By a vote of 105 to 23, members of the Association of Booksellers for Children have approved a merger with the American Booksellers Association. This marks the culmination of a process set in motion nearly two years ago when the ABC board, concerned about the organization’s long-term survival given that nearly two thirds of its budget is funded by publishers, initiated possible merger discussions with ABA.

“This vote was much larger than the issue of who will administer ABC’s programming,” says ABC executive director Kristen McLean. “We are in a time of unprecedented industry evolution, and I believe the independent booksellers of the ABC are sending a message that they can also evolve to meet the demands of the changing industry positively.”

For its part ABA welcomes the merger of the two organizations, which have more than a 95% membership overlap. “We at ABA see this vote as an opportunity to be able to accomplish more to serve the present and future needs of children’s booksellers,” says ABA CEO Oren Teicher. “We know that some struggled with the wisdom of our joining forces, but we are confident that building on the thoughtful planning that led to the final vote, children’s booksellers will continue to have the resources and support necessary to grow and prosper.”

The merger comes at a time when children’s books are an industry bright spot. But the number of children’s specialty stores has declined. In the intervening years since ABC spun off from ABA in 1984, the children’s organization has seen its membership drop from a high of approximately 600 children’s stores to 250 stores, evenly split between children’s specialty and general bookstores.

Both ABA and ABC are forming Transitional Committees to oversee the merger. As early as the next ABA renewal cycle, in January 2011, booksellers will be able to opt for à la carte membership in what will become the ABC Children’s Group. Stores that are not members of ABA will be able to take a trial membership at the same cost as their previous ABC membership. To smooth the transition, McLean will work with ABA on a contingency basis. Children’s programming and services will be maintained at the current level as part of the merger plan.