ALA 2011: This, Too, Is More Than Just Books

Like thousands of other librarians, I made my way down to New Orleans last weekend for the annual American Libraries Association conference. It was a tiring, exhausting, and completely fun and exhilarating trip. But here’s my recap and some of the take aways worth noting!

Friday, June 24

It wasn’t a good travel day at all for me, between a horrendous security experience and then having my phone shut off for an unpaid bill (which wasn’t, in fact, unpaid nor overdue). But after shuffling through the drama between Milwaukee, Baltimore, and New Orleans, I made it to my beautiful hotel room, where I would spend a few lovely nights with Abby and fellow UT Alumni Lea. Since all of the dealing with real life stuff took a while, my day really began when I had the chance to meet up with fellow librarians Drea, Katie, Sarah, and Angie just before 5 pm, when the exhibit hall opened for opening night. I got to meet two other lovely librarians that evening, Whitney, who Angie brought and who is a library school student getting her networking on at the convention, and Jess, one of Drea’s friends and coworkers. Drea, prior to ALA, made us all pins that would become really important over the course of ALA.

Can you read what it says in Latin? If not, I’ll say this much: Blythe Woolston’s Morris statement.

When the exhibit hall opened, we did some booking. While sitting outside the expo hall, I was listening to the bloggers near me compare their wish lists for books at the convention, and I lamented to the group that my wish list contained all of two books. For me, going through the halls is less about getting a bunch of titles on a list but instead, it’s about finding out about new titles that I don’t already know about.

Although the exhibit hall always is an exciting, energy-filled place, I felt a little zapped. Call it burn out after BEA or what have you, but I was pretty much done wandering after about 30 minutes. I’d gotten both books on my wish list and acquired a small handful of additional books that interested me and would interest the book club kids at work. So, Abby and I left early in order to prepare for the big event we’d be attending later that evening. Here’s the first night’s collection:

My two wish list titles, Tempest and Lie were both there, and I was really excited to be given a few publicists’ favorites, as well. For me, the floor at ALA is much less about picking up every galley laid out and much more about talking to the publicists I know via email and finding out their favorites. At BEA, the focus is much heavier on buzz titles; at ALA — at least this time — it felt like there were more mid-list titles represented.

After the floor time, we hit up our first event of ALA: the Little, Brown Laini Taylor party for her forthcoming book The Daughter of Smoke and Bone (a book you’ll be hearing Kim and/or I gushing about when publication date draws closer). The event was at a local bar, and the room glowed this incredible blue color, really setting the mood for her book. I was lucky enough to have read the book beforehand, so seeing all of the little things at the event that coincided with the event was fun. I also had my first ever tarot card reading, enjoyed the variety of feathered masks, and got to give away an ILOA pin to Laini herself. She loved it so much that she blogged about our group of librarians, including a picture, and her pin!

Since none of us had eaten prior to the event, we skipped out a bit early to hit up the pizza shop next door. Insert some details here that I don’t want to rehash, and then we made our way BACK to the original party venue because we had been told earlier that it turned into an 80s dance bar after the Laini event. So, along with tons of other librarians, Laini, the publicists at Little, Brown, and Carrie Ryan, we rocked out to non-stop 80s dance music. How many other people can say they’ve conga lined with a National Book Award finalist? Not many. It was an incredibly fun and memorable party for a book that deserved such a fun reception.

Saturday, June 25

Even though I got a little burned out on the expo floor Friday, I spent a large portion of Saturday wandering again, picking up a handful of additional titles and talking with the publicists that I didn’t get a chance to speak with the night before. When Abby and I got back to Little, Brown, we were told we needed to get another copy of Smoke and Bone, and because we were told we had to, we did. And honestly, I’m glad I did, because the copy I had will be donated to my teens while the copy I picked up at ALA, well, it’s for me:

How cool is that?

Saturday was really a laid back kind of day, but it was also a little stressful because I wasn’t finding sessions that really interested me. I spent more time in the expo hall than listening to presentations, but I did have the opportunity to reunite with a number of people I went to graduate school with who I haven’t seen since moving from Texas — catching up with where they are and what they’re doing, I think, was just as valuable as sitting in on a session.

