Strong attendance (more than 10,000 paid registrants and almost 3,500 exhibitors, for a total of over 13,500) made for a busy ALA Midwinter Meeting last week in Philadelphia. The attendance handily beat last year's 11,000 in New Orleans. However, East Coast venues, drawing on areas with a high concentration of libraries, are traditionally more highly attended than shows in the South.
While most libraries reported that their budgets were holding steady "for now," a few libraries reported midyear budget cuts as governing agencies face large deficits. In some cases, this has lead to draconian cuts—one public library in California was forced to stop ordering books midyear. The headline for Library Journal's 2003 annual library budget survey (Jan. 15) said it best: "A Precarious Holding Pattern." According to the LJ study, over the past five years, budgets have risen 33% (an average of 7% a year). But this year, total budgets are set to increase only 2.3%. In response to the economic difficulties governments are facing, ALA kicked off a campaign to "Save America's Libraries" with an enthusiastic rally on the first day of the show. Still, in comparison to the retail segment, libraries remain an attractive market, as evidenced by the number of new products and services at the show.
The most popular new products from library vendors help to reduce back-office work. One such product is TLC's Online Selection Assistant. The system allows libraries to simultaneously check titles they plan to buy against their online catalogue and on-order lists, a labor-intensive task necessary to prevent double-ordering. The system is also supposed to solve the problem of re-keying information into the library's various online systems—ordering, fund-accounting and catalogue systems. Ingram Periodicals was offering a system that allows libraries to receive weekly shipments of periodicals directly from Ingram. Thus, libraries do not need individual subscriptions and do not have to open individual mailings. They also can cancel titles on short notice if budget cuts strike.
A major blow to libraries had been the recent announcement of the bankruptcy of a major periodicals vendor, RoweCom/Faxon. At the show, it was learned that Swets Blackwell, after two months of negotiations to buy the U.S. division of the company, had abruptly halted talks. It was also announced that EBSCO, which had already agreed to buy RoweCom/Faxon's European operation, had signed a nonbinding letter of intent to buy the U.S. operation as well. This news was greeted with a sigh of relief from librarians and from periodical publishers facing losses estimated as high as $100 million.
Expanding its business, BWI (Book Wholesalers Inc.), a distributor of children's and young adult titles to public libraries owned by Follet Corp., announced that it will add adult titles to its offerings. And a new children's book specialist, Children's Library Services, debuted at the show. The company's founder and president, Jerry Bryan, is a member of the family that began BWI.
Searching for Adult Authors
While children's publishers and authors have a strong presence at ALA, adult books are underrepresented at the show. A new push by the ALA public programs office to increase the number of adult authors was initiated at the show. Working with the AAP, the group plans to encourage publishers showing only children's books to also give space to adult titles and to create more opportunities for adult authors to speak.
The ALA annual conference, which offers a full slate of programs and generally draws 26,000 attendees, joins forces this year with the Canadian Library Association. The joint conference will be held June 19—25 (exhibition June 21—24) in Toronto.