innovations. Attendees received a brief overview of the recently funded projects that were inspirational and remarkable.

LITA Top Technology Trends was a well-attended session with five speakers sharing their ideas on emerging developments in technology. The topics ranged from drones to social entrepreneurship to artificial intelligence. A theme that several presenters discussed were the positives and the negatives in personalization of library services, software and platforms. The trend I found very interesting was the attention economy. The concept that a wealth of information can lead to a poverty of attention. The speaker introduced five areas to facilitate shifting from an information economy to an attention economy, which included immediacy, personalization, interpretation or context, accessibility of content, and findability. By embracing these concepts, libraries may serve their patrons better and in a more meaningful way.

Kieran’s Reflections

Kieran Hixon, Technology and Digital Initiatives Consultant

I attended ALA MidWinter as the President of the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL). ARSL is an affiliate member of ALA. My main purpose in attending ALA Midwinter was to meet with various groups, organizations, and project participants and to talk about how rural libraries could participate with them. I had 14 meetings.

My biggest takeaway was the need for more advocacy for rural libraries within the library community. The average library for a member of ARSL serves a community of 8,000, has a 6,000 square-foot building, has 2-3 staff members, and has a total budget of $200,000. Our organization has around 850 members. For most of us, ALA can be an overwhelming experience, and not scaled to fit our needs. Many of the initiatives and projects need to be adjusted to fit a rural library or they will fall out of the scope of what is practical and doable in a small and rural library.

A secondary takeaway was the need for a closer relationship with other ALA affiliates. I met with several ALA affiliate groups and saw similarities in our organizations. Working together we could tackle some initiatives together.

The most timely ideas I was introduced to were about mentoring and coaching. Following the presentation to CSL staff on coaching by Peter Bromberg, I met with a few of the ARL Diversity Scholars participating in a Leadership institute. Then I met with ARSL’s ALA Emerging Leader Phillip Carter, and spoke with a few ASCLA members about their upcoming mentorship program. With these ideas swirling around in my head, I sat with ARSL’s Vice President and outlined a plan for an ARSL Leadership Program.

Amy Hitchner
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