ARC-Gate at ALA

Last week, and it is difficult to believe it was already more than a week ago, the American Library Association held its Annual Conference in the land of Mickey Mouse, Anaheim, California.

And there was a kerfuffle on YouTube about ARCs and who should be able to pick up how many on the exhibit hall floor.

Two bloggers at The Lost Lola posted a 22-minute video, since retracted, detailing their incredibly awesome book haul at ALA. They scored, and I think scored is a fair assessment, two copies of everything possible, including a lot of books they had no personal interest in.

A librarian who blogs at Stackedbooks questioned on Twitter how authors would feel “knowing a librarian couldn’t get an arc of their book at ALA, but a blogger picked up multiple copies.”

The Lost Lolas have printed an impressive and well-thought out response and clarification, but lots of questions still stand.

Let’s start at the beginning. I have described ALA as BEA for librarians, and I think it’s a fair description. ALA is a business conference for libraries, just as BEA is a business conference for the book industry. And just like the book industry, a good bit of the business of libraries happens to be books.

Not all of it, but a lot of it. That doesn’t make ALA a book convention. There was another half of the exhibits that was all about automated systems, materials-handling units, furniture, and supplies. This stuff isn’t sexy, but it was all on that floor. And those things are a significant part of the business of libraries.

Libraries do promote reading. And one of the ways we promote reading is through books. (I can hear you saying “well, duh” from here). Libraries are also part of the publishers’ ecosystem to promote books and authors. Libraries constitute about 10% of book sales in the U.S overall. For some genres and markets, like children’s books and audiobooks, we’re a lot more.

For midlist authors, libraries are a critical lifeline. Libraries provide the author, not just sales, but also word-of-mouth “advertising”. If the librarian likes the book, it gets “sold” across the desk. One enthusiastic reader puts the book directly into the hands of another. It’s a trust relationship.

We bloggers are trying to get into that “space” but we’re not there yet.

For anyone who has noticed that I’ve said we on both sides of this issue, I have. I am a librarian. I attend ALA because I am a member of the Association, and because I serve on a committee. I’m part of the business of the Association that gets done at the Conference.

And right now, most of my day-to-day work is as a book blogger.

But ALA is a business convention. It’s one of the largest conventions in the U.S. Not just for the number of people who attend (20,000!), but also for the number of simultaneous meeting rooms. On Saturday and Sunday, there are more than 100 meetings every hour.

And because it’s a business convention, if you’re there to be at a meeting, or three, or five, you can’t drop everything to stalk the exhibit halls for the author signings. People notice when you don’t show up at committee meetings, especially if you’re the chair of the committee. Or when you don’t make the presentation when you are one of the speakers.

ALA is a volunteer-run organization for the most part. The members do most of the work.

So when a librarian can’t be in the exhibit hall at a particular time for a particular signing, it’s because she or he has a commitment to keep. It’s a working conference.

But what ALA isn’t, is a book convention. It’s not RomCon or the RT Booklovers Convention or even WorldCon. There’s a picture (at right) from the RT Booklovers Book Fair, where the description touts the 100’s of authors who are there just to sign books. That’s not what ALA is.

The thing about this whole mess is that all the parties involved went in with different expectations. The bloggers saw it as a book conventions, with that set of expectations. They had a plan of attack to maximize their resources to get as much out of the book convention as possible. What they did is understandable from that perspective.

The librarians who come to the conference see it as professional development, or professional commitment. They get ARCs for a whole different set of reasons. Some are just for reading. But a lot more have to do with programming, especially YA programming. Teen librarians want ARCs to give to teen readers as prizes for book clubs, to plan programs, and just to figure out what their groups will be reading next.

Yes, the libraries that sent those librarians should find better ways to reach out to publishers, and should have better funding. And a lot of other things. But library budgets are shrinking right now. And a lot of librarians are self-funded to conferences. In other words, they pay their own way.

Just like bloggers.

The questions remain. Should ALA change their policies regarding exhibits-only passes to give preferential treatment to members and book-industry professionals? BEA has only just begun admitting the general public, and only on a very restricted basis.

However, book reviewers, including bloggers, are eligible for attendance at BEA, it’s just more expensive than an ALA exhibits-only pass. Considerably more expensive.

This isn’t just a question about ARCs. It isn’t even a question about ALA policy.

Why did the issue of ARCs touch so many hot buttons  among both librarians and bloggers?

What do ARCs mean to you? What does a massive ARC haul mean to you? Why do we covet ARCs? What do we do with them after the conference?

