ARCgate: When Librarians Get Angry

So there’s this thing happening right now on Twitter–on the librarian part of it, anyway. Arcgate. What is it? Well, you could read the post that started it all, or you could just have my recap. There’s this thing called ALA. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s the national conference for librarians. I’ve been to one in DC. It’s c-r-a-z-y big and busy, and there’s an exhibit hall full of publishers giving away things called ARCs (advanced reading copies of books the publishers will be selling in the not too distant future).

Why do publishers do this? They like to build buzz for their books before they get released to the public. Librarians are a great audience for those books. All is well, right?

Well, wait a minute. For a librarian to get access to the conference, it costs a couple hundred dollars, plus ALA membership dues. It’s pricey. But for $25, anybody can get a “exhibits only” pass for the conference and go to see all the fancy publishers and authors and hopefully get those ARCs. (Note–anyone can do this. Librarians could do this, if they wanted. But then they wouldn’t get access to the panels and development opportunities, which is supposedly the main draw of ALA, not the free books.)

So one dedicated librarian didn’t get some of the ARCs she really wanted to get, because she was too busy doing the thing she was supposed to do–go to panels and get professionally developed. A fairly new, enthusiastic book blogger paid for a pass, and showed off her haul after the conference: 150 ARCs. She was ecstatic. The librarian who missed out and came across this book blogger? Not so much.

Cue the outrage.

What it all boils down to is this: many librarians seem to feel entitled to getting ARCs at ALA–as a perk of going to the conference. It’s a conference for librarians, they reason, so librarians should have first dibs on the juicy shiny ARCs. How dare these hoi polloi wander in off the street just to get free books! They can go to some other book thingy.

My take? Librarians who are outraged are looking at this wrong. Publishers don’t bring ARCs to ALA as some great Offering to Librarians. Publishers and authors go to ALA to build buzz. The exhibit hall is a madhouse. It’s insane. If someone’s interested enough to brave that chaos to get some ARCs, they’re clearly dedicated readers. Good on them. You don’t have to be a librarian to have a corner on books.

Now, that said, other people are speaking out about how rude the exhibit hall can get–how cutthroat it can be, with some people just obsessed about getting their ARCs at all costs. That’s not cool, but it’s also not just non-librarians doing it. Supply and demand works for everybody.

So this blogger got 150 ARCs. That does seem to be quite excessive, and it’s sad that one person should get so many while so many get so few. But if she reads the ARCs and reviews them, or gives them to people who read and review them, then the system is working as intended, I’d say. (If she eBays them all, then we’re talking about something entirely different. But don’t kid yourselves–plenty of people are doing just that. I remember when I went to ALA and signed Cavern of Babel copies we were giving away, it wasn’t more than a few days before they started popping up on eBay. You’re not at ALA to make a profit, but it happens. If my Tu Books (my publisher for Vodnik) had copies available at ALA, I would be more than happy to have a book blogger get one.

I suppose I’d leave this topic on the idea that librarians shouldn’t feel like they have a corner on enthusiasm for books. It’s natural that at their national conference, many people who share that passion will congregate. And when passionate fans all want access to the same thing, feelings will get hurt. But the solution isn’t to cast out the passionate fans. Maybe it’s to enforce order somehow. Bring the chaos down a few notches. Some of this might also subside as eARCs are more widely used. Who knows? But I do wish many of my fellow librarians sounded a little less whiny right now . . .

Anyone else have anything to add?

2 thoughts on “ARCgate: When Librarians Get Angry”

  1. Yes, I’d add that if you really think this is about entitlement, you’ve misunderstood the point of the discussion. And also that the blog post you link to didn’t “start” the debate — this comes up after every ALA, and indeed every book industry event; it’s just that it apparently hit some kind of tipping point and this time people are listening. I don’t have a dog in this fight; I’m an academic librarian, with no interest in ARCs as I don’t purchase or blog.

    I’d also add that for those who want to actually understand what happened, instead of one-sided “summing up” the linked blog post is a good place to start.

  2. I think you’ve exactly gotten the point of the discussion, actually. I find it refreshing that you call the entitlement for what it is: people saying “we are more deserving than you; you are less deserving than us.”

    One question I’ve never seen answered yet: what of the thousands of NON-ARC (already-published) books that are being given out on the expo floor? Is there something magical about ARCs in particular? Or are all books equally off-limits to the riffraff who just want to use them for (gasp) reading?

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