Nancy Pearl answers readers' questions about the 2012 American Library Association conference. Email your questions or comments to Nancy Pearl at

Going into last year's ALA annual meeting in New Orleans, the library community was feeling the strain. There was considerable talk of stressed budgets and tension over e-books.One year later, can you offer any impressions of where things stand? Do you see improvement for libraries since New Orleans?

I have to begin answering this by pointing out that I am a pessimist. My husband says that I am actually a pathological pessimist—of course, he's a psychologist and a pathological optimist. Therefore, it's surprising to me that I, who always see the glass as three-quarters empty, actually believe that maybe the library glass is one-quarter full.

The bad and sad about the state of libraries: the fact that certain major publishers—Macmillan, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin—refuse to sell or license e-content to libraries. It's a terrible state of affairs when publishers see libraries as competitors rather than collaborators in fostering a society of readers. Libraries have always argued that borrowing a title (digital or otherwise) from a library frequently leads an individual to purchase a copy of the book. I believe this to be the case, but I've never seen any data to support this. (If there are actual numbers out there, would someone please point them out to me?) Assuming there are no real numbers, I wonder if ALA and AAP (the Association of American Publishers) would fund a study to look at buying patterns following library borrowing? That information would certainly be useful to both groups.

I'd also like to offer my own experience with e-books, which is not unusual. When I'm traveling, I rely on e-books to satisfy my reading jones. I usually have three or four books in mind that I want to download. When I check my library's holdings, I discover that none of the books I want is currently available, as they're already checked out by other people. So what do I do? I buy them, of course. Who wants to wait for weeks for a title you know you want to read right now? Or during the trip, if I see a book at the airport bookstore that looks good, I will check my library holdings on my smartphone. But the chances are 99 to 1 that even if the library owns the title, it's not currently available. So what do I do? I buy it.

And here's the good news about the state of publishing. I continue to be delighted by the quality of fiction offered by midlist publishers, including the always reliable Unbridled Books, which published the splendid novels of Emily St. John Mandel, including 2012's The Lola Quartet, and Timothy Schaffert, whose 2011 The Coffins of Little Hope is now out in paperback. And Algonquin, for recently giving us Tayari Jones's Silver Sparrow, Jonathan Evison's West of Here (I'm looking forward to his new novel, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, due out in August) and Michael Parker's The Watery Part of the World.

What's the good news about the state of libraries? Just judging from the situation at my local library system, which has recently begun interviewing candidates for its hiring pool, perhaps the job market is opening up a little bit for public librarians.

Can you offer us a glimpse at where you'll be at ALA, and any suggestions for good programs, good books, good panels to hit while in Anaheim?

I am especially excited about this year's ALA meeting in Anaheim, because that's where the very first winners of the Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced (see the sidebar, p. 30). The awards are funded through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York on the occasion of the foundation's centennial. This is the first time that ALA is offering single-book awards for adult trade fiction and nonfiction. I have the great honor of being the chair of the judging committee—discerning readers all—which includes three librarians and three editors from ALA's Booklist magazine. The 50 books under consideration for the prizes are drawn from the 2011 Booklist Editors' Choice and RUSA's Notable Books lists.

The winning fiction title and nonfiction title will be announced at a special event at the Annual Conference on Sunday, June 24—tickets are available for the gala awards ceremony on Sunday, June 24, 8–10 p.m.

I just interviewed John Irving for my television show in Seattle—he was wonderful—and I'm pleased to have the chance to hear him as one of the Auditorium Speakers. Two other authors I'm really psyched to hear are Dan Ariely (I loved his book Predictably Irrational and am looking forward to reading his new one, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves) and Sherman Alexie, who is always wonderful to listen to.

Some of the programs I'm looking forward to are "The RA Forum: Browsing for Pleasure in the Digital Age," presented by RUSA; LITA's program with George R.R. Martin and Blake Charlton, "Traveling the Spectrum: From Interstellar Adventures to Epic Fantasy, the Influence of Science Fiction and Fantasy on the World Today"; PLA's "Publish or Bust!: An ePublishing Odyssey" and "An Introduction to Integrated Advisory Services." 

Looking for a great book? Here's the latest addition to Nancy Pearl's ongoing list of "Books to Read Before You Die." This batch has a rich New Orleans flavor.

Walker Percy's The Moviegoer; winner of the National Book Award in 1961.

John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces (and the new biography of him, Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces by Cory MacLauchlin).

Barbara Hambly's mysteries featuring Benjamin January, beginning with A Free Man of Color.

Tim Gautreaux's The Missing takes us back to New Orleans in the years following World War I.

Douglas Brinkley's immensely readable The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Amanda Boyden's novel Babylon Rolling has a large cast of characters trying to cope with 2004's Hurricane Ivan.

Dave Eggers's biography-as-novel, Zeitoun.

Dan Baum's nonfiction account of nine fascinating people, both before and after Hurricane Katrina, Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans.

Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1946, was inspired by the life of famous Louisiana politician Huey Long.

Nancy Lemann's Lives of the Saints, a marvelous novel available from LSU Press.