ALA 2013 Chicago: A Recap

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It took almost a week to recover from the ALA conference this year. I think a lot of it had to do with the amount of movement that happened there — from place to place, from person to person — and a lot had to do with feeling like a few big projects that I’ve been working on for a long time wrapped up. I’ve been crashing and crashing hard the last few days, but I’ve found taking it easy has also been really good.

ALA this year was good. It was great to meet up with people I’ve been talking with for a long time, to meet new people, and to learn from and with my colleagues.

Chicago is hometown to me — I grew up near Joliet and spent a good chunk of time in the city as a kid (I took a summer class at Columbia one year, and I lived near the Newberry Library for a class in undergrad). So there’s not much in the way of touristy things to share.


Since I still live relatively close to Chicago, I hopped on the train in the late morning and met up with Liz at our hotel a little after noon. We decided to grab lunch in the hotel (which was good) and then we relaxed before Sophie showed up.

The three of us went out for Thai dinner, brainstorming and discussing how we’d present on Monday together (because we’d decided earlier on that our presentation on “new adult” would have to be as up to date as possible). In the midst, Liz came up with a brilliant blog idea that we hope to launch later this year.


Because it was the big Blackhawks rally, some of my plans for the morning were shifted around. I had a lovely brunch early with Liz, Sophie, and our friend Victoria. After the meal, we ended up back in our room, and when Liz and I saw the cleaning lady coming, we thought we’d scoot down to the lobby and get out of her hair.

But. . .

courtesy of Liz

The rally for the team apparently was happening in our hotel after the parade. Which would have been nice for the hotel to tell us, since we had very few places to go and get work done outside our room (and getting out of our hotel was a no-go). If you squint, you can see the Stanley Cup there in the image since it was brought to our hotel lobby.

We did end up finding a place to sit and collect ourselves, then we went back to our room, got our stuff organized, then headed down to the convention center for opening night of the exhibits floor.

All in all, I thought it wasn’t too bad. It was crowded, and I was quickly reminded at exhibits how much I dislike crowds and tight spaces, but I thought that on the whole, behavior was totally fine and civil. I wish people were better about stepping out of the middle of an aisle when they are gawking, but that’s a minor complaint. The first night of exhibits I picked up a few books and ARCs I was hoping to find. I got to meet Erica Lorraine Scheidt and get a finished copy of Uses for Boys, and I picked up ARCs of Elizabeth Scott’s Heartbeat and Marisha Pessl’s Night Film. I also picked up a signed movie-cover edition of Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes.

After about half an hour, I grabbed a shuttle and headed back to my hotel to change for the big kid lit drink night party. I think this was the 5th or 6th one of these I’ve put together, and every single time I am blown away by the turn out.

We had no room this time. None. It was packed, standing room only, and it was AMAZING. I met so many people I’d been hoping to meet, librarians, bloggers, and authors alike. It was so nice to put faces to people like Jessica and Rachel who I’ve been talking to or reading for years (!!!) now. I also got to spend some time with Stephanie Kuehn (author of Charm & Strange), and I met Alison Cherry (author of the forthcoming Red), Christa Desir (author of the forthcoming Fault Line), and many, many other people.

Imagine some photos of a really crowded bar right here because the photos I took are so dark they’re not worth posting. I’d say we easily had 60 or so people at the event, which is an incredible turnout. A big thanks to Julie and Stephanie for helping organize another successful meetup.

photo courtesy of Malinda Lo
I ended up skipping out early from my own event to make it across town to the Little, Brown dance party celebrating Holly Black’s Coldest Girl in Cold Town, and I brought Stephanie Kuehn with me to the event. I knew there’d be a few librarians who’d love to meet her there, and I thought she’d enjoy it since it was her first time at ALA (and the dance party is one of my favorite ALA things). Not only is it a fun event, it’s one of the few where I got to see and spend time with nearly all of my favorite librarian friends — when we see each other at the convention itself, it’s so often in passing, so getting to spend time together dancing is enjoyable. 

We shut the place down, and it was really nice to not only see people I knew, but I got the chance here to meet some new faces, too. It was the perfect kick off to the conference, even if it meant getting into the hotel really late the night before presentation number one at ALA (so worth it, as it always is).


Don’t know why my name is missing.

I managed to sneak in a few minutes of wandering the exhibit floor before my panel on advanced reader copies on Saturday morning. I’d packed an entire backpack for the day — including my laptop, about twelve notebooks, and so forth — since immediately after my panel I had to head to a couple of committee meetings. I was so ready.

