I have been attending BookExpo since the mid-1970s, when several of them were convened in California. In those days, the event was enormous. In keeping with its name at the time, the American Booksellers Conference, it was mainly a gathering of publishers and booksellers. Librarians were there in a limited capacity, but plainly treated as an afterthought. By 2017, the conference was noticeably thinner, and librarians seemed to outnumber everybody else. Now it is held in New York most years, as a nod to the fact that most publishers are found in the city.
As in recent years, there was a dual event: The first 3 days (May 30–June 1) were BookExpo, which was mainly open to industry participants, and then there was the 2-day BookCon (June 2–3), which was open to all members of the public who love books and authors. In the past, booths were set up in two wings of the Javits Center, but this year, the publishers’ booths were only found in the north wing, and the south wing was devoted to autographing areas. That solved the problem of finding wide open spaces on the conference floor to accommodate long lines.
Unlike at ALA’s gatherings, the booths were overwhelmingly there to promote books. Familiar names such as Random House, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Harlequin dotted the floor. I was told that attendees on May 30 found quite a few empty booths, since the majority of librarians and publishers were at another conference, Library Journal’s Day of Dialog, which was sponsored by the major publishers to promote their fall lineups. One visitor told me that 85% of the booths were closed that day. Many of the Day of Dialog librarians moved to the LibraryReads Adult Author Dinner at the Yale Club, where they were entertained by an eye-catching lineup of authors, including Charlaine Harris, Walter Mosley, and Andre Dubus III.
Adult Book & Author Breakfast
May 31 began with the Adult Book & Author Breakfast, featuring Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Barbara Kingsolver, Nicholas Sparks, and Trevor Noah. In spite of this level of star power, the authors were given about 10 minutes each to describe their latest book and affirm their love for booksellers and librarians. Afterward, there was a panel discussion, with each author being asked a separate question. Kingsolver was asked what she would do if she could not write novels. She said that there was no plan B in her life—this is what she was made to do. Sparks was asked if he had any partially finished book projects lying around his desk drawers. He replied that he only has one idea at a time, and does not get a new one until the current book is finished. Noah was asked about adapting to the U.S. after his youth in South Africa. He said that Americans think they have seen change, but there was nothing like the revolutionary time in his country when apartheid ended and everything was turned upside down.
As breakfast ended, the main convention floor opened up, and hordes of people stormed the exhibit hall in search of free tote bags, prepublication galleys, toys, and miniature chocolates. In past years, there were a variety of T-shirts, Frisbees, stress balls, and other swag, but this year it was mostly tote bags, although I did score a rubber duck. A few enterprising authors bought a booth to promote their single books. The floor included several stages for major programs—I went to the Interviewers-Turned-Interviewees panel, which featured Mika Brzezinski, D.L. Hughley, and Alex Wagner. Wagner talked about her quest to discover the truth about her multicultural family in her new book, Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging.
The Content Liberation Movement Session
Downstairs in the meeting rooms, there were too many good programs for one attendee to catch. I visited a session called The Content Liberation Movement. This brought to mind Stewart Brand’s phrase “information wants to be free,” popularized by Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow, a co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Two of the panelists, Renee Swank and Ankur Laroia, discussed the ways that publishers are coping with the new universe of formats and machines to read them. Swank, who is a metadata expert, says that publishers tend to see today’s works as print objects that can be adapted to other formats. The panel generally took the view that this is too restrictive for the new era of publishing possibilities.
In the Exhibit Hall
My next stop was the OverDrive booth. For the past year, I have been using OverDrive to get ebooks through my library system that are formatted for Kindle, and that has worked well. Months ago, I tried downloading OverDrive’s Libby and found it to be a quantum leap forward. David Burleigh, director of brand marketing and communication, was very happy to hear this and to share thoughts on where the year-old product is headed. He said that Libby is designed strictly for the public library market, but there is now a K–12 version called Sora.
Burleigh is very proud of Libby, with good reason. OverDrive is used in 40,000 libraries in 70 countries. Its many clients include corporate and government libraries and even in prison libraries. In an understated aside, he said that prison libraries have unique issues in getting the right devices into the hands of their patrons. While OverDrive is used in many academic libraries, it has not tried to develop a Libby-like product for colleges. As a former academic systems librarian, I would have killed to provide a product like that to my students—call it, say, “Colly” for college. But that would be well in the future.
Libby is available for Apple and Android devices, and it will allow you to switch between libraries if you carry cards from multiple institutions. Read more here.