And what will we do when publishers stop printing them?

(This post was previously published at Book Lovers Inc.)

South Carolina Librarians Rock!

The South Carolina Collection Development Mini-Conference was an absolute blast! What an amazing event. Three days devoted to collection development, sponsored by the South Carolina State Library. There were 80 attendees every day, and folks were going home at night and letting their colleagues come in, so it wasn’t the same 80 people each day. One day was devoted to ebooks, one to adult collections, and one to kids and teens.

I was very fortunate to present for the adult collections and the teens on genre fiction. And, I was able to attend the day on kids and teens. Wow!

My presentation for the crowd on adult collection development was about genre fiction selection. “The Brave New World of Genre Fiction Selection, the Rap Sheet on the Fiction Vixen, or what the Locus are all these book blogs about?” It was a big title for a pretty big subject. I want to encourage collection development librarians to use book blogs as selection tools.

Why? The bloggers, including yours truly, cover more than just the traditional publishers. We cover a lot of ebook-only titles. Blogs may be the only review source for most ebook-only titles.

Blogs are as much, probably more, labors of love as they are anything else. Many are niche publications. If they cover a subgenre such as steampunk or biopunk or paranormal romance, they cover it more thoroughly than a general review magazine that has to cover the waterfront. And for a patron who wants stuff in their love and only their love, a specialized resource is where it’s at.

The slides for the presentation included pictures representing some of the different subgenres, along with breakdowns of the components that make up those niches. A lot of us who read in a genre throw around our own jargon, like steampunk or  cyberpunk or dystopia, and assume that everyone knows what we mean. (Us librarians do that too!) Hunting for images to show not just what cyberpunk looks like, but displaying a formula of what pieces of what genres make it up (Science fiction+ hackers+ artificial intelligence+ post-industrial dystopias+ very hard-boiled detectives) seemed to go over well.

I know the bibliography (webliography?) of recommended bloggers for book reviews I handed out disappeared like snow in July. I could have done a magic trick with that thing.

The kids and teens day on September 14 was absolutely fabulous. Pat Scales, an expert not just on children’s literature but also on intellectual freedom issues (Pat is a member of the National Coalition Against Censorship Council of Advisors) spoke eloquently about ratings systems as censorship tools. The post-lunch panel discussion tackled a broad range of questions, including the debate whether users should find the materials they want in the library or should only be able to find “quality” material. This version of the “give them what they want” conundrum is usually applied to so-called trashy fiction, but is just as applicable to SpongeBob SquarePants. The audience participation on this question was spirited. I think nearly everyone in the audience believed that every patron, no matter what their age, should find both their entertainment and their educational needs met at their local library. If we provide entertainment fiction, then we provide Spongebob.

After the Great Debate, the Talk Tables started. I had a two-table sized group on the endless proliferation of vampire books in teen fiction. “V is for Vampire, W is for Werewolf, Z is for Zombie,” was the title. But I didn’t intend to talk about just the vamps. As one member of the group commented, in every box or cart of teen books, all the books are grey or black, with just a tiny hint of red on the cover. Everything is dark and angsty, whether there are vampires involved or not. It seems as if things are always darkest just before they turn completely black. Even the non-creepy books are dark and gritty. Based on the group discussion, teens may be tired of vampires in particular, but their literature isn’t turning toward sweetness and light any time soon. Just towards a different shade of grey. Or black.

This was a great conference. I really enjoyed the energy. And I truly believe that book blogs are a terrific resource for library collection development, and I would love to have the opportunity to take the show on the road again. Hopefully to a library conference near you!

Batgirl vs. Marian

Librarians need a new stereotype. And I know just where to find one. The Mary Sue: A Guide to Geek Girl Culture, has picked 10 Action Librarians from books, movies, TV and Anime. Whether you agree with those particular choices, well, as the car ads state, your mileage may vary. But the concept, I like.

We, meaning all of us librarians, know that there are really only two librarian stereotypes: the old lady with her hair in a bun, finger to her lips, going “shush” (a difficult image for the male librarians among us), and the “hot” librarian, unbuttoning her previously buttoned and repressed self.

If you don’t believe me, check out the entries for librarian at the tvtropes wiki. The shushing bun-wearer is the scary librarian, and the unbuttoned hottie is the hot librarian. Teachers have way more cool options than we do.

