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