In temperatures nearing 110 degrees, librarians gathered in Las Vegas (June 26–July 1) for the 2014 American Library Association Annual Conference. And thermostats aside, it was a hot show for librarians, with the total attendance of 18,626 soaring above expectations.
Although well below the turnout of 26,362 that gathered in the ALA’s hometown of Chicago for last year’s annual show (Chicago always draws well above other cities), 2014 attendance surpassed the 2012 conference in Anaheim, Calif., by more than 1,000, and ALA officials confirmed that two additional rows were added to the show floor to accommodate a late surge of vendors. Some 800 companies exhibited, and vendors reported good traffic in the exhibit hall.
Among the conference highlights was author and game designer Jane McGonigal’s fascinating keynote address on the power of gamers. Lemony Snicket author Daniel Handler was on hand for the ALA Presidential Program, and, along with author Mo Willems, he presented the first-ever Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity to Laurence Copel, the founder of the Lower Ninth Ward Street Library in New Orleans. Attendees were also shown a preview reel of The Giver, the much anticipated film adaptation of the bestselling children’s book, and author Lois Lowry and actor Jeff Bridges (who stars in the movie) appeared in conversation with ALA president Barbara Stripling to discuss the movie and the themes of the story.
In one of the high points of the conference, the 2014 Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction went to Donna Tartt for her novel The Goldfinch and Doris Kearns Goodwin for her book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism. Both authors were on hand to receive their awards, and gave heartfelt speeches praising their librarian hosts.
On Tuesday, ALA inaugurated a new president, Courtney Young, head librarian at the J. Clarence Kelly Library at Penn State Greater Allegheny. Young is only the fifth African-American president in the history of ALA, and she is the first Gen X librarian to be elected to the post. Change is also coming to the ALA’s Digital Content Working Group. After three years (and some hard-won progress on the e-book issue), the group will get two new co-chairs. Erica Linke, associate dean of libraries at Carnegie Mellon University and Carolyn Anthony, director of the Skokie (Ill.) Public Library, will take over for Columbia University’s Robert Wolven and Cuyahoga’s Sari Feldman.
Among the hundreds of professional sessions, the e-book issue was especially prominent. But the tone this year has changed noticeably, with the initial questions of basic access giving way to more existential concerns. In fact, librarians barely registered S&S’s announcement, just prior to the start of the show, that it was making its entire catalog available to all libraries for e-book lending—the last of the big five publishers to do so.
Instead, e-book sessions over the program’s three days looked to the future. Columbia University’s James Neal gave an engaging, sweeping overview of the thorny issues facing libraries at the Digital Content Working Group update, from preservation and data collection issues to trends that strike at the very heart of the library mission. The nature of digital, Neal told attendees, demands that librarians get beyond the current questions of licensing and access.
And in one panel titled “Leading with E-Books,” sponsored by upstart e-book platform Total Boox (which offers a pay-by-the-page model for e-book access), panelists argued that it was time to lead, rather than simply manage their e-book future. Amid complaints that the current e-book experience (from analog-era one use/one copy restrictions to confusing, user-unfriendly platforms in which books expire or are lend-limited) was hurting libraries and turning off readers, former Douglas County, Colo., library director and e-book pioneer Jamie LaRue noted that for much of their history, librarians and publishers didn’t talk except through middlemen distributors. But, he added, technology has a chance to change that, to everyone’s benefit.
“Phase one, what did we do? We recast the distributor as OverDrive,” he said. “How’s that working for everybody? Time for Phase Two.”