More than 7,000 librarians, 450 exhibitors and nearly 300 authors and illustrators participated in the 2019 Texas Library Association Annual Conference, held April 15–18 in Austin. The show floor, which offered space for exhibitors ranging from the Big Five publishers, to library seating vendors, to affiliated educational institutions was busiest on Monday night, with numerous publishers reporting that they were already out of galleys after the first few hours of the show. One joked that the free books "simply evaporated" the moment they put them out.
A big feature of the event, aside from educational panels for librarians, are the signing sessions with authors. Much of the focus was on children's and young adult literature, with a particular emphasis on diverse representation and inclusion of the authors featured.
The highlight of the conference is the annual TLA Bluebonnet Award lunch, which this year featured the 2019 winner, author Patricia McCormick, who was awarded the prize for Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero (HarperCollins), the story of a horse that served with the U.S. military during the Korean War. "People like the book so much because people in the armed forces are our heroes," said McCormick at the awards lunch, "and that horse is a stand-in for anyone who was overlooked or ever wanted to belong to a group but didn't fit in."
Landing on the 20-strong title shortlist for the Bluebonnet Award, which focuses on books for children in grades 3-6, can be a big boon for sales, and the Texas Library Association now requires publishers to sign a contract that guarantees they will have at least 10,000 copies printed and available for purchase by Texas libraries.
Other promotional programs from the TLA are also significant drivers of revenue. The Lariat List, for example, is an annual curated list of two dozen books that are deemed a "pleasure to read" for adults.
For many of the publishers exhibiting, the conference is one of their best chances to reach the all-important library market. "It's among the most important events of the year for us and is a key driver of annual sales," said Lee Byrd, co-publisher of Cinco Puntos Press of El Paso, Tex., who was promoting They Call Me Güero by David Bowles, a novel-in-verse about growing up on the border between Texas and Mexico. "I'm a former middle school teacher and I know just how important this event is for our librarians," said Bowles, who was participating in the conference.
Several Canadian publishers made the trip to Texas to exhibit, including Owlkids Books and House of Anansi Press, both from Toronto. Fred Horler, marketing manager of House of Anansi, noted that though his publishing house's titles originate in Canada, they still found a large audience among Texas librarians and readers. "We have a strong list of children's titles that focus on universal themes," he said, noting that many of the publishing house's authors are Americans, as well as at least one Texan.
The TLA is also the occasion where the Texas Book Festival, which operates as a nonprofit to raise money for Texas libraries. announces the recipients of their annual Texas Library Grants. This year the organization was able to offer collections enhancement funding to 41 public libraries across 36 Texas counties in an amount totaling $100,500.
Carmen Pēna Abrego, assistant manager for library events and community programs at Houston Public Library, interviewed actor and screenwriter Thomas Lennon about his new middle-grade novel, Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles (Abrams/Amulet), at one of the conference's featured events, and moderated a panel discussion on independent publishing, with Cinco Puntos Press and Arte Publico Press, from Houston. "[TLA] is a must-attend event for any Texas librarian and my favorite conference each year," Abrego said.
Next year's TLA conference is scheduled for March 24–27 in Houston.
Below are further scenes from the event.