ALA Midwinter in Seattle: A Recap

This last week’s trip to Seattle for ALA Midwinter was my third trip to Seattle and solidified for me that Seattle is an excellent place for a conference. Also, Seattle has some of the best food around, is easy to navigate, and I think it’s affordable. The photo above is from Pike’s Market at the fish throwing place — they welcomed the librarians with not only this, but one of the throwers stopped me and told me all about how much he knew about librarians (he knew there were tech people, archivists, school librarians, public librarians, and so forth).

I can’t think of a cohesive way to sort of talk about what happened at Midwinter, so here’s a day by day look at the excitement of sitting in meetings, of eating good food, and of celebrating good books and friends.


After making it to Seattle on a very long flight, I took the afternoon to just veg in the hotel room. Liz, Sophie, and I had made plans to go to a tea shop and do a tasting, but Sophie’s flight was delayed and Liz felt similarly to me when she got in and just wanted to relax. We did that until we got a call from Jackie to join her and Colleen for dinner up near Jackie’s house. After seeing her adorable new house, we went to The Bottlehouse for a dinner of cheese, cheese, and a lot more cheese. And everything was delicious. To go along with cheese, Liz and I split a red wine flight, and then we each enjoyed a dessert. I picked a trio of small cheesecakes:


The first real day of conference began with a long chat between my roommates and myself about issues in librarianship and with gender — a lot of the things that Julie expressed in her blog post got us thinking about things we want to do in our own careers/lives. After that brainstorming, we made our way over to registration at the convention center bright and early.

After registration, we once again met up with Jackie and Colleen, and this time we took a hike up the hill to have lunch at a burger place that everyone was excited about (they had a veggie burger option for those of you playing along at home knowing I don’t do beef). We not only each had a burger, but we ended up enjoying french fries with milkshake to dip them in. And it was absolutely delightful.

My first committee meetings were on Friday from 1 until 5:30 pm. As admin on the Alex committee, I really didn’t contribute much to the meeting, and in fact, the first day I had nothing I could really do, so my chair kindly let me leave early. It’s tough to be in a committee meeting where the committee is talking about the books in depth and you can’t say a word because you’re not actually a member of it. But what I can say is I absolutely loved seeing the process on the inside — this meeting involved nothing more than talking about half of the committee’s nominated titles. They’d discuss merits, the appeal of the book, and all of the other elements that made them nominate it in the first place. I felt like in hearing a lot of their discussions, I added a bunch of titles to my own to-read list that weren’t ones that caught my eye when they showed up here through the last year.

I snuck out early to meet Liz, Colleen, Sophie, and Jackie for the opening night of the exhibits, and in the process, I ran into Lenore. I’m not going to lie: I was anxious about how the exhibits would be, especially on opening night. They’re always a bit of a madhouse then, since it’s about the only time everyone is free TO go, but I worried about other things to. Fortunately, even though it was busy, it felt sane, too. Lenore and I wandered around together, and then I decided to cut out after about 20 minutes. I think I picked up maybe 7 ARCs, and I asked about another one and was told it would be out Sunday (which made me then arrange to have Lenore pick it up for me since I’d be in committee meetings in the morning then, too).

There was indeed a dinner planned after exhibits, and the same group of us who’d gone out for lunch went out for Vietnamese food at Long. I didn’t have a lot of time before the YA Blogger meetup, and when the waiter knew about this, he did an amazing job getting my drink and meal out to me very quickly. I enjoyed a chicken satay and a fizzy rum drink of some variety before wandering down to the hotel for the meetup.

The blogger meetup was GREAT — I know people came and went, but all told, I think we had an easy 40 people over the course of the night, if not more. I’m really not great at mingling (to the point someone even came over and gave me grief about it . . . even though she didn’t even know who I was) but I was thrilled to finally meet Flannery of The Readventurer — we are pretty sure we’ve met before through a mutual friend we have, but it was nice to spend the evening chatting about books. There were a few other people I was finally able to put a face to who I knew through blogging or Twitter and overall, it was a nice, low-key event, with a mix of bloggers and authors.


Saturday morning began really freaking early with a breakfast preview for Little, Brown. I love these previews because they not only give a good idea of what’s coming up in the next season (and beyond), but also because they always bring a guest to talk. This time it was Darren Shan. I’ve never read any of Shan’s books, but since I began working in libraries, he’s been a huge favorite of teens. Hearing about his series was fun, hearing about the horror movies that inspired him was fun, and he had a delightful accent.

After the preview, I wandered the exhibits briefly with Katie. And by briefly, I mean maybe 10 minutes. I asked again about the book I was curious about at one of the publisher’s booths, and was told again, Sunday morning it’d be out. I ended up going back to my room and picking up my computer and a few other items before heading to another hotel a few blocks away for a Simon & Schuster Luncheon featuring . . . Lenore! Can I tell you how neat it is when a person you’re friends with is the guest of honor? The only downside to the luncheon was that because it ran from noon until 2, and I had a committee meeting beginning at 1, I could only stay for about 30 minutes. But I got to eat and hear Lenore speak, which made it great.

