Monday, January 10, 2011

On the Topic of Bloggers at ALA

Prompted by some chatter on Twitter (and, oddly enough, Tumblr) about the number of non-librarian bloggers at ALA and how/if this is a problem, I decided to share my thoughts on it. Because, as someone who is a blogger and was at ALA and did get a lot of books, I have many thoughts and I've been trying to organize them in my mind...

I am not a librarian. I don't work in a library, I don't work with school library programs or anything like that. I'm a blogger, aspiring writer, and future elementary teacher. That being said, I wish there were guidelines for bloggers going to ALA. Because honestly I had no idea what to expect. I've never been to a book conference before and went into it almost on a whim, figuring things out as I went. I've been blogging for three years but I still feel like a "fringe" blogger, like I'm not really in the midst of things. I like this, but it also means that my blog is smaller and doesn't have a huge readership. I'm not one of the "big bloggers" by any means and sometimes -- especially at an event where so many of the people are in books professionally, it does sort of put you on a lower level and the expectations can definitely be confusing.

It would be great, I think, if there were some guidelines or even a discussion of what's expected at ALA for book bloggers who aren't professionally involved in the industry. Should we introduce ourselves as bloggers to the publicists we take ARCs from? Should we not keep the ARCs for ourselves but instead donate them to libraries/programs after reading them? What are the rules? 

Because here's the thing: blogging is not something I make money from. It sounds corny to say but people who blog regularly about books really are doing it because they love it and they love books. Sure, some people get into blogging in the hopes of getting "free books," but a blog will not survive if that's the motivation. Anyone who's been blogging regularly for six months, a year, or more, is definitely putting out the effort. (I just switched over to blogspot, but I've been book blogging for three years.) As people who love books, bloggers don't want to be on the naughty list of anyone in the publishing or book industry -- not authors, not publishers, editors, publicists, or librarians. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I think it's safe to say that if there are guidelines regarding bloggers and ALA, we will follow them.

But there are no guidelines.

Some suggested general rules for bloggers in the future, based on my experience at the midwinter meeting?

  • Be upfront about the fact that you're a blogger and not a librarian. Talk to the reps at the booths you take ARCs from; everyone I talked to seemed pretty psyched about the blog and more than happy to talk to me and share books/ARCs with me.
  • Be selective about what you take. Amazingly enough with all the books I ended up taking home, they were all titles I was very interested in and fairly confident about liking. I didn't take any highly-recommended fantasy or paranormal ARCs because it doesn't interest me and that would just be a waste.
That seems pretty reasonable to me, but then again this is only my opinion and I have no idea what others might think or expect. The thing is that "greedy" is hard to define and as a blogger who absolutely loved ALA, got a lot of ARCs I'm super excited about, and met tons of awesome people it does make me feel a bit bad to have people think I shouldn't have been able to attend as a blogger. It really was an amazing and incredible experience.

So, readers, what's your opinion? And what are you -- blogger? Librarian? Reader? Author? INCREDIBLE PERSON MADE OF AWESOME AND WIN?

(and yes, my recap post is still on its way...)


  1. This was my first ALA but I have been to BEA for the past three years and often felt the same conflict...most people at BEA want to do business and I won't be buying any books...but I WILL be talking about them. The attitude in the industry has really changed towards bloggers.

    I feel that if librarians are concerned about bloggers at the meetings, they should address this issue with whoever organizes the conference and not on Twitter or blogs. Chastising people publicly and in thinly veiled ways only leads to resentment, not healthy positive change. If librarians are truly concerned about the number of bloggers at their conferences, they should make those concerns known to the people who have the power to actually make decisions and change things. It's like complaining about how much food someone else eats at your friend's dinner party.

    I didn't think there were many book bloggers there, to be honest! Only a handful of us.

  2. Amy
    WHAT A GREAT ANALOGY!! It is a lot like complaining about how much food someone else eats at your friend's dinner party.

    & I do feel like addressing it on Twitter/blogs isn't enough but since the person who originally tweeted her unhappiness was someone I had met at ALA I sort of felt like I should address it.

    &&& YEAH, I didn't see many other bloggers either. But I'm so glad I got to meet you finally. :)

  3. We weren't many and the six or so I saw were respectful and asked for everything and talked to ever publicist. I am sad because I had such a positive experience.

  4. Pam
    I also had a VERY positive experience and wish this hadn't come up as an issue.

  5. Great post! I wasn't there but I think this is an interesting topic. I think, as you said, airing your frustrations with it on Twitter and elsewhere isn't the place to do it. It creates an us vs. them mentality. Clearly it's not a problem if ALA allows bloggers to be there.

    I'm already nervous for BEA. I'm a newbie (blogging 6 months) and I'm nervous because I've heard of how some bloggers did some no no's in previous years. I have a feeling that I'll be fine. I'm 25, professional and don't feel the need to take ARCs that I don't plan on reading just to be cool and give them away. lol. But still, as you said, there are always those unknowns going into something like this for the first time and it's hard to know what to expect. I know I'm going to make sure I network and let them know who I am and be polite and gracious to be there. That's the only way I can go into it without knowing :)

    Great post!

