ALA Recap–In a Word? Awesome!

Well, ALA has come and gone. I’m on my way home, taking trains, planes, and automobiles–and adding a bus or two into that for good measure. I haven’t stepped on a scale in a week, so I don’t have much to report on the diet front. Instead, I thought I’d give a rundown of how my ALA went. It was an interesting time, to say the least.

First up, my hotel: I wanted to save the library (who was footing my bill) money, so I chose a place that was cheaper and within walking distance to the conference center. Overall, I was happy with my stay. The hotel was clean and well-kept, my room was spacious, my bed nice. No complaints there. The “within walking distance” bit was not entirely accurate. Once I got a system down, it worked well, but I had to hop a couple of concrete barriers each time I went, and I thought I might get hit by a car a few times. Still, all’s well that ends without a serious injury or death, right?

The conference itself was huge. Just plain huge. 25,000 or more librarians–they haven’t announced the official attendance yet, I believe. For a guy who lives in a town of 7,000 . . . that’s a lot of people. The first day was a bit bewildering. The conference center seemed gargantuan, and I thought I’d never get the hang of where I was going and what I wanted to see. By the end of it, I had the place down pat and could navigate it with ease. Of course, what really helped was the fact that I had friends at the conference: librarians, authors, agents, and editors alike. I discovered that it really helps me to know that somewhere it that sea of humanity, I have friends. Then it’s not so oceanic anymore.

ALA is simply fantastic if you just love books. If you’re a librarian to boot? It’s on a whole different level. I would have to say this was my favorite conference by far. Surrounded by people with a similar mindset and mission, mingling with people who love books and reading . . . Bliss. That said, it was also extremely fatiguing. I came to the realization that I wear way too many hats in my life. I’m an academic librarian, the VP of the Maine State Library, an author, and just plain individual. This weekend, Bryce-the-individual had to disappear for a while almost completely. I passed up on so many incredible panels, just because they weren’t the reason I was here. So hearing Oliver Stone or Temple Grandin speak? Nope. Checking out the latest offerings from Tor or Penguin? Nada. Listening to Brandon Sanderson, John Scalzi, Timothy Zahn, Cory Doctorow, and more speak about sci-fi/fantasy on a single panel? Sorry.

I was here as an academic librarian first and foremost. So what panels did I end up going to? Lots, but here are some highlights:

  • Marketing for libraries–One of my favorite presentations was on how to get your message out to your audience in a way that makes them want to interact with you. It could apply to anyone–not just libraries. The presenter (Ben Bizzle) was full of great ideas and humor, and I was blown away by the awesome. Many ideas I’d like to try out, both for my library and the Maine Library Association.
  • MAKE–A fantastic talk by Mark Frauenfelder, one-time editor-in-chief of WIRED, current editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine, and founder of Boing Boing. All about the Maker community–how it came to be, where it’s going, and what librarians can do to help foster it. Again, it left me teeming with ideas. (I also scored a free book from him that he signed for my son, who is an aspiring maker himself.)
  • A speech by Jaron Lanier about the future of technology. He’s a tech leader in the industry, and his talk was all about how the tech industry is happily selling us all down the river. Kind of bleak, and left me with a lot to think about.
  • Walking through the exhibit hall, where you could see presentations and products focused on everything library-related. Book mobiles, book drops, database vendors, furniture makers, DVD suppliers. You name it. (And yes, there were plenty of free books themselves. I wasn’t even trying that hard, and I still ended up with about 20 free books, all of which look great.) I had a long talk with a company that’s trying to break into the movie-streaming business for libraries. Very interesting thoughts there.
  • A panel on Augmented Reality in libraries–using Aurasma, anyone can make interactive displays that link users to vibrant content. This could have some great ties for library marketing, as well.
  • A talk by Cory Doctorow, author and blogger extraordinaire, on what the future of libraries should be. Again, inspiring and challenging at once, and great food for thought.
I went to quite a few other panels, of course. But with panels, you never know for sure what you’re going to get until you’re in the middle of one. Some of them were disappointing, but I was very pleased with how many over-performed.
So that’s what I did for my library. That’s what I did the bulk of my time, to make sure the library earned its investment in my trip out here. At a normal conference, I would have filled the rest of the time with Bryce time. Maybe some movies, some relaxing–that sort of thing. This time, I filled it with author and MLA stuff–confined mainly to lunches and dinners. Stuff after the conference was over. Some highlights there:
  • A signing at Lee & Low’s booth. I got to be an author in the exhibit hall for an hour, and it was quite the experience. We weren’t giving the books away for free–we were selling them. And even then, we managed to sell out, which was fantastic. Some people were even waiting for me to show up. They were that excited about me being there. In other news, I might have to check my ego on the plane. Do they charge extra for that these days? (I was wearing my VODNIK t-shirt, and a random guy slapped me on the back and said, “Love that book. Gotta watch out for that tea cup guy, don’t you?” This was before my signing, when I had not yet transformed into Bryce Moore. I was very pleased.)
  • White Sox Double Header with my illustrious agent, Eddie Schneider–Friday evening, I got to go eat burgers and ice cream and talk shop while we watched the White Sox prove their ineptitude. And it was Mullet Night, folks. Eddie caught a t-shirt. I caught metal fever. (Warning! Those pictures may put you into awesome overload.) Having your agent take you to baseball games? I can’t lie. It’s a great feeling.
  • Lunch with Brandon Sanderson, Eddie, and my editor, Stacy Whitman–We grabbed a Jamba Juice after one of Brandon’s panels, and we all got to just chat and catch up. Made me very reminiscent of the days six years ago when I went to writing group with Brandon each week. He’s a great guy and a great friend. Very pleased he’s doing so well. He was there promoting two different books with two different publishers: Steelheart and The Rithmatist.
  • Dinner with Stacy and Jason Low (owner and publisher of Lee & Low Books, of which Tu Books is an imprint). Had a great talk about everything under the sun over great food. Lee & Low is doing a lot to promote diversity in children’s literature. Plus, I had a fantastic rib eye steak, and a sublime peanut butter, chocolate, and banana dessert. Who could ask for more?
  • Dinner with the always entertaining Nissa Flanagan, Maine Library Association President. We went out to a cafe and talked shop, while I attempted to eat a “breaded steak sandwich” which seemed to consist of an entire cow. But it was a great conversation. We’ve got some solid ideas for the future. Just have to figure out how to make ’em happen.
There’s more, but I’m typed out, peoples. Can you see why I might be on the tired side? In any case, I had a fantastic time, but I’m looking forward to getting home and a bit of vacation. A lot of that was fun stuff, but there was just no time to decompress in between all the awesome. That comes now.
Assuming my planes agree with me. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading!

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