Despite the unprecedented number of cancellations of attendees due to the SARS scare and budget cutbacks, the American Library Association's first joint meeting with the Canadian Library Association in more than 40 years was considered a productive affair by the many people who made the trip to Toronto. In fact, attendance was better than many had expected—a total of 17,671: 11,676 registrants (1,248 from Canada) and 5,995 exhibitors. Those numbers compare to attendance of 20,723 in Atlanta in 2002, with 14,325 individuals and 6,398 exhibitors. There was no sign of a crisis in the city and, as Toronto's mayor, Mel Lastman, told the crowd at ALA's opening session, "The only masks you see in Toronto are on CNN." Lastman added, "On behalf of Toronto's 2.5 millions SARS-free residents, we are grateful that you chose to have your conference here." In fact, the city was so grateful that it agreed to waive the rental fee for the convention center, to help offset the ALA's shortfalls from cancellations.
Attendance was a big topic at the meeting. ALA director Keith Fiels, speaking to the Exhibitors Round Table, noted that some institutions forbade staff to attend, fearing legal repercussions if any employees contracted the disease. Funding, of course, also has had an effect, with some libraries curtailing travel due to decreased budgets. Fiels said that if it weren't for economic conditions and SARS, this would have been the "largest ALA of the century." As far as alternatives to holding the show in Toronto, Feils said that moving the meeting would have resulted in a less successful conference. He estimated that the association will face a $1.75-million shortfall this fiscal year from the show. To encourage the Toronto no-shows to return in 2004, ALA is offering to credit about half the Toronto fees toward the 2004 conference in Orlando even for those who canceled after the deadline for full refunds, as well as some credits to those who came to the show. The fiscal effects will continue well into 2005, Fiels said, and, as a result, ALA has instituted a hiring freeze, is considering furloughs and is postponing some projects, such as planned IT upgrades.
Cancellations by 210 of the 779 companies that had planned to exhibit at the show, including large vendors like Baker & Taylor and Follett, left big open areas in the two show halls. Nevertheless, most vendors reported that while traffic was slow (particularly on the final day and a half of the show), they made good contacts. "The key people are here," said Larry Price, Ingram's head of library services.
Concerns that the Newbery/Caldecott celebration would be substantially affected did not materialize either—approximately 900 attended the banquet. Those who did not come to Toronto passed along their coveted tickets to colleagues. The most notable absence was Eric Carle, recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, who did not attend on advice of his doctor. He sent a video acceptance of the award.
Angus Killick at Hyperion Children's, said that planning events for this show was challenging. Unlike many other publishers, Hyperion didn't cut back on any events. One was a boat cruise with Newbery winner Avi. As of 10 days before the show, only 20 people had signed up. However, when the boat left the dock, it was at capacity, with 130 on board. Killick said all four of Hyperion's dinners and both breakfasts were oversubscribed. Every signing scheduled for an hour ran two hours. "The key people are the ones who came to this show," he said. At the FSG booth, the feeling was the same. Author Jack Gantos signed for four hours, staff reported.
Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who also appeared at BookExpo America a few weeks ago, drew an enthusiastic crowd of approximately 1,000 to hear about his challenges to the USA Patriot Act. Sanders introduced House Resolution 1157, which would amend section 215 of the U.S.A. Patriot Act allowing federal investigators to search bookstore or library records without demonstrating probable cause. He said that when the law was introduced, he knew immediately that it was a bad law, but he thanked the Vermont Library Association for "educating me on how bad a law it really is." He said, "We must make sure that people can access information without fear that government and Big Brother are looking over their shoulders." The American people, he said, understand the issue. "One hundred and twenty-seven cities and towns have passed resolutions of concern, as well as the states of Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont. That represents 16 million people and growing."
Author Margaret Atwood also drew a large crowd. Her book The Handmaid's Tale was selected as the first "One Book/One Conference" title. Six discussion sessions allowed conferees to come together to talk about the book. Unsurprisingly, the discussions often focused on how issues of freedom and totalitarianism raised in the book resonate today.