The news that BookExpo, BookCon, and Unbound will not take place in 2021 and that show organizer ReedPop is looking at ways to reinvent the meeting did not come as a surprise to publishers and distributors—or to booksellers. ReedPop, a unit of Reed Exhibitions, had been trying for a number of years to develop a show that would meet the various needs of the book world, but found only limited success. Still, most book business insiders contacted by PW expressed little interest in returning to the same version of BookExpo, but nearly all hoped some type of annual event could be created.
Meanwhile, one cohort will be sad to see BookExpo go: librarians. Over the years, librarians had to fight for a place at a show that initially catered to booksellers. And librarians are one segment of BookExpo’s audience that was actually growing in recent years—so much so that this year’s BookExpo virtual event kicked off with a day of programming dedicated to the library market.
“What I learned years from attending BEA, going way back to the 1980s—when it was ABA— was the power of the library market,” says PW contributing editor Brian Kenney, now director of the White Plains (NY) Public Library. “Attending BEA as a librarian was once treated like a political act and we weren't always greeted with open arms—sometimes quite the opposite.”
Like many librarians on social media this week, Kenney recalled the pivotal role played by Barbara Genco, then the manager of collections at the Brooklyn Public Library, who pushed publishers to welcome librarians to the show with a simple, powerful message: libraries spend millions of dollars on books every year, with no returns.
In a 2018 column for PW, former ALA president Sari Feldman said being a librarian being at BookExpo was like being a kid in a candy store. “Over the years, my personal BookExpo highlights have included riding the elevator with Barbara Kingsolver, a quick conversation with Nick Hornby, and a great moment with Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner, who were together signing prints from their Brundibar picture book.” Feldman said BookExpo has over the years helped drive home the importance of the library-publisher partnership and the key role libraries play in "building readership and enthusiasm for books."
“What will I miss from BEA? Taking in the sheer breadth of publishing, and discovering niche companies publishing for specific communities or in languages other than English. Time and again I stumbled upon publishers whose books I desperately needed in my library, but would never have discovered without BEA,” Kenney told PW. “I will also miss the opportunity to discover new titles. I loved how librarians would fan across the floor, ferreting out the most interesting new titles and then sharing them at shout-and-share events. They were always dead right! Publishers certainly pitch plenty to librarians these days, typically through webinars, but nothing beats the comradery of the library community for unbiased book tips.”