This past week’s online conversation (via Twitter, blog posts, comments) has centered around ALA, it’s Exhibit Hall pricing and admissions policy, ARCs, and, well, a whole bunch of things.
I was tempted not to post about it because it has reached some complex levels, with multiple different arguments going on at the same time and, alas, sometimes statements being taken out of context. Kelly Jensen of Stacked blogged about it at The ARC Stops Here. If you’re scratching your head going “what”, please, read Kelly’s post even though it is long. Two entwined yet different questions are raised, per my reading: is ALA Exhibits public or not? And if public, does the current fee and attendance structure work in a way that is best for ALA and its members? It looks to me like a fee structure used to encourage attendance by locals who otherwise could not afford to go is now being used by others who see this as a way to have access to exhibitors (specifically, publishers) so travel to Annual just for that exhibit pass. (Some of the people who do this are local; others fly or drive in, get hotel rooms, etc.)
If you’re wondering, why would a non-librarian/library staff member go to ALA, here’s the answer: there are people who are passionate about books and reading, see libraries as being part of that, and attend. Also, the publishers. Sometimes, they are teachers. Or booksellers. Or book bloggers. (As an aside, any of these people can join ALA as Associate Members, and also join Divisions, etc..) Actually, not as an aside: I LOVE that people appreciate what ALA does to the extent that they become members. In case Kelly’s post wasn’t clear, I’ll be clear: when Kelly then begins to talk about public access to the Exhibits, she is not talking about members, whether individual or associate or whatever. In case you’re wondering, the exhibit hall pass is one size fits all: one price, four days, doesn’t matter whether you’re member or not. Unlike other organizations (or, indeed, full conference registration) there is no difference between member or not for cost; and unlike other organizations, there is no structure about who attends what day, etc.
So. Discussion, good, right? Maybe this is an ALA loophole. Or maybe it’s what ALA wants. If it’s a loophole, address it, keeping in mind some now expect it. If it’s not, figure out what to do about the people attending who are unaffiliated with ALA or its typical target audience (library staff). Do those attendees know about the Associate Member rate? What encouragement are they given to join? What resources have been geared towards them attending?
Why resources matter: if you’re even a casual reader of book blogs, before any conference you see helpful posts from book bloggers (librarians and non-librarians) about conference attendance, tips and etiquette. They go from the ever popular comfortable shoes to “don’t push” (don’t ask). If ALA is looking at book bloggers as potential attendees, they may want to do something similar. (Tho I also think that anyone who goes to their first conference gets a bit swept away by it all and ends up with “too many books”.)
Because this — exhibit floor behavior — gets into the reason this even came up. The “ALA Book Haul” posts / videos going up within days of ALA. Some had fairly extensive lists of what items had been picked up. Kelly goes into this in more detail at her post. (I’m pretty sure that no one has posted, this time, about proudly pushing others away).
This is where it gets messy, as any talk of ARCs does. (Yep, the posts sometimes say “book” even though we all know an ARC is not a book.) So, in true blogger fashion, I’m using that as a bit of a springboard to two ARC related questions I have for you. In reading various reactions to this online, I saw two things that puzzled me and so throw it out to you to answer or mull over. And, sorry book bloggers, but the questions I have are more for librarians. You’ll see in a second, but if you do have an opinion/insight, please share.
One, whether or not librarians use ARCs as part of their jobs. I imagine some, such as academic librarians, may not, depending on their specialty. As a youth services librarian, my short list of how ARCS are part of my professional toolbox include collection development, readers advisory, booktalks, developing literacy, programs — and that’s just a quick, broad list. So, do you use ARCs as part of your job? Is it of value to you as a professional?
The second is how easy it is for librarians to “get” ARCs. I put “get” in quotes because it’s not like going to the ARC store. Some books have huge marketing campaigns and there are tons of ARCs to go around; others do not, so the supply is more limited. “Get” sounds a bit cold, because what I’ve found, at least, is that it involves communications with the staff of the publishers that is anything but cold. It’s not “gimme gimme gimme.” It’s a discussion on what books one likes, or doesn’t; what your teens are reading; what they want to read. I’ve found that face-to-face at conference is the best place for that discussion, because I may ask about the “big” ARC everyone knows about but as we talk and the publisher rep hears what I like they’ll pull out ARCs for books I didn’t know about. Seeing those copies in person, even though they are not the final book, allows me to flip through pages and read random passages to determine “yes” or “no.”
Where’s my question. Right. So, one of the things I’ve seen is that librarians don’t have to do this face to face. All they have to do is email or call publishers to get ARCs and it’s easy. Is it that easy for you? For me, it is only that “easy” because I have an established book blog backing up my request. So, that doesn’t count because it’s not the librarian hat making the call. Going back in time to before 2005: no. It wasn’t that easy. Getting ARCs meant being lucky enough to see an announcement on a listserv or having a friend willing to pass one along.
So, those are my weekend questions for you: do you use ARCs? Are they only a phone call or email away?
Now I’m off to boil water to brush my teeth. Don’t ask.