The committee meeting on Saturday was even longer than the one on Friday, running for five hours. Like the meeting on Friday, it began with a discussion of all the remaining nominated books. But this time, when the session came into the final half an hour, I got to do the big and important role of tallying up the straw poll results. Everyone on the committee voted on their top ten books for the Alex, and I counted up and figured out what were the titles — at that point — which were the ten favorites. When that was calculated and shared, the committee members went home to think about the titles that didn’t make it so they could make last minute pitches for our meeting on Sunday, if necessary. I tried to tweet a little bit from the committee meeting on Saturday because I was so impressed with how impassioned people became when talking about their favorite books. Not only were committee members using appropriate vulgarity when necessary, but one committee member came near tears in defending her book. If anyone ever dares question the process behind these awards or selection lists, it’s a slap in the face for how hard these people work and how much they’ve invested in really thinking about, discussing, and fighting for books that represent The Best in whatever arena they’re looking at.

I had plans to attend a dinner with Little Brown on Saturday night, but after getting up early and spending a long time inside, in a small room in committee, I ended up going back to my room and . . . crashing. Hard. I was trying to do some catch up on email but literally fell asleep in the middle of doing that. I knew going out was not going to happen, so I ended up just laying low for the evening. The conference wall of exhaustion hit and hard.


Like Saturday, Sunday began with an early morning breakfast. This time, I met with Victoria and Liz for a calm breakfast in our hotel diner. I can’t even express how delicious that spinach/bacon/avocado omelet was. Between that and loading up on high-caffeine tea (they brought me a basket to choose my poison from), I was feeling pretty ready for the day, which began with another round of committee meetings.

So this round of meetings was where I got to play a bigger role! This time I got to count things again, and then my chair was nice enough to let me get a little power hungry on some other things. The meetings began with everyone making last-ditch pitches for the books they wanted to see on the top 10 list, and then they took one final poll. It was my job to do the counting and tallying of this final poll — these would be the books that would make the final Alex list. As I tallied, I had a little problem: the final results came up with 11 titles. There was a tie. When everyone came back into the conference room, I had to break the news that they now needed to hear 11 titles and come up with one from their lists to eliminate. When that was done, I tallied again, and this time we had a solid 10 Alex titles. You can read that list here.

But it wasn’t over for committee work yet! Once that list was made, the committee had to write annotations for each of the titles. And even when that was done? They had more work. The Alex awards also involves a vetted list of nominated titles that the committee members feel fit the criteria of the Alex but weren’t quite top 10 titles. This is where I got to have my power: I read the titles and told them it was simple majority. The votes happened pretty quick and the vetted list ended up with a little over 20 titles on it. But it wasn’t over then, either. They still had to go through and write annotations for those titles as well. As of writing this post, the list isn’t up on YALSA’s website, but it should be shortly.

As a thank you for my work, the chair gave me this really freaking awesome necklace.

Because the committee meeting ran super late this time around, I didn’t get a chance to eat lunch before meeting Lenore over at the exhibits again. She said she’d pick up the one ARC I was looking for from the publisher who’d assured me it’d be out Sunday. But . . . it wasn’t. Because the publisher actually put the books out on Saturday afternoon, as I was told somewhat rudely by the booth person. I was a little disappointed about this, especially since I was informed twice it would be out Sunday and I made arrangements to have someone pick it up for me since I was in meetings and unable to do it myself. I left disappointed, especially as I felt like the booth person was not kind about the manner.

After Lenore and I met up, we wandered over to my favorite thing about ALA: the teen feedback session at the Best Fiction for Young Adults committee meeting. These teens are brutal and honest and I love every second of it. It’s proof that teens do like a wide variety of books and that even among the different teens, titles can be hits or misses. I do think my favorite part of the entire BFYA session, though, was getting to go tell one of the teens that the author was so thankful for what she had said (I’d tweeted it and the author responded to me). The look on that teen’s face and her accompanying “IS SHE HERE RIGHT NOW?” were awesome.

Since I’d missed a real lunch, Lenore and I grabbed a slice of pizza in the convention center following the teen session and had our goodbye, since she was flying home early the next morning. But fortunately for me, it isn’t a long goodbye since she’s going to be doing a program for my teens at my library in the spring (how lucky are they?).

I went back to my hotel to relax after a super long day, but rather than do that as planned, I went out with Jackie and Sophie to Cupcake Royale. I’m not a cake or cupcake person, but they had the most delicious ice cream sandwiches. . . that I decided I couldn’t choose just one kind to try. I got myself a red velvet and a pumpkin cardamom one, and both were delicious.

It was an early night because of the Youth Media Awards in the morning, but Sophie and I spent a good chunk of our Sunday night discussing late 90s/early 2000s rap artists and critiquing the music videos from such legends.


You want to know what the best thing about being a part of an awards committee is? Reserved seating at the Youth Media Awards (YMAs). I got to sit front and center for the announcements. The picture on the right here gives you an idea of what 1/3 of the crowd looks like.