  6. I'm with Amy on this one. I remember after ALA in Chicago (I wasn't there) a few years back there were complaints about bloggers. And I've seen other industry professionals look down on bloggers (all after the fact usually) who go to BEA. They complain they take all the books...but just go to the shipping area right before close and there are HUNDREDS of books that have been discarded by those same industry people. Books that will then most likely be tossed in the garbage by the cleaning crews.

    I was at ALA-MW last year when it was in Boston and publicists loved that I was a blogger and wanted to talk about their books. Some pushed more books into my hand when I asked about a particular title/genre then I wanted or could even read. Those books I'd pass on to others I saw at ALA_MW or to other bloggers after ALA-MW.

    I think that people just like to complain and since there are no standards for bloggers that they are an easy target. Bloggers are up and coming in the review world and I know that other bloggers are my source for when I am looking for new books. Bloggers not only help spread the word of new titles to other bloggers but so many are also active in their local library - passsing on ARCs or to suggest good titles to their librarians who weren't able to go to a book conference like ALA and whose library may not get sent ARCs from publishers.

    I think that as long as we bloggers maintain a professional attitude at book conferences and don't hide that we are a blogger (not that anyone would we'll show those doubters and naysayers that we do care passionately about books and the industry.

  7. Jamie
    I think there is definitely a little more information out there for bloggers about BEA compared to ALA, but I'm sure (like you said) the same concerns are still there. I was also very careful to be professional (if you can be professional and fangirly at the same time... lol) but with so many unknowns it's still hard to tell if I've made any faux pas. I definitely think that (as you said) making it known that you're a blogger is one of the best things to do.

    As Amy said above, I definitely see the attitude towards bloggers changing... for the better. But still, we're an easy target as there's no standards for blogging, we haven't gone to school for it the way librarians do, and there's such a wide variety in the quality of blogs. That said, my experience at this midwinter ALA was about the same as yours -- pretty much everyone I spoke to was very excited to talk to me when I told them I was a blogger.

  8. Personally, I don't think there should be any issues with bloggers at ALA. I mean, I am a blogger and a librarian, and this was my first ALA, and yeah, I took a lot of books (they pretty much told me to; anything I looked at they wanted me to take!) and I won't be able to read all of of them, but I do know people who will, and they will talk about them, and they will tell other people about them, and the books I read I will tell people about, and even if all I can ever do is just tell the author I loved the book and can't convince someone else to read it, well I've at least made one person happy. Two actually, since both of us liked it. And of course sometimes I get lots of people to read a book, and that feels fabulous. My blog doesn't have the vast number of followers that many blogs have (but I'm working on it!) but word of mouth works too. And personally, I think bloggers have just as much right to be there as anyone else. I brought my friend who isn't even a big reader along just so she could see what it was like and maybe get her interested in reading some books, and she picked up a few and is interested in some more. And one of the big ideas of a library is to provide access to books to people affordably. So why should it be any different at an ALA Conference?

  9. Anni
    Thanks for your comment! I think we had pretty similar experiences re: taking ARCs at the booths. All of the publicists I talked to wanted to share books with me and a few suggested books I hadn't asked for/weren't out on the tables. I love what you pointed out about the big ideas of a library and extending that idea to ALA and bloggers. :)

  10. I think there are always going to be people who will find something to complain about. I also think that there is always going to be the one or two bloggers out there who will give all bloggers a bad name by grabbing as many books as they can even if they know they won't read them. Yes, I got a lot of books but I spoke with the publicists, was up front about who I was and I tried to be selective in what I took.

  11. As a librarian and blogger who was at Midwinter and aware of this issue unfolding, here are my thoughts:

    Librarians don't have a problem with bloggers coming to ALA and getting free books. We LOVE it when people read and we LOVE it when people share that love of books by promoting the books to others. I think publishers love those things, too.

    And librarians can get fangirly, too, so I don't think there were any issues (that I'm aware of) with actual behavior at the conference.

    However, if you're not taking books home for your library (teen groups, teachers at your school, other departments who were not able to attend the conference, prizes for kids at your programs, etc.), I think it's reasonable to expect that bloggers only take what they will realistically be able to read and blog about. I'm not saying that you have to read/blog EVERY SINGLE BOOK you take (as a blogger I understand that sometimes you start reading and a book just isn't doing it for you). But if you're taking amounts of books that far exceed the number you will actually be able to read, you're taking books out of the hands of librarians and teens who are at the conference. We witnessed YALSA teens at the conference on Sunday who were unable to find the books they wanted because all the copies were gone.

    A rule of thumb, perhaps? Think about how many books you read last year. If the number of books you're taking is over half of that amount, I would think hard about whether you're realistically going to be able to read them.

