The new outbreak of SARS in a Toronto hospital over the Memorial Day weekend has rekindled debate among the American publishing community about whether to attend the American Library Association's annual meeting scheduled there on June 19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reinstated a travel alert for Toronto after Health Canada reported the new hospital-based cluster of probable SARS. The alert recommends that U.S. travelers to Toronto observe precautions to safeguard their health, including avoidance of health-care facilities for SARS patients.
Before the news of additional SARS cases broke, some major library vendors had already made the decision not to attend ALA—Follett Corp. being the most notable—while others, including Gale Group and Greenwood Press, had decided to scale back their presence. A handful of children's book publishers contacted by PW after the newest alert found the companies once again monitoring the situation, although none had made any definitive decisions about attending the show.
"We've had no change of plans," said Judith Haut, publicity directory for Random House children's books, noting that the company had made going to the show voluntary. Noting that Random had expected the situation to remain volatile since the SARS news first broke, Haut said Random will likely give employees until a week before the start of the convention to decide whether to make the trip.
The children's departments at Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Penguin have not made any final plans either. "We'll probably talk about it at BEA and figure something out after the show," said S&S children's publicity director Tracy van Straaten. Susan Katz, head of HC's children's unit, said she will attend ALA and that the company had not canceled any of its parties or events. She said she was hoping the picture would become clearer over the next several weeks. Doug Whiteman, president of Penguin Books for Young Readers, also said he will attend the show and that the company had not altered any plans. "We very much would like to attend the show in full force, but we won't do anything foolish," Whiteman said. As Random has done, S&S, HC and Penguin have made going to ALA voluntary.
One company that decided not to attend ALA after hearing about the newest SARS finding was LearningExpress. Company president Barry Lippman said the company "had been leaning toward not going," and this latest news sealed the deal. Lippman said he was taking the decision to attend away from his staff. "I didn't want to be responsible if some one got sick" because he or she thought they should go, he said.
BEC Moving Ahead
The latest SARS outbreak has not affected plans for BookExpo Canada, set to begin June 6 in Toronto. Online registration continued steady even after news of more cases broke, and to date there have been no cancellations, said show manager Jennifer Sickinger. "Registration is very strong right now," she said, noting that PW's call about SARS concerns at BookExpo was her first in weeks.
Sickinger does not think SARS will affect the projected attendance of 5,000, adding that she still expects the U.S. contingent to represent about 5% of overall attendance, including exhibitors. Sickinger said there would be no problem with attendance by Canadian publishers.