About four or so, Abby and I dropped off our book piles for the day and made our way over to a cocktail reception we’d been invited to by Candlewick. They had a lovely spread of appetizers, and along with the other ILOAs, we talked books, libraries, and story time. A librarian we didn’t know happened to sit with us at the event, and when we started talking about Katie’s storytime blog, she knew exactly what blog we were talking about, and then we all gushed over it and over Sarah’s Awesome Storytime blog, too. We didn’t stick around at the reception too long because Saturday night was the YA Blogger Meetup that, along with YA Highway, I was helping host.

But before then, I snagged a photo of the books I’d picked up so far — it’s a smaller pile that BEA and even Midwinter, as I have finally figured out how to be selective. I also used this small window of time to put some finishing touches onto the presentation that Sarah and I would be giving the next day and to take a small, but much-needed, nap.

The YA Blogger Meetup started out with a slight panic moment from yours truly, but because no one was there to witness it except for Abby, no one was any wiser to it. We met up at Tommy’s Wine Bar a little before 8 pm, and Kirsten Hubbard and Kate Hart (two of the brains behind YA Highway) helped coordinate a smart set up for the meet up. There’d been a party prior to our arrival, and the tables/chairs weren’t set up ideally. But between those ladies and the incredibly helpful and friendly staff at Tommy’s, we managed to snag nearly the entire one side of the lounge for our event. And, as you can see in the photo, Kirsten earned the second ILOA pin I had received for all of her hard work in making this event happen.

At Midwinter, I was so pleased with the turnout for our event, but I think the turn out this year may have surpassed it. Check out these group shots, courtesy of YA Highway:

It was so nice meeting people who I know only via blog names, and it was nice putting faces to the names of books I knew. Among the attendees were Elana Johnson, Medeia Sharif, and, of course, Kirsten Hubbard. The ladies who helped organize this fun event and I managed to snag a photo together, too, and you can read their recap of the event (and their ALA experience) here. No, I’m really not sure what’s going on with my hair in this picture, either.

Sunday, June 26

I’ll admit it was hard to get going today! I skipped out on both a breakfast and a brunch I was invited to, and instead, I chose to walk the expo floor for a few minutes, hit up a publisher’s preview session at the convention center, then attempt to press my clothes for my presentation. The last part is key, since it turned out I’m about as good at ironing as I am at speaking Russian. Which is to say, I had to bring in an expert (Lea) to do it for me.

Between pressing attempts, I attended what was probably the best session at ALA: the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) teen feedback session. If you’ve never been, this is the session where actual teens get the chance to tell the BFYA committee which books they read and why they did or did not like it. Listening to these smart and well spoken teens is interesting, and anyone interested can read the live tweeting of this session here. One of the teens who shared her views was so, so good that we wanted to track her down after and tell her she should get reviewing via a blog or Goodreads. Lucky for us and for everyone else, she already does, right here. If you are going to take away one thing from my recap, take away that blog! Real teens reading books meant for them.

So then, it was show time! Prior to the presentation, I’d talked with Kirsten Hubbard about coming to it to talk a little bit about what it means to be a contemporary writer and why contemporary lit is important. But, as it turns out, our time for talking was much tighter than I could have imagined, and Kirsten didn’t get a chance to pitch the genre as much as I’d hoped she could (or that she probably prepared for, either). She and Kate Hart met me at the hotel where our presentation was, and Sarah met up shortly after. We got into the room, which was smaller and more confined than I anticipated, and which also seemed to lack a space to project our presentation. We ditched the idea, and we stuck to using just my computer and a very enlarged version of my Prezi, since the attendees would be sitting in chairs around our table for a smaller, more intimate discussion.

The presentation was part of YALSA’s new Mash Up concept, which put 16 different presentations in the same room and let attendees choose a new session every 20 minutes to listen to. The idea was really smart, but there were a number of issues, including that time was far too short (we only got to talk about maybe 1/10 of what we wanted to talk about!) and that there was only time for 4 sessions.

