Dispatches from the American Library Association midwinter meeting

I apologize in advance for the poor quality of these photographs. My obligate photographer, G., isn’t with me at the moment. 

The Philadelphia Convention Center, replete with ALA registration info & a pop-up store.
The Philadelphia Convention Center, replete with ALA registration info & a pop-up store.

This is my first time attending the American Library Association’s midwinter conference, held this year in Philadelphia. I work in a library, am horrible at networking, read a lot of books, am short, quiet, and somewhat aloof, so naturally it makes sense that my supervisor would encourage me to go.

The American Library Association conference is THE conference for the entire industry, if you can call people united by awkwardness, academic yearnings, and bibliophilia an industry. That said, this is not a conference to be taken lightly. Librarians are professional folk, and as a combined entity, hold considerable power both in the publishing world (i.e., by collectively buying tens of millions of books each year) and the world of online resources, which continues to grow at a metastatic pace.

I may only be a nascent one, but I wore the ribbon proudly.
I may only be a nascent one, but I wore the ribbon proudly.

I have been genuinely and continually surprised by how courteous everyone in Philadelphia is. Seriously. If I accidentally bump into someone, they absolutely fall over themselves trying to apologize. People smile and say thank you if I veer to the side to let them pass me on the sidewalk, and perfect strangers wish me hello. It’s only about 10 degrees warmer here than in Chicago, but you’d guess it’s much more based on everyone’s friendliness. Is this an unusual take on the city? Are people simply pitying me because I’ve been more or less constantly sneezing the past 2 days? Who cares, I’ll take it.

6 stacks of free books, their volume poorly captured by my shoddy iPhone camera techniques.
Stacks of free books, their volume poorly captured by my shoddy iPhone camera.

By far the best part of the conference is the free books. Did you hear that? FREE BOOKS. I never knew there was such a thing as an “advanced uncorrected proof” prior to Friday evening’s biblio-fest. I saw timid librarians snatching books from piles, from under tables, from out of editors’ hands. Mouth agape, I eventually asked someone, Where did you get all those books?! Oh, she replied. They’re free. If they have this little “advanced copy” sticker on them, you can just take it. No need to even ask.

So I was doomed to carrying probably 25 pounds of books back with me on the train. Free books? My greed knows no boundaries.

Throughout the course of the day (i.e., Saturday), I picked up another dozen or so. I’ll do my best to read through most of them (many are YA lit, so they should only take a day or two) but I can’t possibly keep all of them. Advance warning that there will be  a massive book giveaway on this blog within the next couple of months. Watch this space.

Children's book authors being weird
Children’s books authors being weird

Since I wrote my senior thesis on children’s literature, and because of my ongoing interest in the genre (as demonstrated by my series featuring excellent illustrators), I’ve attended a few CL/YA events. My favorite was the swanky one hosted by Scholastic yesterday morning, complete with free Starbucks, salmon on little pieces of toast, and some sandwiches with brie and fancy meat. Basically it was a “listen to these authors read excerpts of their books and then go buy the books!” sort of thing, but I will admit that it is always a treat to hear children’s literature authors read their own work, even if a giant stuffed snake is involved.

You will never meet a group of people more enthusiastic about libraries than librarians. That’s probably a profoundly obvious statement, but really–the level of enthusiasm is astounding.

Someone took the time to draw a dragon with a dry-erase marker on the "idea wall."
Someone took the time to draw a dragon with a dry-erase marker on the “idea wall.”

There’s some of the usual crap, like those dumb*** celebrity “Read” posters that were on sale in the ALA bookstore for $16 freaking dollars! I remember I loathed those posters as a kid. “Yeah right,” I’d think. “Like that celebrity has actually read Catch-22.” And then I’d be angry that the attention-seeking, self-congratulating celebrity had “stolen” my book. But maybe this was just my reaction, and they actually encouraged some kids to read? If so, then it was worth offending my oh-so-sensitive sixth-grade self.

read poster

And then there was one thing I got overly excited about. I did my due diligence and walked past every.single.booth in the massive exhibit hall, but wisely avoided most of the vendors representing million-dollar digital subscription companies. Heh. It takes them all of 2 seconds to realize I have no power whatsoever. One asked if I had an acquisitions budget. I laughed in his face. As an administrative assistant, the closest thing I have to an “acquisitions budget” is my ability to get as many reams of paper as I want from the library storeroom. 

But the exciting thing. A vending-maching library! Yes, it did look about as ludicrous (and cool!!) as it sounds. Check it out:

These babies are $30,000 a pop.

The other AMAZING thing that happened was that I got to hear Ishmael Beah speak. I read his book A long way gone: memoirs of a boy soldier for a linguistic anthropology class on youth & violence in Africa. It was just an all-around amazing book, and hearing Beah speak and getting not one, but TWO books autographed, was worth the whole trip, in my opinion. I managed to take quite a few notes during his presentation that I’m excited to share very soon.

Until then, cheers, and happy reading to all of you.


16 thoughts on “Dispatches from the American Library Association midwinter meeting

  1. Lots of excitements when all librarians get together. It’s like a place or time to burst the quiet bubble. Ahihihi – Tumblarians. 😀 I knew about vending machine with books, but have YET to actually see one. Fun read, lit.

    1. Thanks! glad you enjoyed reading my thoughts about the conference. I’ve never seen a book vending machine in use, either. I suppose it’s not too surprising given how expensive they are! But I would 100% use one.

  2. What a great post! And a fun time for you. I love the idea of this conference though I don’t work in a library. I know the big book expo is going to be in NYC later this spring (?). I wonder if they will be giving away free books. Anyway, that’s great you got to see Ishmael Beah!

    1. Yes, Ishmael Beah was definitely the highlight! He has such a genuine sweetness that really comes across in person as well as in his writing. And he has just a beautiful, reflective relationship with language–you could tell that he chose his words with care.

      Are you referring to the BookExpo America? I took a quick look at the registration fees and it looks like you can get a 1-day pass for $50. That’s not bad! You only have to pick up a couple of hardcovers to make that back.

  3. In Seoul lately, I’ve been seeing these telephone booth type things, next to bus stops, and wondered what they were (cuz all the pay phones are touchscreen and digital here, and this thing look very old school). Upon closer examination, I saw that it was full of books!!! They are there for people to read while waiting for the bus. Such a lovely idea.

    1. haha yes! well like I said, I can’t possibly keep all of the books! (50+ by now. So I will be doing a huge giveaway somewhat soon. I don’t have many readers yet, so there is a good chance you could win something!

      1. I’m very excited about your book give-away. I will participate just for fun. Winning will be a bonus.

    1. I was not (my thesis was on an Argentine children’s writer) but I found a copy of Tim Egan’s most recent book, “Dodsworth in Tokyo,” at the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt booth! It’s adorable. A good introduction to the customs & culture of Japan. I thought it was pretty funny – I don’t know if you know about the book specifically, but it’s about a duck who doesn’t know how to behave properly in Tokyko. His experiences were very similar to mine when I moved to Okinawa at age 7! I’ll have to give the rest of his work a closer look. How wonderful that he is a former student of yours! Do you think he would agree to be interviewed on my blog by any chance?

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