ALA 2011 New Orleans

Personal impressions from the floor of the convention by John Riley, editor The Library Marketplace.

It was heartening to return to The Big Easy and see all of the progress the city has made in its recovery from Hurricane Katrina. In his address to the Convention Mayor Mitch Landrieu attributed a large part of the city’s success at bringing life back to the city to the rebuilding of neighborhood libraries. Still, over half of the public schools remain closed.

New Orleans has lost nearly half its population and its neighbor Baton Rouge has grown by 150,000 people since Katrina. 15 billion dollars have been spent to completely rebuild the city’s system of levees, but it still could not survive a direct hit from a category 5 hurricane. The city is still awaiting billions more in funds that are being held up in bureaucratic limbo. Disputes on how to spend the money have held up projects such as the reconstruction of the completely destroyed Lower 9th Ward.

Attendance figures for ALA in New Orleans totaled 20,186. Advance registration totaled 11,273 and on-site came to 3,696. Exhibit personnel totaled 5,217.

Last year’s conference in D.C. totaled 26,201, while Chicago attracted 28,941 in 2009.

The next two ALA conventions in Dallas for mid-winter and Anaheim for annual have been greeted with lukewarm responses so far.

Temperatures in New Orleans hovered in the mid 90’s all week, but the rain held off and we only had to deal with 90% humidity. Inside Morial Convention Center sweaters and coats were at a premium as the air conditioning was cranked up to the freezing point. Many of us got lots of exercise walking in the extremely long and narrow Convention Center that snakes along the Mississippi River. Buzzy Basch, who wears a pedometer, logged over 6 miles in one day just walking inside the Convention Center! Walking was probably a good idea after all of the great meals in the booming restaurants such as Mulate’s, NOLA and Cochon where librarians were happy to indulge in the local cuisine. The hot spot for jazz was Irwin Mayfield’s Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta on Bourbon Street. It hosts a very lively local music scene and by local I mean the top musicians in New Orleans. The other hot spot is a group of clubs that includes Snug Harbor (where the Marsalis family holds court) on Frenchmen Street just East of the French Quarter. Some, mainly younger, librarians were heard to be groaning at their 8 a.m. meetings after helping close down clubs that morning at 4 a.m.

Some of the hot topics at ALA reminded me of Book Expo America, the publishing and bookstore convention held in New York in May. There was renewed buzz on the floor about books, especially because of ebooks. Books are in the news all the time now and publishers are excited about their prospects with ebook readers taking off and the promise of more international sales. Many librarians, as well as booksellers at BEA, were looking to find their bearings in the digital revolution that is sweeping across publishing and libraries alike. Both contingents are trying to find a way to stay relevant in a world of electronic delivery of books and information.

Librarians seem to be headed for more of a teaching model and curriculum support role. They have always filled this link in the education system, but it is even more imperative now to maintaining the place of the library on campuses. Demand for public libraries is off the charts, but they have to learn how to do more with less. Independent bookstores are looking more for local support and many are even converting to co-op models. The local community is key to maintaining both libraries and bookstores.

There was quite a bit of talk about libraries taking on the role of publishers. One interesting model was the one at Purdue University where they have integrated the library, university press, and copyright clearance office. They are also publish online journals with the sponsorship of several corporations. One such journal on the “Human- Animal Bond” has received over a million dollars in grant funding from sources such as Petco and Purina.

Cornell has partnered with Duke University to distribute their online journals and their open access books are published on Kindle and Google Books. Some public libraries are starting to publish patrons’ books on Kindle. The process is actually quite simple and can be accomplished within 24 hours using only a “Word” file that gets uploaded to Kindle for free. It creates great goodwill amongst the patrons.

“Sustainability” is a huge issue with online publishing and Institutional Repositories.

Hathi Trust (Hathi is the Hindi word for elephant, famed for its memory) is taking sustainability to be its major goal in storing and transmitting our cultural heritage. Their statistics are amazing and they are growing their collection by millions of titles a year.

8,881,920 total volumes
4,840,751 book titles
217,186 serial titles
3,108,672,000 pages
398 terabytes
105 miles
7,217 tons
2,416,262 volumes (~27% of total)
in the public domain

Currently 60 institutions plus Google are sharing their digitized information with Hathi Trust. There is a 38% overlap with ARL collections at this point and they anticipate reaching 50% by 2012.

There was also a lot of discussion about POD or print on demand. Librarians are wondering if it is just a way station until ebook readers gain full acceptance and functionality. In the meantime POD is spreading rapidly and is growing into the major form of print publishing for smaller print run books. Publishers are slowly moving to a simultaneous print and ebook version of their books. Could this be similar to the simultaneous publication of hardcover and paperbacks that only comparatively recently came about? Hewlett Packard has come out with a rival to the Espresso Book Machine that they call Raptor. It is much faster than EBM and also prints in color. What sets it apart is that it prints double sided off of rolls of paper just like the largest POD machines, while EBM prints on single sheets. With such large companies as Xerox backing the EBM and HP now producing the Raptor new distribution models for publishing can’t be far behind.

There was still lots of talk about Patron Driven Acquisitions, but some were raising the possibility that it might be the next fad to fade as “cooperative collection development” seems to have done.

When all was said and done there was definitely lots of buzz at ALA and librarians were excited to be at the center of the new “Information Revolution.” My impression was that librarians are getting in the driver’s seat now and not just watching as change approaches.

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