That said, I could not be happier with how our presentation turned out. Sarah and I had some amazing support via The Contemps, who helped contribute videos to the presentation and who cheered us on along the way more than once. Basically, Sarah and I book talked to the table. We made no real preparations in terms of what we’d say, but instead, we talked about what we wanted to talk about. Each session we talked up different books, gave tips for how to incorporate these books into reader’s advisory for really popular and well known authors, and how to be advocates for contemporary lit. We received fantastic feedback from attendees, and our handouts went like hotcakes. We were asked some great questions, and it was such a shame that we couldn’t answer them the way we wanted to because of the time constraints. Without doubt, I think this is a topic I’d like to explore further and perhaps present on again because it was obvious there was an interest. Our table was full every session, and people were taking notes furiously. I think what was most rewarding was knowing that we were talking books that attendees weren’t familiar with and so everyone walked away with new knowledge. And it didn’t hurt that people told us how well prepared we were and how strong our book talks were — which both of us winged right there.

Of course, a huge thank you also goes out to Kirsten and Katie, who stuck around and supported us throughout the presentation. It was nice to have familiar faces and people who were as passionate about our topic as we were around — and it was nice to let Kirsten do the pitching for her book right to librarians.

After the presentation, I was completely exhausted and headed back to my hotel room, where I treated myself to something I haven’t had in months:

And it was pretty much the most amazing thing I could have. Upon finishing that bad boy, my roommates came back and we had a girls night in, enjoying a childhood classic on DVD, Now and Then.

Monday, June 27
On my last day of ALA, I took it easy again. I hit the floor one last time, picked up a small handful of galleys, and had the opportunity to meet Michelle Hodkin, author of the forthcoming The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. I had talked with her about meeting up before, but it wasn’t until she approached me on the show floor that we got to connect. It was nice to put a face to a name, and it was nice to chat in such a fun, lively environment about the books we mutually adore (like Imaginary Girls).

The other big Monday event, which I failed to note earlier, was that Abby and I had the chance to reconnect with our friend Antony John, who has a new book coming out next April. You may remember our encounter with him at Anderson’s, where we spent an entire day learning about his then-forthcoming The Five Flavors of Dumb. It was really exciting when we got to see him Monday that he also remembered who we were and asked if we’d planned on going to Anderson’s again this year. What fun! And his new book, Thou Shall Not Road Trip looks like a wonderful exploration of spirituality and the meaning of faith — via road trip!

I had an invite to a lovely lunch on Monday, but my exhaustion, coupled with travel-related phobia, led me to skipping out and instead, reflecting upon the entire experience.

Biggest Take Aways

As always, I took away a lot of books that I’ll get the chance to read and promote with my kids at work, but the conference is about so much more than that alone. I think what I took away this time was really quite selfish — I’ve never once felt like I’m an expert at anything or that I have a real passion for a topic. But after presenting on contemporary lit and being able to answer the questions that came up during the presentation, I feel like it’s an area I really do know well. It’s a topic about which I’m passionate and about which I want to continue working into my professional life however I can.

Moreover, I reconnected with the importance of advocating for teens and their interests. This is less about what was picked up in sessions and much more about what was picked up in networking and talking with fellow youth advocates. It’s essential to be a listener and be a team player, but it’s also key to be an adult and take the steps necessary to make things happen rather than let them happen.

On another selfish note, I got a lot of enjoyment from connecting with writers at ALA, both from the librarian perspective and from the writing perspective. As someone who has been a life long writer and someone who has been struggling to make it a part of my daily life again, it’s valuable to hear from those who are making it happen. It’s a big support group, and the routes to making things happen are so different. But this is, of course, key.

Hi to everyone I had a chance to meet with at ALA this year, and I look forward to talking further!

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterestshare on Tumblr


  1. Anonymous says

    That pin looks like MIT's seal! However, it's definitely been tweaked from my alma mater's logo. There's too much Latin text than simply MENS ET MANUS (which means mind and hand). Hmm, I'm off to look up Blythe Woolston's Morris statement.

  2. says

    So great to meet up with you and Abby again, Kelly! Thanks for stopping by and saying hello. I love the thought of periodically catching up with you both at these conferences. Such fun!

    Enjoy all those ARCs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *