What is ALA?
The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world, providing association information, news, events, and advocacy resources for members, librarians, and library users.-ala.org
There are two conferences every year, Annual and Midwinter. Annual takes place in June/July and Midwinter is in Jan/Feb.
What Happens at the Conferences?
The conferences are about 4 days long-Friday through Monday and is held at a big conference center. You may notice that the conference repeats cities: Chicago, Vegas, Florida, Boston, Philly. This is because 8,000-20,000 librarians attend and these cities have facilities large enough to accommodate us. This year, annual is in San Francisco on June 25-30.
During the conference there are educational sessions for members and an exhibit hall. You must be an ALA member to attend the sessions but anyone can visit the exhibit hall. An exhibit hall ticket costs about $60 for all three days. Visit ala.org for more info.
The Exhibit Hall
The exhibit hall is divided into two sections, vendors and publishers. Vendors are usually selling library products but you can score some great free stuff such as: lip chap, bags, t-shirts, candy, buttons, hand sanitizer, etc. I know it doesn’t seem very exciting but when it’s free, it’s like winning the lottery.
Now for the Important Part-Publishers Row!!!
Almost every publisher is there from HarperCollins to indie publishers. They bring ARCs to give away and the beauty is that you don’t have to stand in line unless it’s a highly coveted ARC. For example, I ran and stood in line for 30 minutes to get the ARC of Cress. This rarely happens. They sit the ARCs on tables or the floor and you walk by and grab one. If you are greedy, you might even be able to walk back a couple of minutes later to get a couple of them. No judging, I do it sometimes. Extra Tip: Bring a work mule such as a husband, boyfriend, wife, girlfriend, or friend to carry more books and to get those books that publishers only allow one per person.
There is usually no schedule for ARC releases; you just have to walk back and forth. You can frequently pass the big publishing houses or you can ask the reps. They will tell you what ARCs they are giving away and when. Extra Tip: Do your homework. If there is a specific ARC you are looking for such as Six of Crows, know who the publisher is and ask if they are giving it away. Sometimes they keep the really good ARCs under the table.
There is other coveted stuff that publishers only release at certain times such as a bag. I stood in line for the Throne of Glass bag. Extra Tip: Publishers usually have bags sitting out and up for grabs. Bags are HIGHLY desired and quickly gone. If you see they are all gone or if there is a bag you’ve had your eye on for a long time, such as Scholastic’s I read YA bag, ask the rep. Sometimes they are hiding under the curtained table. Extra Extra Tip: If you see someone with an awesome bag, ask them where they got it. Sure they’ve been asked 100 times already but they get numb around 52.
How Am I Supposed to Carry all These Books?
The exhibit hall usually has a coat check for $2-$3. Since you technically aren’t allowed to bring a wheeled bag on the floor, check your bag and dump your books throughout the day. It doesn’t cost extra to do this.
When you hit the exhibit hall floor, head for the DEMCO booth. DEMCO is on the vendor side but they give out a huge blue bag. Vendors give bigger bags than publishers. If you are lucky, you can score that big red Scholastic bag.
Take a backpack to give your shoulder a break.
Don’t forget your work mule!
There is a post office on the exhibit floor. The books pictured below cost about $50 to ship from Vegas to Chicago with the media rate. The bad news is that I stood in line for a total of 4 hours throughout the conference. Extra Tip: If you are staying at a hotel, use the hotel’s post office. Sometimes the convention center has a FedEx, use this one instead.
This is my haul from ALA Midwinter in Chicago
Authors and Signings
I had this same post for ALA Midwinter. There were not a lot of authors at midwinter but annual is DIFFERENT. The last annual I went to I met, Maggie Stievfater, Judy Blume, Marie Lu, Neal Shusterman, David Levithan, Mary Pearson, and Laini Taylor. If an author has a book coming out in summer or fall, they will be there.
There is a schedule for author signings. It’s not up yet but if you visit alaac15.ala.org there will be a list. If you are serious about it, you can print a map of the exhibit hall with publisher booths. There’s usually an app that allows you to create a schedule. Search 2015 ALA Meeting or alaac15. I usually create a schedule on the calendar on my phone, it works just as well.
More popular authors will have lines. I think the longest line I stood in at a conference was for Judy Blume-1.5 hours and Mary E. Pearson-1 hour. If you bring a work mule, they can stand in another line if there are two authors signing at the same time. When you are finished, take your mule’s place in the other line.
At ALA, some publishers will give the book the author is signing for free (the published books). The most notorious publisher that makes you pay for books is Scholastic-$3 paperback; $5 hardcover. These are great prices but come on Scholastic, you can spare a free book!
Make sure you have cash. Some publishers don’t accept credit/debit.
You can have authors sign a book you already own. They’ll sign anything. Extra Tip: I know sometimes we get excited about meeting authors but please don’t take a long time to gush. There’s a line, people! Extra Extra Tip: Get a book signed by that author that only have two people in their line. You never know, they might be famous one day and the book is free. This happened to me with Joelle Charbonneau and my coworker with Pierce Brown (Red Rising).
The Exhibit Hall is More Than Just Books
Book Buzz Theater
Pop Top Stage
Check #alaac15 for updates on authors and special events.
Two Final Thoughts
If you stay ’til Monday, publishers don’t want to carry all those book back so they give books away by the butt load. They also sell books for a fraction of the cost but you will need cash. HarperCollins and Penguin give all their books away for free even HC. They usually let everyone take 5 books but there is ALWAYS a long line. Hover around their booth around noon.
THERE’S NO BOOKCON. Look, I’m a teen librarian associate and I thought it was wonderful to see teens excited about books but DAMN, that was ridonculous. There will be a lot of people in the exhibit hall but you will be able to navigate your way without having to raise your hands to make room to get by.