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Books on parade at American Library Association Conference

POSTED: July 14, 2013 12:30 a.m.

About a week and a half ago, I was in McCormick Place in Chicago, Ill. I overheard someone passing by say, “(The book industry) is a dying business.”

It seemed ironic the man who said this was helping to set up the American Library Association’s 137th annual conference, where hvundreds of book vendors, publishers and library media companies would be on display for attendees. Given the overwhelming turnout for that weekend, it was clear tat the man couldn’t have been more wrong.

From June 28 to July 1, thousands from numerous countries flooded the McCormick Center, all in the spirit of networking, selling, sharing and celebrating the world of publishing. Random House, HarperCollins, Penguin Readers, Simon and Schuster and even Atlanta’s own Peachtree Publishers exhibited at the event. It also hosted the 75th anniversary of the Caldecott Awards Banquet, where 2013 Caldecott winner Jon Klassen, author and illustrator of the children’s book “This is Not my Hat,” gave a heartfelt speech. Other authors such as Ann Patchett and Khaled Hosseini, filmmaker Oliver Stone and Grammy-award winner Janis Ian were keynote speakers.

This was not only a booklover’s paradise for picking up free goodies, including advance reader copies, galleys and promotional material of upcoming releases, and browsing the shelves for discounted books. As the primary attendees were librarians, teachers and students, it was a chance to discuss national issues and market changes in the library world, as well as build relationships and network with different companies to acquire new resources for schools and libraries.

I was quick to discover how vastly overwhelming the atmosphere was; foot traffic was constant from the moment the exhibit hall opened to when it closed. The sheer number of exhibits was more than one can mentally process throughout the course of a few days. This can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s incredible to have so much information available in one place. On the other hand, one can attempt to take in so much that in the end, it’s difficult to retain anything. Hopefully, most attendees walked away with at least one outstanding, empowering experience, even if the rest fades into a whirlwind blur over time.

For me, I took away the elated spirit everyone carries with them. You will be hard pressed to find one unsmiling face in an event such as this. In a society where television, movies and the Internet reign supreme in entertainment and news sharing, to see such enthusiasm for the printed word stands as testament that books bring us together. Even as the literary world becomes more digitalized, current generations still know the value of sitting down with a child and reading from a physical, page-bound book. They have a special quiet time and form a bond an iPad or e-reader cannot replicate.

As the ALA conference does, I encourage everyone to support the librarians, educators and advocates who keep our classic reading traditions thriving.

Alison Reeger Cook is a Gainesville resident whose Off the Shelves book review appears every other week in Sunday Life. Know of a good book to review? Email her to tell her about it. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life


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