I spent the past five days in Dallas, working at the Flux booth for the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference. I love going to ALA conferences. Absolutely love them. I know that BEA is the trade show that most bookish people treat as the grail of book shows. I’ve been to BEA once and found it meh.* I’m told the timbre has changed over the past few years, as more bloggers and librarians attend. But overall, I find it to be very cold and businessy, which is fine (as that’s ultimately the purpose, I suppose).
But ALA is the place to go if you want to talk about books. I mean, really talk about books. Like, with people who’ve, you know, read them. I have the best conversations at ALA, largely with young adult librarians who have their fingers on the pulse of their patrons and can tell you exactly which person they’re going to give a specific ARC that they pick up. You often hear that librarians are gatekeepers. I prefer to think of them as champions. A librarian with fire in their heart and the mouth to back it up can be the best promotion a book can receive.
--Librarians are cool.
--They like their drama at the Youth Media Awards. You can feel the temperature in the room drop as an “ooooh” ripples through the crowd at the announcement that the Schneider Award Committee declined to name a picture book winner or that there would be only two Newbery Honor books.
--At the same time, it’s so awesome to hear the people assembled at the Awards get worked up in support of books they dearly loved.
--I can't imagine how hard it must be to serve on the committees that choose the award winning books. Lots of lots of work.
--If you ever get a chance to sit in on the teen feedback session where they discuss Best Fiction for Young Adults, do it. Just do it. The opinions are wide and varied and always very smart.
--I spoke to some publishers who were concerned that so many ARCs were being taken by bloggers, rather than librarians. All publishers love working with bloggers but the point of the show is to reach librarians. I wouldn’t be surprised if this concern turns into some sort of measurable policy in the future.
--In some ways, my favorite part of the show (besides meeting and talking to the cool librarians) is when the teen reading groups wander the floor in their matching t-shirts. These guys are amazing. They're so enthusiastic and intelligent.
The show felt a bit smaller this year but the energy was still good. I haven't missed an ALA for about three years now (well, let's not talk about New Orleans last year...)** and I hope to keep going for the foreseeable future. I'm telling you: ALA is where it's at.
*=I promise my feelings toward BEA were not at all influenced by the fact that I got food poisoning via room service on the first night and spent the rest of the show sick as a dog.
**=No, really, I don't want to talk about it.