“Marian the Librarian” is both a character and a song from the play (and movie) The Music Man. As portrayed by Shirley Jones in the movie, Marian is a stereotypical small-town librarian in the early 1900s. She is a spinster, she lives at home with her mother, and she doesn’t trust men. What an image for us to live with!

Batgirl, on the other hand, is a superhero. She is the daughter of Police Commissioner Gordon in Gotham City, home of Batman. When daddy doesn’t let her join the police force, librarian Barbara Gordon decides to become a crime fighter on her own terms, by inventing her secret identity. Librarian by day, Batgirl by night.

In one version of the DC Comics universe, Batgirl is shot and crippled by the Joker. She emerges from the shadows as the wheelchair-bound Oracle. What better way for a librarian to contribute to the cause of fighting crime than as an oracle?  Oracles have always been considered to be people who provide wise counsel, or make authoritative and influential pronouncements.  Oracles have often been able to see the future. So Batgirl, no longer able to kick-butt physically, still does it with data. Sounds like a superhero librarian to me.

The other issue with all the current librarian stereotypes is that they are universally female and/or passive. Well, what about Rupert Giles in Buffy? Not passive, not female, not a milquetoast. Certainly not enough hair to put up in a bun. And definitely saves the world more than a few times.

And last but not least, at least for me, the Librarian in the Discworld, who was transformed into an orangutan when a spell went wrong. The Librarian would probably say that the spell went right, if he could say anything except “Ook”. He certainly won’t let anyone change him back. He likes being an orangutan. What I envy him is his access to L-space, the extra-dimensional space that connects all great libraries together and allows the keepers of those libraries to move from library to library through L-space. His ability to move from the stacks at Unseen University to, say, the Library of Congress to the library on Trantor to the British Library…now that’s a super-power.

On second thought, I still want to be Batgirl.



Opening day at ALA

No matter where it is the American Library Association conference always feels like librarian’s old home week. All the people look vaguely familiar, convention centers all look alike, and even the signs are pretty much the same from one year to the next.

Some of the content is even repeated. RDA has been a topic for several conferences in a row, and probably will be for several more. The budget squeeze on libraries has been an unfortunate ongoing theme for too many years. “Doing more with less” is a refrain that is heard over and over.

Moving right along, I spent most of the day in a truly fantabulous pre-conference– “Assembling your consulting tool kit” by Nancy Bolt and Sara Laughlin. For me, the topic was relevant and timely, and the presenters did a bang up job. Setting up as a consultant is just something that goes against the grain of us librarians, we’re all used to thinking of ourselves as publiic servants and not as businesspersons marketing a product, particularly not when that product is ourselves. Nancy and Sara made it sound imminently doable, and their tips from the pros were very much appreciated by this newbie.

When the exhibits opened this evening, there was one book that I was more than willing to carry home  in “dead tree” form, if I could get one. Penguin was supposed to have advanced reading copies of Lev Grossman‘s The Magician King, the sequel to The Magicians, in their booth. I beat a path to their proverbial door as soon as the crowds were let in, and managed to worm my way through the crush to get one. Score!

And ByWater Solutions had a “booth babe” that proved me wrong about the exhibit halls all looking alike. This particular lady could only have appeared in New Orleans.

Who am I this time?

The above is the title of a surprisingly sweet made-for-TV movie starring Christopher Walken and Susan Sarandon from before Walken was firmly entrenched as the weird crazy evil guy. It was a long time ago. The movie is a romantic comedy, and the two characters are rather shy and nerdy in different ways. They both get talked into joining a small community theatre group, and turn out to be great actors. They lose their extreme shyness only when playing their parts. As long as they have other people’s lines to say, they’re fine. Unscripted, they’re lost. They can only express their growing love for each other, by acting. They end up spending their lives together, living theatrically. If you can find a copy, it’s worth an evening’s popcorn.

I have a sign in the kitchen that I bought when we moved here, that reads, “I only have a kitchen because it came with the house.” I used to say that I cooked in my last life. Or that the microwave cooked, I didn’t. After coming home at 6, or 7, or occasionally later, cooking simply wasn’t worth bothering with.  But in the last couple of months, while we’ve been here packing up, the priorities have shifted.  My old recipes have come in handy again, and we found some new ones.  There’s nothing fancy involved, but yes, I do cook in this life, and no one has died. I may need a new sign. I wonder if there’s a source for “Dinner will be ready when the smoke alarm goes off”, since that’s already happened a couple of times.

