Relationships have their ups and downs, but for publishers and librarians, the passion is back. After two contentious years of tussling over e-books, the 2013 American Library Association Annual Conference was a full-on lovefest, with a packed program of top authors, a strong professional program, and a focus on a common theme: when it comes to books and reading, libraries, publishers, and authors are in it together.

For ALA, the conference was an unbridled success, with total attendance hitting 26,382—the highest attendance since 2007’s record-setting show in Washington, D.C. Held in the ALA’s hometown of Chicago, the 2013 conference ranks as the fifth highest-attended ALA annual conference ever, with attendance up nearly 30% over the past two gatherings. And the presence of the additional 6,000 attendees was certainly felt on a jammed show floor that was at times hard to walk through, and in packed sessions and auditorium speeches.

Authors Galore

Show highlights included a host of energetic, engaging talks from authors, including Jaron Lanier, who held librarians’ rapt attention as he discussed his new book, Who Owns the Future (Simon & Schuster). Lanier eloquently explained why information is never free, and argued that the architecture of our emerging digital networks is based on the “wrong kind of openness, the wrong kind of free.” He showed how our choices so far have enabled the rise of big computing, in which large corporations have undertaken schemes that enrich themselves, but shift the costs to the rest of society.

Civil rights leader and Congressman John Lewis drew a standing ovation from librarians, as he was on hand to discuss the first book of his new three-part graphic chronicle of the civil rights movement, March (Top Shelf), with his collaborators, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Lewis, whose wife was a librarian, told attendees how his hometown public library in Alabama denied him a library card as a 16-year-old, and finally gave him one in 1998, when he returned to talk about his book Walking with the Wind.

At the Public Library Association’s President’s Program, the love flowed freely between keynoter Ann Patchett and a packed auditorium. The award-winning bestselling author is also the owner of an indie book store, Parnassus Books, in Nashville. Patchett delighted in the opportunity to talk books for an hour with librarians, and spoke passionately about her love of libraries and how libraries and bookstores can thrive by working together in their communities. At one point she told the audience she wished she could stay all day and talk books with them, and closed by offering and discussing a list of must-reads to librarians, which she also distributed.

The high point of the authors program at ALA was the awarding of the second annual Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction. Richard Ford took home fiction honors for his novel, Canada (Ecco), while Timothy Egan won the nonfiction prize for Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Both Ford and Egan were on hand to accept their medals and $5,000 prizes, and each spoke warmly of libraries and their vital place in the world of books. Egan expressed his delight at the award being chosen by librarians, and spoke of the high quality of the finalists. Ford also spoke of his fondness for libraries and the work they do. He quipped that he could tell from his royalty statements that his book was flying off library shelves, eliciting laughter from the audience. “But writers want readers,” he said on a serious note, “wherever we can find them.”

E-book Issues

Digital developments and e-books remained very much at the fore of the conference. At a standing-room-only update on the ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Working Group, panelists noted that the last year has been one of progress, with all of the major publishers now participating in some fashion in e-book lending. Persistence and patience have paid off, and most importantly, open lines of communication now exist between publishers and libraries on the issues, organizers said.

However, Alan Inouye, director of the Office for Information Technology Policy, urged librarians not to grow complacent. Playing the role of “bad cop” in the mostly upbeat panel discussion, Inouye reminded librarians that some publishers’ e-book participation was still limited to “pilots” and that a host of technical and pricing issues remain—issues ALA will continue to address.

In addition, ALA also launched a new campaign at the 2013 conference: “Authors for Library E-books,” which asks authors “to stand with libraries in their quest for equitable access to e-books.” Developed by the digital working group, the campaign encourages authors to sign on to a statement of “shared values” and to discuss the e-book issue with their publishers. The campaign launched with public support from three bestselling authors: Cory Doctorow, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Jodi Picoult.

“Whether it’s a digital file or a paper copy, I want readers to find my books—and all books—in their libraries,” Picoult said in a statement. “Young, old, rich, poor—libraries encourage exploration and a love of reading. I stand with libraries—and I invite other authors to join me in the campaign for library e-books for all.”