More than 8,700 attendees and over 400 exhibitors gathered in Philadelphia, March 13–17, for the Public Library Association 2012 Biennial Conference, and despite lingering discord with publishers over e-books and ever-tightening budget constraints, the mood of the show was upbeat, with a strong slate of popular authors, keynote speakers, and a professional program that focused on advocacy and, of course, books.

Among the conference highlights, Seattle librarian (and PW contributing editor) Nancy Pearl highlighted forthcoming titles on her “Book Buzz” panel with publishers, and also hosted a sold-out luncheon at which she introduced her new project with Amazon Publishing, Book Lust Rediscoveries, a series devoted to reprinting some great—although out-of-print—novels originally published between 1960 and 2000.

There were long lines on the show floor for author signings and galley giveaways. Authors at the show included David Baldacci, Ally Carter, and Joyce Carol Oates, as well as Carl Hiaasen, Lisa Scottoline, and Karin Slaughter, who were all featured at the Audio Publishers Association dinner. Environmentalist and author Robert F. Kennedy Jr. opened the show with an engaging keynote that appealed to librarians’ sense of advocacy, while author, Emmy winner, and animal rights activist Betty White brought PLA to a close with laughter during a rollicking interview with PLA staff member Brendan Dowling, in which she also managed to emphasize the importance of libraries.

With more than 9,000 individual members, PLA is a popular division of the American Library Association. Although this year’s attendance represented a sharp uptick over the 7,725 attendees at the 2010 conference in Portland, Ore., it still lagged well behind the 9,635 attendees in Minneapolis for the 2008 show, and the 11,029 who came to Boston in 2006, most likely a tangible sign of the worsening budgets facing public libraries.

In addition, the thorny subject of library e-book lending clearly loomed over the show. Coming out of the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, ALA officials held meetings with New York publishers to push the e-book lending issue. Those meetings, however, failed to persuade publishers to change their minds on the issue—and in fact, things have taken a step back. Penguin has since pulled out of e-book lending altogether, while Random House, although committing to lending e-books, has tripled its price for library e-books.

On the show floor, Random House vice president Skip Dye told PW he was hearing from librarians about the increase, and that there was a good discussion under way. ALA president Molly Raphael agreed. “I believe there is some real dialogue around that [price increase], and that [Random House officials] are really listening to what we have to say about what this increase means in the library world, about our ability to provide these materials to people. We know this is a time of a lot of testing. We’re working as hard as we can to break the logjam, but at the same time, we don’t want to be so loud against some new ideas that people get gun-shy about going forward at all.”

Still, Raphael said she felt a real sense of “urgency” for librarians, and that recent conversations with publishers, while not immediately bearing fruit, were at least moving the discussion forward. Raphael said there were more meetings and conversations scheduled. “We’re pushing for a solution, and I do think that publishers, too, now feel a sense of urgency to resolve this issue. I think we’re going to see some forward movement, but believe me, I really feel for the people who are on the front lines right now, because they don’t want to wait for six months or more—they want it resolved now.” Indeed, it will be interesting to see if that sense of urgency leads to any movement on the e-book issue in the coming weeks, as librarians prepare for their next gathering, the ALA’s Annual Conference, June 21–26, in Anaheim, Calif.