While exhibitors had the strong impression that attendance was down for the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting in New Orleans last week, the official count was more encouraging. At around 7,500, the number of librarians was slightly ahead of two years ago in San Antonio, Tex., the most recent show held in the South. The 2001 event, held in Washington, D.C., which draws on the larger number of librarians in the Northeast and is historically a bigger show, attracted over 1,000 more. This year's figure of 3,600 exhibitor personnel was down significantly from 4,700 last year, with the drop blamed on industry consolidation and a climate of corporate budget-tightening. Exhibitors, however, were disappointed in floor traffic. The convention center is located a good distance from the hotels, where many librarians were in lengthy meetings. Said one librarian, "I don't know why I bothered to get a badge--I haven't been able to do anything but sit in committee meetings."

News of various state revenue shortfalls had wholesalers and distributors keeping a wary eye on the health of the library market. George Coe, president of institutional markets, Baker & Taylor, said the library market has been doing very well for the last five years, bringing about double-digit growth in all library market segments for B&T--public, school and academic. Because libraries are dependent on tax revenues, their financial health lags about a year and a half behind the rest of the economy. "Library vendors can expect there to be pockets of budget reductions, but overall," said Coe, "there will still be strong sales because of population growth and the opening of new library buildings." Coe expects fiscal 2003 to continue to be strong because of new services such as B&T's customized collection development programs. He expects library technology budgets to be hit the worst by cutbacks, with libraries working to keep their book budgets strong.

John Nelson, president, Book Wholesalers Inc. (BWI), a children's and young adult book wholesaler selling exclusively to public libraries, said he has seen library cutbacks since November, with key accounts in New York, California, Oregon and Ohio facing budget problems. For BWI, however, he foresees double-digit growth driven by new accounts. He pointed to TitleTales, the company's free online selection and ordering tool, as a draw for libraries to open new accounts with BWI.

Echoing his competitor's sentiments, Larry Price, executive v-p of Ingram Library Services, said that California libraries are suffering because of the state's energy crisis. New York City libraries were obviously hurting, too, he said, but this may not be the case for Long Island and the rest of New York State. Price said Ingram ended the year fine and expects to do well in the upcoming year by taking on new accounts and developing new library programs.

NetLibrary Synergy

At a press conference held to discuss the purchase of netLibrary by giant nonprofit Online Computer Library Center Inc. (see sidebar), OCLC CEO Jay Jordan and netLibrary CEO Rob Kaufman talked about future directions. NetLibrary will remain in Boulder, Colo., with Rob Kaufman as chief executive. Jordan envisions synergies from connecting OCLC's extensive electronic full-text journal collections with electronic books. Further synergy will come with the Collaborative Digital Reference Service, a platform being developed by OCLC with the Library of Congress to provide 24x7 online professional reference service.

Jordan is well aware that libraries want to access e-books the way they currently access journals--through site and seat licensing agreements. Currently, netLibrary's model follows that of physical books. Libraries can check out a copy of a book to only one borrower at a time. While this has been a problem for librarians, who are accustomed to being able to provide simultaneous use of electronic databases to users through licensing agreements, the model has served to encourage nervous book publishers to sign on. Jordan said publishers will have to create more flexible access options for libraries, but knows that publishers will have a difficult time convincing agents and authors that this will expand their market. Still, Jordan thinks they will be impressed by the company's "robust digital rights management system."

Kaufman said that he sees reference and research as the future for e-books. One of the things users really like about netLibrary, he noted, is the ability to search the entire collection of 40,000 titles to identify material they need.

NetLibrary will soon face new competition from B&T. Under its Informata unit, B&T has developed Electronic eContent Distribution (ED), introduced with a soft launch at Midwinter (its official debut will be at the Public Library Association meeting in March). At present, the product's focus is on current and forthcoming scholarly and reference titles for the academic market. B&T's Coe said he expects to expand ED into the school and public market. "I don't think library users want to read Stephen King on an e-book," said Coe. "We will focus on collections in subjects such as how-to, travel and career development. It will be a great advantage for library users to be able to search across many titles at once to find what they need." Coe was unable to specify how many titles the product will have, but he emphasized that electronic editions will be integrated into the distributor's other offerings, so when librarians search for a title in B&T's database, they will be alerted to its availability as an e-book.

Electronic journal aggregators dominated the exhibit floor space. One of the largest, Gale, which owns InfoTrac, announced a partnership with U.K. scholarly journal aggregator Ingenta. This strategic partnership will allow online searches across 10,000 periodicals digitized by both companies.

Not Forgotten: P-Books

While technology continued to dominate the exhibit floor, children's publishers were the second major presence. ALA discourages programs at the Midwinter meeting, where the business of the association's myriad committees are the main agenda. One meeting that many children's publishers made time for was a discussion of the nominees for the annual Best Books for Young Adults list. For this session, the committee invites local teens to talk about the titles. The group of 60 kids from four New Orleans schools was enthusiastic and vocal. A long-time fan of this session since its inception 10 years ago, Marc Aronson, publisher of the book divisions at Carus Publishing, said he was impressed by what the kids read. "You couldn't predict which titles each of them had chosen. Black kids challenged the assumption that they focus on books featuring other black kids, and boys don't read only science fiction." Favorites among the group were Shadow of the Hegemon by Orson Scott Card (Tor), On the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God by Louise Rennison (HarperCollins) and Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies (Dutton).

The 2002 ALA Annual Meeting will be held in Atlanta, June 13 to 19.