Midwinter ALA: Amid the Competing Noise, We Know Librarians Still Love Kids' Books
This year’s American Library Association Midwinter Meeting competed against a number of national and local events, all of which conspired to end a five-year run of increased attendance for the show.
Pink-hatted Women’s Marches across the country (Atlanta’s attracted 15,000, including many librarians), three super-sized downtown Atlanta athletic events—the Atlanta Falcons-Green Bay Packers NFL playoff game, the Atlanta Hawks-Philadelphia 76ers NBA game, and downtown Atlanta’s Hot Chocolate 15K/5K run—and the city’s notoriously busy expressway traffic, lowered this year’s MALA’s total attendance to 8,326. Overall, 2,916 exhibitors representing all aspects of book publishing, library services, etc., hosted stands.
Compared to book events in Frankfurt, New York, and elsewhere, these numbers seem tiny, but, historically, we’ve found MALA to be a lively, dynamic show, with many librarians stopping by the Foreword Collective several times over the course of the weekend.
American Library Association events attract a large number of exhibitors broadly falling under the library-services/information technology/furniture umbrellas—a stark change from other publisher-heavy, book-trade fairs. That said, book publishers large and small were well represented at MALA Atlanta, and showcased a great many new titles scheduled for spring and early summer releases. With such a preponderance of librarians on hand, the array of books at MALA always skew towards children’s and YA, with a lesser number of adult titles on display.
A handful of book vending machines from various manufacturers dotted the show floor. We are told that the candy-bar-style machines are becoming increasingly popular in libraries, airports, and other high traffic areas. One of the dispensing machines touts its ability to hold up to 3,000 CDs, DVDs, and audiobooks, and requires a library card to use. The 24/7 nature of the machines certainly does bring something new to libraries in the twenty-first century. In addition, at least two high-tech book scanners were churning away not far from the Foreword Collective. Ever-improving optical character recognition software and the superb quality of the scanned images (displayed at real time on a digital monitor) showcased the amazing sophistication of the technology. Representatives from the scanner makers spoke optimistically about the sales opportunities with larger libraries.
We’d be remiss not to mention the constant stream of traffic in and out of the PopTop Stage, positioned just feet away from the Foreword Collective. Fourteen presentations took place—eight on Saturday, January 21, and six on Sunday the 22nd. Popular topics included diversity in books, Black History Month, compassion through books, the immigrant experience, comics/graphic novels, easing the strains of introducing law enforcement officials in schools, and a live digital drawing demonstration. Specifically, Kwame Alexander and Ekua Holmes introduced their new book, Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets, to a standing-room-only crowd. Also, enjoying some of the fanfare created by the movie Hidden Figures, Duchess Harris shared a few anecdotes and stories from Hidden Human Computers, her new book on the hugely important work performed by dozens of black women at NASA when the space program was getting started.
Hosting the Collective
Yes, we love librarians here at Foreword, so an ALA event always brings smiles to our faces. In an effort to better our game, we commonly ask passing librarians how they make ordering decisions for their library and nearly every response starts with “I pay attention to reviews,” followed by “patron requests.” In most cases, a library can’t order a book unless it’s been reviewed by a reputable review publication. We also chatted up a handful of library science professors about whether they’d like copies of Foreword Reviews to hand out to their students. All of them said, “absolutely.” And the library science students we met jumped at free copies of the magazine.
The genres that generated the most attention were children’s picture books, young adult fiction, multicultural books, graphic novels, and mysteries, and books on the Middle East. Well-designed cover art and covers with foil seals are always a draw. As a giveaway, Seth Dellon, our associate publisher, came up with a few witty, library-related buttons and they were a hit.
Here’s a quick hit list of some of our booth visitors and friends we ran into over the course of the show: William Anderson (Naxos Audiobooks) Anita Eerdmans (Eerdmans Publishing Company), Ayanna Coleman (Tanglewood Publishing), Kate Condon-Moriarty (Dundurn), Deb Seager (Grove Atlantic), Steven Pomije (Quarto Publishing Group), Michael Winkfield (Author Learning Center), Tom Peyton (Trinity University Press), Mona Bismuth (Other Press), Caitlin Casey (Little Bee Books), and reps from Nobrow, Ingram, Penn State University Press, Northstar Publishing, University of Nebraska, Flower Pot Press, Holiday House, Charlesbridge, National Geographic, and Baen Publishing.
Matt Sutherland is Editor In Chief at Foreword Reviews. You can e-mail him at email@example.com.