Of course, the energy in the awards room is crazy, and everyone’s nervous/excited/apprehensive about what books will walk away winners. I love the YMAs but they do stress me out just a little bit. It’s less from the perspective of what won and more from the perspective of, as soon as an announcement is made about an award, there is a flurry of “but WHY didn’t THIS book get picked?” rather than allowing for the celebration and surprise (the why can come later, privately). I think this is something that really came to me a lot as I sat in and watched a committee make their choices. I can’t articulate it as well as Marge can, so do go read her post.

There were celebrations. There were surprises. But that’s how it goes. The best part of the awards is what comes after: when you go out with your friends and talk about them privately, away from the event itself. I went with a handful of people to Pikes Market to enjoy tea and a crumpet and to chat awards. After our chatter, I wandered around the Market with Jackie and Sophie.

Gorgeous fruits and vegetables

House blend tea, along with a lemon curd and ricotta crumpet

We then finally got around to the tea shop, where the owner was able to give us a bunch of amazing tea tastings. I’ve never done anything like this before, and it was such a fun experience. I ended up bringing home a bag of Lichee tea, which might be one of my all-time favorite teas.

Once tea tasting was over, I wandered back to my hotel to drop off some stuff, and then I met with a friend I do some work for at the convention center. We were doing lunch plans, and we ended up actually coming back to the Market and eating so much food. We enjoyed grilled cheese and mac and cheese at the cheese store, Russian pastries, a sit down meal at a restaurant overlooking the water (wherein I had a delicious risotto with squash and zucchini), and then we went to the crumpet shop where, yes, I had another crumpet and cup of tea. It was fantastic.

So now stuffed to the gills on delicious lunch, I thought I’d be done. Done. Done. But no. Because I couldn’t stop enjoying how great Seattle was and how great the company was and how damn good the food was, I went out for one more dinner, this time at Tango, a tapas place. It was a great crew, including Jackie, Liz, Barry Goldblatt, and Sara Ryan. It involved a couple bottles of red wine, dinner I didn’t eat because I was full, and then my insistence on eating dessert (which was delicious, as seen to the left). A laugh or two may have happened.

I think without much doubt. this year’s ALA Midwinter was my favorite event so far. It was also so different from other ones I’ve been to because of how much time was spent in committee meetings. I think in total I spent maybe 45 minutes in the exhibits, and I got to do very little for myself, aside from the meals out with friends. And it was that time I really enjoyed because these are people I talk to all the time but only get to see once or twice a year. It’s the in-person stuff where real ideas are spun and discussed in a way that’s not quite the same via the internet.

I’m eager to see what Chicago has to offer this summer.

Some other things. . .

* Because I was unable to visit the exhibits for any length of time, there won’t be any sort of rundown of what’s coming out. But I am really excited to have had Lenore pick up both of Algonquin Young Readers first titles for their teen line for me. I wish I’d had a second to talk with them but it happens.

* The book I’m most excited about that I did get to pick up was the third and final book in Geoff Herbach’s Stupid Fast series, titled I’m with Stupid. The second most exciting book I picked up was Bill Konigsberg’s sophomore novel Openly Straight. I LOVED his first book so I’m eager to see where this goes.

* I thought it was pretty interesting that Amazon Publishing had a way better booth placement than Little Brown did. We’re talking entrance to exhibits row and can-hardly-find-it-because-it-was-shoved-in-a-corner row.

* It is AMAZING the amount I learned about committee work not just from being an admin, but also from hearing the stories of my friends who were also on committees. With that, I have really come to respect the process and have not come to judge what I may have in the past perceived as odd ball choices or left field choices on any award list. Likewise, the way that people have reacted to certain awards and certain books either being present or not present has made me a little indignant on behalf of those hardworking committees. No book DESERVES anything on principle, and those committee members are reading like mad and reading with a very critical eye.

* I learned a couple interesting things about a couple of the awards I did not know beforehand. First, the Batchelder Award, which is for best translations of a novel into English, ONLY takes into account books that are published for the under age 14 market. I thought that Antonia Michaelis’s The Storyteller would have no problem garnering this honor, but when I learned this fact, it made sense why the book did not. Second: the Stonewall Award is for books published between October 1 and September 30 of a given year — that means this year’s awards honored books published between October 1, 2011 and September 30, 2012. That means certain books that seemed to have been “shut out” or “overlooked” for this award were not, in fact, overlooked or shut out. They weren’t eligible yet.

* YALSA has decided to sunset both the Reader’s Choice Award and the Fab Film Committee. They’re also going to revisit the award/selection list being behind a login issue in March.

* Also, the best thing I purchased and packed for this trip is something everyone at the BFYA session was envious of: my backup battery charger. Here’s the one I bought, for those of you who want one for yourself.

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  1. says

    Great recap! Now I'm off to steal my friend, Joanna's copy of Openly Straight from her cart of ARCS – it's going on our teen booktalk program in March. 😀

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