The presence of U.S. book professionals can be seen throughout the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL). This year, a growing number of librarians, publishers, agents, distributors, and self-published authors have come to the largest Spanish-language book fair in the world.

PW spoke with Michael Dowling, director of international relations for the American Library Association who has been coming to FIL since 1999 and works with FIL to coordinate the attendance of U.S. librarians at the fair. This year, 120 librarians from 23 states have come to FIL to purchase Spanish-language books. Prior to the financial crisis in the U.S., up to 200 librarians attended FIL but last year only 105 were able to attend. Dowling breaks down the numbers, “About 45% of the librarians in attendance this year are from public libraries, another 45% from universities, and about 10% from school districts. About 60% are returning from last year and 40% are new, but this is normal as not every library is able to send someone every year.”

Collection specialist Sara Karow is one of two librarians from the Houston Public Library that is at FIL seeking books to meet the needs of over 36 branches that offer Spanish-language books. This is Karow’s 12th year in attendance and she points out that “the fair allows us to see and explore the books and not just order from a catalog. The face-to-face interaction with publishers and distributors and providing them feedback helps all of us better service our readers.”

ALA, along with FIL, coordinate an orientation for librarians on the eve prior to the fair and help librarians obtain a greater understanding of their demographic. As the U.S. Hispanic demographics have shifted, so has the need for books from Central America and that is drawing librarians to seek books not from just Mexican publishers but from all over Latin America. The orientation provides a space for librarians to interact with each other and offer support and advice as many are often faced with the same challenges.

The fair also provides an area called Novedades (new releases) that features about 2,700 titles from 119 imprints that were reviewed and selected by a committee of U.S. and Mexican librarians. The titles are then organized thematically and it is also a working area for librarians. On Monday, a lunch was held in the Novedades area where welcoming remarks were delivered by Marisol Schulz, director of FIL. Schulz not only welcomed the librarians but also encouraged them to provide feedback. Having been the director of LéaLA, the Spanish-language book fair in Los Angeles and having worked with libraries in the L.A. area, Schulz commented to PW, “We know the many challenges U.S. librarians face and that is why we have a team of bilingual professionals working with librarians to make their participation at FIL as pleasant and efficient as possible.”