    I think one point of contention is bloggers that grab tons of books for free at the conference and then offer them up as giveaways on their blog. These are books that could be going to librarians and teens. In a giveaway, there's no way to know if those books are going to actual teens. If bloggers want to offer giveaways, I'm all for that, but I think that's something that should be arranged outside of an ALA conference (i.e. by contacting the publisher separately, etc.). Picking up multiple copies of ARCs at ALA just to give them away on a blog is, again, taking books out of the hands of teens and librarians who might have no other way to get ARCs.

  12. This is an interesting conversation. I am a non-librarian blogger who was lucky enough to go to ALA Annual in DC this year. I was warmly recieved by both librarians and publishers and at no time felt any waves by my presence.

    So hearing this conversation start immediately one of the thoughts that jumped to my mind was purpose. What is the purpose of the blogger being there?

    Is it to get loads of books? I didn't just walk in for a day, hit up the publishers and grab everything I could. Sure, did I get some books? Absolutely. Was it the only thing I did? Absolutely not. Further, to Abby's point -- I only took what I knew I could read and review and I certainly didn't grab multiple copies to send to friends who weren't there. I knew that I didn't want take too much away from those that need access more than I do.

    Or is the purpose for being there more about education and educating? I know that when I went this summer I attended many of the educational sessions -- conference programs that make me a better blogger (I hope). It was also in these sessions that I was able to meet and network with librarians and hear what they are looking for in blogs that help them with their work. Ilike to think I'm a more valuable contributor to the profession after hearing what they had to share with me.

    I'll also add, that I've actually joined the ALA and YALSO memberships. Again, there are so many valuable resources and relationships to be built that make me a better blogger, a better advocate for reading/ya literature, and frankly a better reader myself.

    I can't remember where I saw this comment made in the past day or two but it definitely resonated for me. I'm paraphrasing -- "ALA is not a *book* event, this is a professional event for librarians." While I'd like to be able to attend ALA events in the future I know I wouldn't be offended if the membership addressed the issue by restricting blogger access. In the end, BEA really is the most appropriate outlet for a blogger to make connections with the publishing industry.

  13. Abby
    Thanks so much for your wonderful comment and insight from a librarian's perspective. Perhaps two more guidelines should be (as suggested by you):
    **Don't take more books than you will realistically read.
    **Don't use ARCs recieved at ALA for blog giveaways.

    I actually only went to the exhibits, but even there there was a LOT to be learned by talking to publicists and librarians. I do agree that it's a good idea to have a purpose in mind when going to ALA (or BEA for that matter) and though there doesn't seem to be a purpose stated by ALA for letting bloggers attend, it's good to have a reason in mind for yourself.
    I definitely love that ALA is open to people other than librarians but agree that we should remember that it is, first and foremost, a professional event for librarians.

    1. Why do you think ARC's shouldn't be used for giveaways? Just curious - cause we usually do giveaways with ours AFTER they are reviewed. It is usually with our Debut Authors - by doing the giveaway we are actually getting more hits on that post and promoting that author to a wider range. We have not had an issue with the author or publishers - they know we do this. I do agree that arc's shouldn't be picked up with the soul purpose of giveaways.

  14. I'm a blogger and have yet to attend any ALA as none of them have been local (I did go to BEA the last couple of years and plan to again) and the taking extra books for contests topic came up amongst bloggers after BEA too - especially books that had been given out in strict limited quantities (1 a person) and somehow people got extras for contests. I don't think it's bad to grab a 2nd copy for a blogger you know will review it if they have lots of copies (I was actually encouraged to do this a couple of times when I had friends waiting on other lines), but I don't think it's right at all to grab tons of extra books you don't plan to read, and I hope most bloggers wouldn't do this.

  15. Professional or not - when at a convention you should always act professional and be selective. When you hold yourself to that standard - publishers will notice. Rules sounds like a good idea but then someone is always going to break them, and unfortunately that will just cause more drama. I have learned in my 3 years of blogging…it is full of drama. Which I do not understand, we all love books, we all want to share that love, so what is there to fight about?

    My whole issue with this ordeal is that although ALA/TXLA whatever is a Liberian convention ANYONE (blogger or not) can pay the fee and walk in and get ARC's. So, I don't think the main issue is with bloggers getting arc's I think it has to do with a very small amount that get very greedy and the rest of us bloggers are lumped into the group. Personally, I have never had an issue with telling Liberians, teachers, anyone else that we blog. They usually want to know more.

    I have attended 2 big conventions BEA and TXLA - BEA was my first and it was a very overwhelming experience. TXLA was laid back and a lot different - we always introduce ourselves as bloggers and a lot of the times publishers know who we are and will just give us ARC's without us asking, because they want us to promote that book or they take our card to mail them to us later. Sometimes the publishers limit us to two or three - sometimes you have to purchase a book to get the arc the publisher is promoting, or get in a signing line and make a donation. It just depends on the convention. I know on one of the days at TXLA – it was teen day and for most of the day, teens took precedent over Liberians and authors. This in my opinion was an awesome thing for them to do.

    – Amber(Pixie) non –Liberian blogger.