I mentioned in my last post I didn’t see a lot of bad blogger behavior regarding ARCs at ALA. But as soon as I posted my piece, I did a search for “ALA book haul” and stumbled upon a video made by a pair of bloggers showing off what they picked up at the conference. This video, which ran nearly 22 minutes long, was a stream of book after book after book after book. Twenty-two minutes of showing off the books picked up at ALA. Badges of honor earned by trekking through the exhibit halls at a professional librarian conference and making sure to plan, to schedule, to arrive at different publisher booths at just the right time to snag what was sought (or not — it doesn’t always matter what the book is, just that it’s a book and it’s there and it’s free and it’s from ALA).
I watched the entire video, both fascinated and appalled. Fascinated because that was a hell of a lot of books for two people — one copy for each of them — and appalled because of the same reason. This wasn’t promoting the books picked up. It was bragging.
On Sunday of ALA, I had a little free time to do what it was I wanted to do at the conference. After what was an overwhelming opening night of exhibits on Friday, as well as an overwhelming few minutes in the exhibit hall on Saturday morning — overwhelming due to the sheer number of people, the crowds, the inability to move at all down an aisle — I poked my head into the hall and saw it was much calmer. I decided I’d walk around and pick out the few things I was really interested in reading.
Let me back up for a second: on Friday night, during the frenzy, I approached one of the publicists and asked about two books on display. I asked if it was possible to get copies or if they’d be available during the show. Note that when I approached them, I had my single tote bag with two other books in it. I was told they’d be available “sometime later at the convention” and was brushed away. No time frame. No commentary about the books themselves. As much as I walked away frustrated for being dismissed, because I did, I also felt bad for the publicist who did that to me. She was clearly overwhelmed and struggling to avoid being trampled by the hordes. I looked like anyone else at the convention, so she couldn’t know that I was a librarian (AND a blogger). She couldn’t know or take a second to find out that I was on a committee and had to spend most of the open exhibit hall hours in meetings (or preparing for a presentation). She didn’t have a second to stop and talk to me at all. I made a note to myself to come back later and ask again, when things would be calmer.
When I went back on Sunday morning, I approached the same publisher, but a different publicist (one I knew and who knew me well). I asked if she could hook me up with the books I was interested in, and she said was more than happy to. But when she looked through all of the cabinets, she couldn’t find copies of the titles I was interested in. She felt bad for it, and she took me cabinet by cabinet, asking if there was anything else I might be interested in. The bulk of the cabinets were empty. Lucky for me that because she knew me, she took down the titles I wanted and said she’d send them along to me after the show.
It seems wrong that on Sunday morning of ALA — only a day and a half into the exhibit hall hours that ran through Monday afternoon — the cabinets at one of the publisher’s booths were almost empty. This isn’t a small publisher either. This was one of the big six.
But as I watched the 22-minute long video earlier, I saw both books I was interested in showed off by both of the girls. They’d won them! They’d fought hard, they’d stalked the booths, they talked to the right people or pushed the right people out of the way. Whatever the deal, those two non-librarians were able to get the two books I’d wanted from the publisher but was unable to get.
I’m a paying member of ALA and of YALSA and of PLA and of ALSC, and I attended the conference because I had committee obligations this year. Because I’m working. Because I was giving a presentation to librarian colleagues. Money is incredibly tight right now because I’m not working a regular job. I paid out of pocket for my memberships in both associations, as well as for my plane ticket, my hotel room, my transportation to and from the airport, around Anaheim, for my meals. I don’t get reimbursed. Every penny I spent at ALA was a penny I couldn’t spend on other things. Something I’ve talked about before, in what was probably the most personal blog post I’ve ever shared publicly, was the notion that librarianship is a very selfless profession. And it is — librarians go out of their way not only to give back to their field but also to reach out and share with as many people as possible. Librarians work on committees to select the best books of the year in any number of categories. They work to read and promote books among their patrons. To help create their collections. ALA for most librarians isn’t at all about the free books. It’s about working. The books are a part of the whole, and they’re a very small part. Just consider that a committee like mine meets from 1:30 – 5:30 on Saturday and Sunday. That leaves just the morning hours free for perusing the exhibit hall, and even then, those hours are juggled with any number of other responsibilities, meetings, presentations, and so forth.
I understand completely why publishers schedule out their ARC distributions at ALA. I get it. There is only so much space in the booth, some books sit in storage until later on, some are held until the author is on site to do a signing. And I also get that it is impossible to get everything I’m interested in getting. I’m not entitled to it nor do I believe I should be.
The video I watched of two non-librarian professionals coming to a book event was 22 minutes long.