What made the morning exciting was that one of my good friends — who I went to college with, the maid of honor in my wedding — surprised me by showing up to ALA and finding me prior to my presentation. She’s a librarian in the Chicago suburbs, but we’d never talked about whether she was going or not.

It was one of those surprises that put a smile on my face.

The panel was comprised of myself, Kristi Chadwick, Liz Burns, and then we invited Jen Childs (Director of Library Marketing at Random House for adult books) and Victoria Stapleton (Director of School and Library Marketing at Little, Brown) to talk from their side of the table on the topic.

As you may have seen, I made a series of beautiful charts from our ARC survey for the panel. I popped them into a Prezi (also linked above) and was so ready to share data.

Except, we had no internet in our room. None. Zilch. No matter how many times I tried to reconnect things in the room, no internet would come through. The tech support at McCormick was not helpful. All of the information I’d received prior to ALA said I’d have internet, but there was not, in fact, internet connected to the computer with our presentation. I was asked — again by their staff — to pop my presentation onto a flash drive and work off there, but it was unclear to them that doing so was impossible without access to the internet.

Something to know about me: frustration is one of those things that makes me cry. I joke about being robot hearted but actually, I am very sensitive. I cry with frustration and anger and it’s how I feel better. Except, I couldn’t do it here since we’re on stage, about to present. So I held it in, decided to forgo showing the stuff I’d worked on for the presentation, and tried to compartmentalize it.

The presentation itself went well, but I was very bummed more people didn’t attend. The information I learned from my co-panelists was great — a lot, specifically, about the decline of print ARCs, about how to have a successful request through Netgalley or Edelweiss (and why Edelweiss will be the go-to place for eARCs in the future), and so forth. We talked about what you can and cannot do with ARCs beyond what emerged in the survey, too.

I felt good about it. But I felt sad, too, fewer people attended than hoped.

As soon as the presentation ended, I was still frustrated about internet issues, and it become compounded when I left my room at 11:35 for a shuttle to make it to my noon meeting. I didn’t even get on a shuttle until noon, though. And I didn’t get to my meeting until 12:20. There is nothing I dislike more than lateness, and worse, I hate being late myself worst of all. My frustration only amplified, and at that point, I was about ready to explode (again, anger and frustration are my triggers, and I know this — but I held it together).

The meeting was only an hour long, so missing twenty minutes felt like missing out on a lot. Not to mention that the room we had the meeting in had no wireless internet . . . and all of my committee notes were, of course, on Google Docs (it seems ridiculous that you’re expected to be prepared for committee meetings but then you’re in a room where you can’t access your documents — this is 2013, not 1993). But afterwards, my chair and I went to lunch together, and I felt a little better, though I was exhausted (holding it together and not crying when you want to is hard). When my chair went to another meeting, I ended up waiting in the hotel for an hour until my next meeting, since clearly trying to do anything with shuttles running on such a crummy schedule felt too chancey. It ended up being okay, and my second subcommittee meeting was excellent. We made huge progress on talking about our charge and what books we think should or shouldn’t be on the list, as well as what our “dream” list would look like.

The meeting wrapped up at 5, and I ended up taking a cab back to my hotel (shuttles…) to get dressed up for a dinner with Katherine Tegen. Fortunately, it was walkable.

Dinner was delicious and I had the chance to meet not only the folks behind the imprint, but I got to meet a number of authors, too. I had dinner with Debra Driza (author of Mila 2.0) at my table, then I was introduced to Hilary T. Smith (author of Wild Awake), and at the end of the event, I managed to say hello to Veronica Roth (who knew who I was which was wild). The event was really nice, and I was grateful to be invited since it was a really small group. I just wish I’d been a tiny bit less exhausted.


With my friend Anna

Waking up Sunday was funny. There was a flood of tweets that kind of looked like what I was thinking inside my head: sleeping in was nice. I felt a million times better than I had on Saturday, after a full night’s sleep and a big dinner the night before.

I took the day very easy. I made my way to the convention center and wandered exhibits a bit, picked up a handful of things (that were talked up to me personally — the difference of the floor on Sunday from Friday night is huge). These included The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman, Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi, and The Living by Matt de la Pena.

But the biggest excitement for me on Sunday was that I happened to walk by the Sourcebooks booth right when Geoff Herbach was signing.


