This year was my first year attending the ALA Annual Conference down in Washington DC. It was a mostly good experience that was a little overwhelming given the shear amount of stuff that is going on at any given moment. As usual with a conference atmosphere I was reminded at how wonderfully terrible I am at interacting with strangers, despite having common professional interests (and in many cases common interests outside the professional). It is annoying and frustrating. Despite that there was a ton of interesting events and fascinating people at the convention and the couple of sessions I attended were interesting and many left me excited and energized to explore new ideas at work. This post is long so hit the jump for the rest…..
First the good, geeky stuff. I got my ARC of Way of Kings signed by Brandon Sanderson at the Tor/Forge booth on the exhibit floor. Which is, for me at least, pretty sweet. Picked up the first 3 volumes of Fall of Cthulhu and got them signed by the author Michael Alan Nelson, got an signed trade of The Sword by the Luna brothers, and snagged a signed copy of the The Best Mystery Writing 2009 signed by editor Otto Penzler. The geekiest highlight though was the wonderful Science Fiction/Fantasy panel hosted by Tor and LITA: Science Fiction and Fantasy: Informing the Present by Imagining the Future, where Cory Doctorow, Jane Lindskold, Cherie Priest, Dom Testa, and Brandon Sanderson talked about the meaning of Science Fiction and Fantasy. While I am familiar with the work of the first three and have certainly heard about Lindskold’s work I have yet to read anything by either Lindskold or Testa. Both Doctorow and Testa talked about the predictive nature of science fiction, though not in quite the same manner. Testa talked about sci-fi’s ability to envision the future where Doctorow talked about its ability to predict the now. Both I think were energized by science fiction’s ability to open up new avenues of exploration and to illuminate heretofore unknown ideas, despite their differing opinions on the the nature of that exploration and illumination (consequences vs. progress). Priest, given that her writing both past and present, talked about how speculative can explore the now by projecting our current conceptions and though process’ into the past. When it comes to steampunk she made an excellent point when discussing current technology’s lack of transparency to the more tactile and straightforward appearance of technology in the steampunk world as means of creating a more tangible connection to our own environment. Sanderson, the last to present, more directly addressed the notion of fantasy as “escapism” pointing out the fact that he doesn’t really want to escape from his life. He addressed fantasy’s tendency towards colorblindness a notion I’m leaning towards agreeing with but one I think that bears more investigation. Primarily he talked about the notion that fantasy isn’t realistic and how this perception isn’t really all that accurate. Had I been taking notes I would be able to talk about all this more clearly, but I wasn’t, but regardless the panel left me with quite a bit to mull over.
On the more technological side I attended two presentations. The first was called Rich Internet Applications for Libraries. This was probably the most disappointing session i attended. The presentation provided a wealth of information on the history and development of RIA’s over the last decade or so and provided an overview of design considerations and, while it provided a decent number of current RIA’s it did not give any examples from the library world. While the presenter suggested some avenues worth exploring in terms of RIA development for libraries they were mostly nebulous with no real world examples. The second program in this area was called Designing Digital Experiences for Library Websites. This was a pretty exciting program which provided a more palatable blend of real world examples and conceptual models. It did have the unfortunate tendency to use boil the definition of “digital experience” down to something along the lines of: the experience someone has an in a digital environment. Accurate, I suppose, but not entirely helpful. Thankfully the examples that the presenters gave, particularly ???? of Skokie Library, helped to better illustrate the movement of previously location based on-site services into a digital environment through use of Web 2.0 technologies and social media. It is a concept both exciting and daunting, but a necessary step if libraries are going to maintain relevance in an increasingly digital world.
My last day at the conference was spent more or less haunting the Pop Top stage on the Exhibit floor which was hosting a series of presenters and panels about mystery books. First and foremost was a short talk about mysteries by the prolific Otto Penzler the proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in NYC, editor of several anthologies, and head of two imprints Otto Penzler Books and The Armchair Detective Library. Mr. Penzler went over some of his previous anthology work and talked about his upcoming release in the fall: The Century’s Best Noir Fiction which seems like it’s going to be pretty epic. The second panel there talked about the importance of location in the mystery tale. This is something that I had noticed during my exploration of detective novels earlier this year and it was nice to feel a little vindication. Last, and one of my main reasons for wanting to check out the stage, was a short talk on mystery blogs. As both a blogger and a librarian I have come value both the dialog and broad range of opinions that blogging offers with regards to the world of books. While John Ottinger’s always awesome Specultive Fiction blogger database/linkup meme is awesome resource for finding information on science fiction, fantasy, it its cousins I have struggled with finding solid blogs for other genres; particular for mystery and horror. Thankfully,Rosemary Harris and Hank Phillippi Ryan provided a lengthy list of blogs about mystery fiction. While it isn’t nearly as massive as what we have over at Grasping for the Wind it is certainly a start and hopefully will provide me with a bit more impetus to explore genres outside my comfort zone. I’ll try to get that list up later today in a separate post.
Finally it was interesting to note what looked like focus by publishers on children and teen readers. Anyone who has attended BEA knows how ridiculously large and competitive that market is and it isn’t much of a surprise that the bulk of publisher exhibitors had a larger presence in these fields then in adults. I get it, but it doesn’t make things all that easy for those of us who are primarily charged with buying adult fiction. Furthermore, I noted that there was a definite lack of sci-fi/fantasy publishers. Tor was there in force, as related above, but outside of them there was a vast desert of sci-fi and fantasy focused material. Sure the major publishers had their own sections but there was very little attention given to the genre imprints at say Penguin (Ace, Roc, DAW), Hacette (Orbit), and Random House (Del Rey, Bantam). Diamond Distribution had its own booth but I didn’t note anything from the folks at Nightshade, Marvel, or DC Comics while Disney, Image Comics, and Boom! Studios all had a presence at the show. Prometheus Books wasn’t there at all, that I could see, and thus no Pyr. It’s possible that some of the independent publishers like Prime Books or Golden Gryphon were buried somewhere in the Independent Publishers Group booth but I didn’t see anything that stood out. It is a moot point I suppose to mention the near total lack of horror fiction since, while I still love it, doesn’t have a strong backing from publishers and is a genre rife with tiny, specialist presses dedicated to the more esoteric tastes of its fans. Wizards of the Coast was there mainly promoting its Mirrorstone imprint, though it did run demos of 4th Edition on two nights.
My own failings and the minor disappointments aside I had a pretty good, if somewhat overwhelming, time at the ALA Annual Convention 2010. I left motivated to look into much of what I heard at Designing Digital Experiences for Library Websites and certain motivated to continue my few projects that were similar to some of the projects mentioned by those speakers. I also left with a reinvigorated (or is it extra invigorated) sense of excitement to read not only more science fiction and fantasy but also to delve once more into the mystery and thriller arena again. So to all the presenters and organizers of this year’s convention: Thank You! Hopefully I’ll see some of you again next year!
Also a very special and well deserved thanks to the frazzled baristi at the Washington DC Convention Center’s Starbucks. You guys kept your cool (more or less) when confronted with an unseemly number of undercaffenated frequently exhausted librarians, publicists, salesmen, etc. So kudos!