In thinking about how librarianship is a giving field, a selfless field, there’s something really uncomfortable for me in admitting that sometimes, there are ARCs I would really want to pick up at ALA. Even though I’m not working right now, I still need to stay on top of my game with what’s publishing so that when I am working again, I can jump in and be fresh, knowledgeable, prepared to not only develop the best collection I can, but also to book talk and get the titles into teens’ hands. But really? I don’t think there’s anything selfish in saying point blank that there are ARCs I want for myself to read for myself and to blog about for myself. As much as it makes me feel weird and egotistical to say this, I will: my stats and my reviews are solid. I know what the hell it is I am doing and what I’m talking about. Even though I am adamant that I have not sold a book — because selling a book requires that I’ve had the book and got money for its sale — I know my posts and reviews have some influence on getting the word out about books, particularly those lesser-known titles. I want to pick up books at ALA that interest me, that I will be able to get the word out about. I want to have conversations with the publicists at ALA and tell them what it is I am interested in and get their feedback on what’s coming out I should know about. They’re the gatekeepers to knowledge I want in the same way that I am a gatekeeper to the audience they want that knowledge (and product) shared with.
While it’s true I could ask the reps via email for titles anytime, I really don’t LIKE doing that. Likewise, it’s impossible to keep up with the contacts as they change so often and at times those changes mean that I’m treated less-than-kindly by overwhelmed reps who have no idea who I am from anyone else (and I say that because I think I’ve earned my cred as a blogger and shouldn’t be treated the same way someone who “just started” blogging is treated). I want to converse with the reps at ALA. I want to be handed a book, dammit, and I don’t think that I’m being selfish in believing that at my own professional conference — one I am paying a lot to attend as a librarian who is working — I should be able to do that.
Moreover, librarians who are working as part of a committee don’t always get boxes of titles sent to them for consideration. Many of the books they read and talk about come from titles they find via ALA conferences. So while the very librarians who are at ALA working to make the lists of best books work, they’re losing out on the opportunity to discover additional titles for consideration that are available in the exhibit hall. They’re missing out on the chance to talk with the publicity folks. And yes, sometimes titles that end up on an awards list come from the books picked up at a booth in the exhibit hall. Not from a box of books sent to the committee for consideration.
Librarians are missing the chance to pick up a book that they want to read. For themselves.
I do not for a second believe that ALA should be entirely closed off from those who aren’t librarians. I think it’s an incredible convention for those who love books and reading and knowledge and literacy and technology and the many other facets of librarianship interest that exist. It’s valuable for so many people, including teachers and bloggers and those who are simply readers. But know I say this, too, with the mind of a librarian: I want knowledge shared and spread and disseminated in a manner that’s accessible to the most and not the least. It’s an utterly selfless profession and one that gives and gives.
The video I found today, if I can remind you, was 22 minutes long. A laundry list of the books these two bloggers — non-librarians, non-professionals — picked up at ALA.
It’s not going to be easy to find a solution to this, but something needs to be done. I do not for a second believe that all non-librarian/non-teacher/non-ALA members who blog are bad people. What I am saying, though, is those few rotten apples are spoiling this for EVERYONE, and they’re spoiling it for people who are working hard, who should be able to treat themselves to something they are interested in, be it an ARC or be it having a second to talk with a publishing rep. Anyone can get into ALA’s exhibit hall for a mere $25 and some people are abusing that opportunity, taking it as their chance to pick up and carry home as many ARCs as possible. They’re taking away from the folks who are not only spending gobs more money — gobs more of their own money — to attend a professional conference but who are attending it to work to make the profession what it is. To award those books. To spread the word about the things that are coming out. To develop as professionals in librarianship. This is something that needs to be dealt with and it needs to be dealt with at the convention organizer level. That means it needs to be dealt with BY the American Library Association, which works to serve the needs and goals of their members, librarians and library supporters who pay for membership. Who pay for voting. Who pay to have their thoughts heard. Who pay to attend this convention in so many ways.
This isn’t about what you do with your ARCs when you’re done. This isn’t about the “noble causes” bloggers are picking up books for. This is about what the goals of the ALA convention are. What the goals of the publishers are in attending these conventions and distributing these books.
My solution — and note this is my solution and mine alone — is that bloggers/non-professionals who pay the minimum amount to attend the convention be limited to one day attendance at the end of the convention. That they be allowed to attend but that their attendance is after librarians and other professionals using this convention to develop as such have the opportunity to get what it is they need and what it is they want out of their own convention. If they choose to pay the full conference amount or are themselves members of the organization, then they can have full access just as anyone else does. I don’t think this is hard and I do not think it’s at all unfair on any side of the equation. Those who would find this disagreeable are part of the problem.
As a librarian, I know what my influence is, and as a librarian who blogs, I know this even more so (I don’t need to mention in this space the over 500 responses I got within an hour when I tweeted the question of what authors would feel like knowing their book went into the hands of a non-librarian at a librarian conference — it’s not about showing off or bragging but rather that people are listening). I don’t for a second believe I’m being selfish. I believe I’m allowing myself to be a professional librarian. I believe I’m also allowing myself an opportunity to do something for me. And since I’m paying for it, I think I deserve it.
A 22 minute video showing all of those books picked up at ALA by non-librarian bloggers.
I’m a voracious reader and blogger, but even I can’t get through that much. All I was hoping for was a pair of titles from a publisher and the chance to talk with a few others about the things they were most excited about. But I didn’t get the first and I had to fight to get the second.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).