Herbach’s the author of Stupid Fast and I love that series. More though, it was one of the books I’d been a part of the Cybils panel for when it was shortlisted, and Herbach was the last of the authors I’d hoped to meet because I’d been a part of the Cybils panel who’d read and voted for the book. It was so nice to meet him finally, and I think my signed copy of I’m with Stupid will be long-treasured.

I did lunch with a big group of people I was thrilled to have lunch with at the convention center, including Jackie (who I was thrilled to even see), Gwenda Bond, Liz, Sara Ryan, and Jennifer Laughran. It was a totally laid back affair at the food court, followed by a trip to the only adjoining hotel for coffee and gossip.

After lunch, I decided to head back to my hotel room and just chill. A few long-time friends ended up getting in touch later and we decided to grab dinner together in my hotel and catch up.

It may have been my favorite meal.

I’ve been spending time with these same ladies for years, not only at conferences, but we all share a listserv together where we celebrate and vent and brainstorm. It’s always great when we can get together in person and talk. Plus, I got to end the meal eating this:

That is a carrot cake whoopie pie. It was delicious.


The biggest day at the conference for me was Monday, and it started out with a bang. Sophie, Liz, and I were presenting on “new adult” at 9:15 in the morning. But we’d all managed to get up and get ready earlier than we’d thought, so we were all in the convention center early. I used the time to snag a spot along the wall for the presentation prior to ours on the Tumblarian crew.

I’ve been on Tumblr for a while but it hasn’t been until I spent time with the tumblarian tag and getting to know those who are involved with it that I found a way to use Tumblr effectively (and still personally). The presentation wasn’t necessarily ground breaking for me, but it did get me thinking about the ways I could implement Tumblr at work, which is something I’ve been hoping to do for a while.

Nugget of wisdom I took away: Tumblr tags are only searchable through the first five you use. So if you tag a post with 15 or so things, only the first five are able to be searched and tracked. Put your most important ones first if you want people to find your content.

Then it was go time.

Like with our ARC panel, amazing musician librarian Julie Jurgens kicked it off with a theme song (she wrote and performed them at so many panels). We managed to get someone to snag a video of this one:

I’d been feeling really good about this presentation, and I think it went very well. We were able to talk about things relating to new adult from our perspective as they stand now and as we think they’ll progress as the “genre” emerges and grows. We were asked incredibly intelligent, thoughtful questions from the audience, and everything just felt very good in the discussion. We knew our stuff, but we made it very clear we were no experts. That we had more questions than we had answers.

I knew the room was packed, but two people passed along these images showing just how packed the room was. I’m seriously blown away.

If you’re curious about the take aways from our panel, you can check out the hash tag #ALA13NA on Twitter. It was really enlightening to go back and look at that later, since I feel like I took away as much from this panel as I was able to impart (my biggest commentary on this was that we should be paying attention to these titles — and others — and really put them into context with crossover appeal as a reader’s advisory skill/tool/area of improvement).

You can find all of our resources over at the Readadv blog. We plan on keeping that a living document, so you will see more stuff pop up there as we find more books that might fit this niche.

After our presentation ended and we answered questions, I had 15 solid minutes for myself before a lunch date with a friend. I took that time to run to the reading stage in the exhibit hall and listen to Sara Zarr share a bit from Roomies. Since I had to decline a lunch invite with her and a few other authors, it was my one chance to finally see her (or so I thought!). It got me really interested in the book, and I ended up reading it in one sitting when I got home from ALA. It was supremely satisfying.

I went to lunch with a friend shortly thereafter, which was lovely. It wasn’t as long as I’d have enjoyed because I had to run to another committee meeting. This committee meeting was, fortunately, in the hotel where we’d eaten lunch, so I was able to make it not only on time, but with enough time to get settled and organized.

Those things make a huge difference.

I walked away from that meeting feeling really positive about the committee experience and I’m really eager to keep up the enthusiasm. I love the charge, and I remind you again that you can help out with recommending titles for consideration.

When that committee meeting ended, I was invited for drinks but I decided I’d be better prepared for the evening with a little rest in my room. Plus, I had to prepare myself for dinner:

I went out with Liz, Barry Goldblatt, and Karyn Silverman to a place called The Purple Pig and we ate.  I’m not a big meat eater — I don’t eat beef at all — and so navigating the menu at a pork-centric restaurant was a blast. I’m not even being sarcastic. I actually kind of let the meat eaters make choices, and I tried everything. Including bone marrow. I can’t say I’ll be having it again, but I decided it was probably the only time in my life I’d try it, so why not.

