The ALA Annual Conference: Re-discovering authors and books

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Over 26,000 people attended the just-finished American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Chicago. I could almost touch the energy and excitement these librarians, friends of libraries, and library vendors generated .

Technology is unquestionably central to the library enterprise of 2013. Even so, attendees typically don’t wait in line to see the latest tech developments. However, they do queue up to see superstar authors such as Ann Patchett and Khaled Hosseini. Ultimately, authors and books are in librarians’ hearts.

OK I admit that this observation is not a news flash for book publishers or librarians. More profound is the observation that we in the publisher-distributor-library relationship have been obsessed by the contracts governing how we interact (or whether we even interact at all). While this engagement is necessary, it is not a fabulously productive use of our collective time. How can we add real value?

There are multiple avenues that are likely to bring more long-term value for readers. At the publisher-library intersection, publishers acknowledge the valuable role libraries play helping readers discover authors and titles. But in the digital era, how can we shape this role to be its most effective? We need to spend more time, perhaps in partnership with publishers, to figure out how to leverage the librarian army to the benefit of the overall publishing ecosystem and, in particular, America’s readers.

Authors for Library Ebooks

Authors for Library EbooksAt the conference, ALA launched Authors for Library Ebooks, a new initiative to engage authors to stand with libraries for equitable library access to ebooks. Bestselling authors Cory Doctorow, Ursula Le Guin, and Jodi Picoult helped to kick off the initiative. Authors who participate in the initiative sign on to a statement of shared values, discuss the issue with their publishers, and raise awareness of their concerns through their websites, social media and other communications channels. Within a few days, many other authors had signed on and expressed interest in engaging more fully with libraries to connect with readers.

Digital preservation

A new development is that ALA identified digital preservation as a key issue for the coming months. Libraries are stewards of the nation’s cultural heritage—a responsibility that we take seriously. For print books, it is a formidable task but one we tackle with well-developed professional knowledge, processes, and diligence. For most ebooks, especially trade ebooks, we are only at the beginning of contemplating what to do—and how. Indeed, at the conference we convened leaders in the field to brainstorm how ALA may best engage in digital preservation and ebooks on behalf of libraries and the nation.

More nuts and bolts

ALA’s Digital Content Working Group had a public session at the conference. I won’t repeat the details here as there is a good summary published in Library Journal and further commentary in Publishers Weekly. There are indeed things to discuss in terms of the nuts and bolts of publishers, distributors, pricing, and such, but that will have to wait til my next post.

Alan S. Inouye

About Alan S. Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is director of the Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) of the American Library Association (ALA), based in Washington, D.C. Since 2011, he also serves as the program manager of ALA’s Digital Content & Libraries Initiative. Prior to ALA, Alan was the coordinator of the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President for three years. Earlier, Alan served as a study director at the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the National Academy of Sciences for seven years. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

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