Allison Hill took over as CEO of the American Booksellers Association on Mar. 1, 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic struck and shortly after the last in-person Winter Institute was held in Baltimore at the start of that year. We spoke with Hill about what she is most excited to experience at the inaugural in-person Winter Institute event under her tenure.

What characterizes this Winter Institute?

New booksellers. New bookstore owners. 392 first-timers. There’s lots of new energy and signs of growth at Winter Institute. And excitement for “old-timers” who are eager to reunite with colleagues in person and thankful for the sense of normalcy that Winter Institute represents. Attendees will be eating vegetarian meals as part of ABA’s commitment to reducing the carbon footprint of our conferences, and they’ll be seeing ABA staff in action as several members of our team share their expertise on panels and in sessions.

What are you most looking forward to at WI? Is there a programming highlight you’d like to point out?

It probably goes without saying that what I’m most looking forward to about Winter Institute is seeing everyone. Children’s Institute in Phoenix last summer was ABA’s first in-person event since the pandemic began, and it was good for the soul for everyone to be together. The first in-person Winter Institute will have more than 1,400 booksellers, authors, publishers, and industry vendors, and it promises to be even more energetic, sentimental, and productive.

I’m thrilled about the keynotes, which reflect some of the most important issues in our industry today—antitrust, banned books, equity and inclusion—and I’m excited to offer education designed to help bookstores thrive in 2023 and prepare for the future. We’re lucky to be hosting the event in Seattle, an area rich with independent bookstores, and I hope many attendees will have a chance to visit some of the amazing stores in the area via the ABA bus tours, the self-guided tour ABA is providing, or on their own. There are new opportunities for booksellers to come together, connect, and discuss issues this year, including the ABA Open House, the “Network and Connect” session, and the Open Discussion Room sponsored by the regional bookseller associations. Some of my most valuable time as a bookseller attending past Winter Institutes was spent talking with other booksellers, sharing best practices, and making connections that served me throughout the year. And the Virtual Poetry Theater! There’s a lot to be excited about and a lot to look forward to!

It probably goes without saying that what I’m most looking forward to about Winter Institute is seeing everyone.

How will the event showcase educational topics like activism/advocacy and DEI issues among booksellers?

The program for Winter Institute is designed in every way to help booksellers with their business. Full stop. There are sessions on operations, HR, technology, e-commerce, financial modeling, school partnerships, inventory management, and more, as well as sessions related to activism/advocacy and diversity, equity, and inclusion like “Designing and Implementing a DEI Program for Your Store,” “Activism, Advocacy & Bookselling: The Radical Act of Creating Space,” and a DEI idea exchange.

There are also sessions that speak to issues that arise from bookselling in the times we live in and that are, in some cases, DEI-related: “Emergent Concerns and Solutions Frontline Booksellers Face,” “Creating Connections and Bridging Divides in Turbulent Times,” and “Conflict Resolution and De-escalation Techniques,” for example.

All of these topics are critical to independent bookstores conducting business today and preparing for the future.

I’m looking forward to the conversations and connections in Seattle and, for those who can’t attend, online at ABA’s virtual Winter Institute, scheduled for Thursday, Mar. 23, 2023.

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