But some parts of my previous lives are not coming back, and going through the books and boxes is making that abundantly clear. I’ve moved my needlework patterns and books and supplies from Chicago to Anchorage to Tally to Chicago to Gainesville, and I have shoved them into deeper and deeper closets each time.  It’s a hobby I enjoyed when I did it, but it’s time to acknowledge that I’m not going to pick it back up in the reasonably foreseeable future.  Or even the unreasonably foreseeable future.  I used to do cross-stitch when I watched television, and, considering that vast wasteland, I don’t do that either. Social networking, video games and the internet in general have taken over that time. But letting all that go and giving it to a friend who will use it, that’s difficult.

Even harder, I have a truly big collection of Star Trek books.  I think I have all the mass market paperbacks, trade paperbacks and hardcovers up until last year. That’s the point where I finally realized I was never going to catch up to reading all the ones I had, let alone any new ones published.  I have all the episodes of all the series on DVD, and all the movies.  I’ve seen every movie on the first night, even the bad ones.  But the books are dead weight at this point. I have a few collectibles mixed in there, including a copy of Trek or Treat, which still grabs the funny bone even decades later. The really good stuff like that will be hung on to. I still love the Trek universe, and I wish the rights-holders would do something good with it again.

Getting rid of entire swaths of stuff feels like losing parts of my identity. It’s hard to separate what we own from who we are, which sounds stupid when written, but is very different in actual practice. I’ve always believed I’d go back to cross-stitching someday, but if that day hasn’t come in 10 years, realistically, it’s not likely, and it’s time to move on. I know someone who will get more good out of what I’ve been carrying around than I have, no matter what postage to her is going to cost.

I watched the last season of the initial run of Star Trek with my dad. He passed away 20 years ago this coming October. Star Trek was the first science fiction I ever got interested in, and without that first taste, my life would have gone down a very different leg of the trousers of time, to mix in a Discworld metaphor. But I have to keep telling myself that all the mass market paperbacks are available as ebooks if I really want to read them.

Sometimes, it’s not the thing, it’s the memories attached that make all the difference.



Hanging together or hanging separately

I’ve said this before, I am a Librarian. 

I read Karen Schneider’s post at Free Range Librarian about a speech made by Jeff Trzeciak, the University Librarian at McMaster’s University in Canada.   My reaction to the post was to go “Spot on, Karen!”, and then to sit through the speech.

Wading past the opening, self-congratulatory section of the speech, as I focused on the purport of Trzeciak was really saying, I realized something really quickly.  I’ve heard this speech before.  Not the exact details–but the gist–out of the mouths of public library directors.

This is the “Tree of Libraries are Doomed” speech.  “Libraries are Doomed” unless “visionary” directors make radical changes that pointedly do not include librarians. 

An equally insidious branch of this tree has sprouted in public libraries, among directors who seem to be using the current economic crisis to devalue and de-professionalize libraries and librarians, instead of recognizing that it is our expertise that will make us relevant in the years to come.  The only differences between what Mr. Trzeciak proposed for McMasters and what is happening right now in public libraries is that public libraries are creating positions more generically for degrees other than the MLS rather than just PhDs and public libraries don’t generally have the option of creating positions specifically for post-doc appointments.  Otherwise, everything on this slide applies to public libraries as well.

Whenever I hear the variations of this speech, I hear a librarian who wants to say he is different from all the other librarians, and that the way he is going to set himself apart is providing new, edgy services.  And that the other librarians are not capable of providing those wonderful new, visionary services, that only other professions are capable, so he’ll hire staff from those professions into new positions, so he can re-write the job descriptions and get around any institutional regulations that would normally require him to hire librarians or even to retain librarians currently in place.  But traditional library services, what few are needed, like direct public service, are not really professional work according to this mantra, and should be de-valued and performed by trained paraprofessionals who will get slightly more pay (hopefully) to handle patron facing services where every library of every type needs to put its best and its brightest.  But thinking that all the library needs to provide good readers’ advisory services are the shelving staff because they know which books get used most is not the way to go.

Do libraries, all libraries, need to change in response both to economics and technology?  Yes!  Should we examine, and possibly change, the mix of staff that libraries hire in response to those changes?  Yes, we should.  Are librarians capable of making the changes needed and providing cutting edge services and even getting out in front of change?  Hell yes!

This is a case where the quote from Benjamin Franklin comes to mind, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”  This school of thought, that only other people can make libraries relevant in the future, is deadly for the profession, for the public, and for the institutions that we serve.  If Borges is right, and “Paradise will be a type of library”, it will be because of librarians and the service ethic that we work by.