American Library Association Annual Conference Thoughts and Recaps: 2013 Edition (Part One)
Howdy. Well, by this point we’ve all settled back into our daily routines just in time to take a day off for July 4th. What better opportunity than now to finally tackle the question of “How was ALA?”. AL Direct recently released their Top Ten tweets of the ALA conference. I was mighty pleased to see that our own Travis Jonker made the cut. His thoughts are my own on the matter:
“ Trying to figure out how to retweet an entire weekend.”
—Travis Jonker, July 1
That pretty much sums it up for me.
This year I’m going to recap by talking a bit about the things I heard and saw and witnessed that stood out for me in two parts. Go to enough conferences and there is a danger of them blending together in some manner. This is particularly true in cities where the conference reappears often. That said, ALA Annual 2013 is unlikely to blend with any other memories soon. It stood out for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, anyone who attended will tell you that the joint was hopping. This conference was packed to the gills with attendees. How to account for the numbers? Well, the location had much to do with it. Though Chicago is hardly an ideal city when you consider the location of the convention center itself (which is miles and miles away from the bulk of the restaurants and hotels) what it lacks in local convenience it makes up for in geographical convenience. As a librarian from the east coast I am 90% more likely to visit a convention if it’s in the middle of the country than if it’s on the west coast. I am sure I have west coast librarians who feel much in the same way when it comes to eastern locations. As for the folks in the middle, they’re fairly lucky anyway. I wouldn’t begrudge them a conference that’s a bit closer to home.
Then there’s the fact that we librarians are social creatures. We like one another. We like to talk about issues. I had a great little conversation with a materials specialist at my Newbery/Caldecott Banquet just about collection management, and that was only one of many. I don’t think conference attendance had much to do with how we’re being paid, but at the very least it might have had something to do with our need for inter-occupational support.
I arrived at the conference on a Thursday and thought I’d treat myself to an airport shuttle, since I was feeling fancy. Fancy I may have felt but the shuttle took a good hour and a half from the airport. This didn’t bother me particularly since I was supposed to be done with editing a manuscript and had only finished 20% by the time the plane landed. Finally arriving at my hotel I found it was one of those durn fancy affairs where you open your room door by merely waving your card in front of a panel. I am looking forward to the future option of opening a room with a retina scan. Waving cards? Too hard!
Jules Danielson of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and Allie Bruce of The Bank Street College of Education’s library were my roommates. Not one to miss a beat, Allie tweeted the following that night:
Jules had been kind enough to secure an invitation for me to a Lemniscaat dinner. If you are unfamiliar with this family-owned Dutch publisher, they’ve been around a number of years and specialize in beautiful little books. In this particular instance we got to see such elegant titles as the fantastic Jumping Penguins by Jesse Goossens, illustrated by Marije Tolman. It’s this exceedingly cool little nonfiction picture book that tells you some utterly bizarre facts about animals, accompanied by little watercolors of their accomplishments. That was one treat. Another was the presence of songwriter and singer Janis Ian. Ms. Ian is probably best known for her song “At Seventeen” (which I have difficulty hearing without thinking of a particular Simpsons episode . . . but that’s neither here nor there). Ms. Ian has a picture book coming out with Lemniscaat called The Tiny Mouse, with accompanying sheet music and a CD. She sang us the song, and then sang us “At Seventeen”. As I said at the time, “Way to raise the bar too high. Now the rest of the conference is just downhill from here.”
Friday I sadly was unable to attend the Pre-Conference which was filled to the gills with children’s librarians and wonderful speakers. On the plus side, I was able to meet with the fantastic Teresa Mlawer. Basically, if you need a Spanish translation of a children’s book, you go to Teresa. She regaled me with stories of working with Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak, and we had a really fantastic conversation about a host of translation issues facing children’s literature today. I fully intend to nab her for a Children’s Literary Salon in the near future, so FYI.
Of course what Friday was most notable for was a tribute held for Peter Sieruta. Peter, as I’m sure many of you know, was the genius behind the Collecting Children’s Books blog, and he was my co-writer on a Spring 2014 book Jules Danielson and I wrote for Candlewick Press. We were touched by the number of people who came to pay tribute to Peter, including his brother John who gave one of the best memorial speeches I’ve ever heard. After he started us off, many folks offered their own memories of Peter over the years. Full credit for the event truly goes to my agent, Stephen Barbara, who was the one who pushed it through in the first place.
We had received a couple cancellations for this event from folks who had heard that the Blackhawks celebration was going to be hell on earth to get through. As it happens, this assessment was 100% correct. For those of you who are anything like me, the Blackhawks are apparently a hockey team. A hockey team beloved of Chicago. I didn’t know a city in the States could even BE that into hockey as a sport, but Chicago proved this to be the case. The streets were filled to the brim with throngs of people wearing loose red jerseys. There was a parade which ended, insofar as I could tell, at my hotel. I say this not because I’m being facetious (though there is an element of that) but because when I reentered my hotel later in the day I found it packed wall-to-wall with Blackhawks fans and, in the lobby, a Stanley Cup. Yep. I’ve seen the Stanley Cup. A sight wasted on eyes such as mine. I can tell you that it is shiny and silver. That’s the long and short of it there.
After dinner with the charming Eric Carpenter, the illustrious James Kennedy, Jules and Stephen it was time for the Macmillan Dessert Party. Dessert parties are interesting conference affairs. They are designed to occur after the official dinners have already taken place, and the Macmillan one is probably one of the best. This is because not only do they pack the room with authors, but somehow Macmillan has figured out how to find spaces large enough that you can speak to someone else without screaming at the top of your lungs. Would that everyone followed their lead in this. I was a little tired at this point so I didn’t stay too long. I did, however, get a nice long glimpse of Paul Pope’s chest. Most people got the same sight. It was the highlight of the conference insofar as I could tell. He also smells good. True fact.
By the way, one of the ALA Top Ten Tweets was probably inspired by me:
“ You can tell the people who didn’t carefully think through their conference footwear by the number of Band-Aids on their feet.”
—Danielle Johnson, June 30
You would think I’d learn by now.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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