After our incredible dinner, we walked back to the hotel Liz and I were at since it was time for the Printz reception. Unlike last year, where I’d read the books of most of the honorees, this year I’d only read Code Name Verity. I have to say, I was less-than-impressed with the speeches this year. They weren’t bad (and Benjamin Alire Saenz’s made me tear up a bit) but they didn’t necessarily push me over to wanting to read the books as soon as possible.

For me, the biggest and best part of the Printz event is the post-speech reception. Tiffany Emerick mentioned it’s a lot like the end of summer camp. You get to see everyone you hadn’t yet seen at ALA but it’s also about saying goodbye. I had the chance at the Printz reception to not only see gads of people I’d hoped to see, but I also finally got to meet Sara Zarr, along with Annabel Pitcher and E. M. Kokie.

Above, a photo with Abby on the left, and a photo with Angie, Kellie, and Sophie on the right. And to round out what was a really great, great event, of course we needed a team photo:

I do believe this is the only photo of Sophie, Liz, and myself all together.


Now that this post has been very long, I thought I’d tease out a few of the biggest event takeaways for me this go around.

  • There was incredible presence by youth services librarians at ALA. I paid attention to this because of all of the discussions about youth services being sort of the forgotten element of librarianship and how it doesn’t get the recognition that other “sexy” topics in the field do. But you know. I watched people like Melissa Depper and Marge Loch Wouters, among others, make things happen. They got attention and I am so happy for that. Marge sums it up in one of her wrap up posts
  • There is never enough time to do what you want. I made choices in presenting at ALA — twice — and I made a choice in being a part of a committee. The set up of Chicago worked against me, as it was impossible to get from one place to another without planning 30, 40, 60 minutes in advance. That cut into my opportunities to see and do what I really wanted to do. It’s a bummer when you don’t get the chance to see people do their things, especially when they’ve been insanely supportive of you and your things. 
  • But even if I couldn’t be supportive in person at their events, it is always great to see these people in passing. It’s always great to bump into them — even for a minute — and say hi. 
  • My first ALA conference wasn’t very much fun when I went years ago. But as I’ve gotten to know more people from working, and as I’ve gotten to know more people from Twitter and from blogging, the more enjoyable conferences have become. Those little associations aren’t so little. They matter and make a huge difference not only on the social side of things (you always have someone to grab a meal with!) but they make a huge difference in your professional development, too. I learn so much from people every day, but I feel like I learn even more when I get to see them in person. . . even if it is only for a few minutes. Because I am seeing them in action and doing things in their element
  • I walked away inspired and revived. It’s been a really hard summer for me professionally but I feel positive again. I’m ready to tackle things. I’m ready to implement ideas. I want to get things rolling. I want to do them on the local level — with my kids — and I am eager to test things out on a grander level — on the blog, in future conferences, and so forth. 
  • Taking personal time to recollect your head is essential and it is okay to say no to things. It’s not only physically recharging, but it’s good for your mind. I also think it is really important when you come home to take time to do things for yourself. Rather than dive into more committee reading, I picked up a pile of books from ALA I’d been eager to read and just read them. It felt really good. 
I’m looking forward to what Midwinter in Philly brings in January. 
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  1. says

    I really enjoyed reading your recap. Since I was just on an exhibits-only pass, I didn't get to attend any sessions, but I have to admit, I really would have enjoyed going to yours. I think both the ARC session and New Adult session would have been really interesting based on the tweets I read and also what you wrote about them.

    I find it fascinating that youth services is a forgotten element of librarianship because to me, that's the BEST PART of librarianship! You mean everyone who goes to library school doesn't want to be a youth services librarian? :)

    BTW.. I'm sad I missed getting a chance to catch up with you. I think I saw you a couple times when I was walking around but I wasn't certain and I'm not generally one to just shout out in the middle of a crowd and say, "Kelly, is that you?"

    Are you going to Lenore's event in Ohio on August 10th? If so, I'll see you there! :)

    • says

      It's funny about the youth services being the forgotten element of librarianship. I'm not so sure it's forgotten about BY youth services folks, but it's less seen as a place to look to for innovation and new ideas elsewhere in the library world, I think. Alas, it was amazing to see YS folks loud and present at ALA this year.

      I thought I saw you once or twice too but wasn't entirely sure! And I won't be at Lenore's event — Ohio is REALLY far away from me, unfortunately.

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