ALA Annual Conference Recap

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Last weekend I ventured to the "Big Easy" to attend the American Library Association Annual Conference (ALAAC) and receive my finalist award from the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world. The ALA annual conference took place June 21-26 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, in New Orleans, LA this year. As stated on their website:

No other event in the world offers a better opportunity to learn about current issues and trends in library and information science and technology than the ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition. Throughout the conference, attendees participate in events, hear inspiring speakers, and learn from thought leaders and colleagues at more than 500 programs and in-depth sessions. Topics covered include digital content, innovation, the library of the future, transformation, emerging trends, best practices, community engagement, leadership, and many more. You will also have an opportunity to visit more than 800 vendors in the world’s largest library-focused exhibit hall, each highlighting new services, technologies, books, and products to improve your library and support your personal career development.

Here's a day-by-day recap of our experience!

 

FRIDAY:

Highlights:

  • Receiving my finalist medal from Indie Book Awards

  • Getting a signed advanced reader copy of Imposters by Scott Westerfeld

  • Eating alligator for the first time

New Orleans welcomed me and my friend/assistant Heather with humidity that made Texas look tame, cooled by a jazzy French-American culture that quickly won my heart. Our excitement and – to be honest – anxiety bubbled as we entered the convention center for the first time Friday morning. Already, a line had formed to see Michelle Obama speak hours later, and everywhere we looked there were adorably nerdy and passionate library professionals that made use feel right at home.

The hardest part was picking which sessions to attend, as countless were happening all at the same time. (Not to mention some were on opposite sides of the building, which took a good fifteen minutes to walk across!) To start, we sat in on Library Con 2018, hosted by Penguin Random House, DC Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and IDW, where we picked up a few upcoming sci-fi and fantasy ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies).

Next, we attended an ALAAC orientation for newcomers like ourselves, hosted by New Member Round Table, where we networked with other professionals in the industry and got to ask questions about the conference. Following this, we caught the Young Adult Library Services 101 session to become more familiar with the organization.

 

Before we knew it, it was time for me to leave for Hotel Monteleone, where the Next Generation Indie Book Awards reception took place. There, I received my finalist medal for A Whitewashed Tomb and got to meet other award winners, the competition's judges, and renowned library professionals such as Marilyn Allen, who has over 25 years of sales and marketing experience, including serving as Senior Vice President, Associate Publisher, and Director of Marketing for Harper Collins and directing sales and marketing teams for Simon & Schuster, Penguin Books and Avon Books.

While I was away, the conference opened its exhibit hall, where more than 900 exhibiting organizations, multiple pavilions, and stages featured the hottest authors and numerous related fun events. My dear friend Heather was kind enough to visit the booth of Scott Westerfeld, author of Uglies, on my behalf. I was disappointed that I couldn't meet him myself, but when Heather handed me a signed copy of his soon-to-be-published novel Imposters, I was too happy for words.

Tired from a long first day, we decided to go out for some local cuisine at a place called Mulate's, where we ate alligator for the first time and crawfish etouffée. Both were delicious, and the experience was enhanced by the sound of live cajun music that lured many a happy couple to the dance floor. The sun set on a great first day, and we slept like rocks.

 
 

Saturday

Highlights:

  • Touching a Mars rock at the NASA booth

  • Listening to Sally Field speak

  • Bowling with YALSA

Saturday morning I felt the beginnings of an oncoming cold (sickness loves to have the worst timing), but we didn't let that dampen our spirits. We started the day with a book buzz by the HarperCollins Library Marketing team, which presented forthcoming titles for Fall 2018 and Winter 2019. Once again, we left with more ARCs, and on multiple occasions had to drop off bags of books in my car. (Our arms got so strong over the weekend!)

Between sessions, we spent some time wandering the exhibit hall and added to our collection of books. I got to see Meg Cabot, the author of Princess Diaries, and touch a Mars rock at the NASA booth.

Catering to our nerdy-ness, Heather and I then attended a session by LibraryReads called the Best in Sci-Fi Fantasy Authors, where we heard from four upcoming authors about their new books (which, of course, we added to our stockpile). Skipping out early, we caught Sally Field's interview about her recently published memoir. What a woman!

To end the day, we met up with the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) for a networking event at a nearby bowling alley, where we kicked back, got to know some of the librarians there, and I showed off my terrible bowling skills. 

 

Sunday

Highlights

  • Meeting Ransom Riggs

  • Exhibiting A Whitewashed Tomb

  • Mass at St. Patrick's

By Sunday, Heather and I were very tired – but this was the most important day, because it's the day I shared my novel at the Exhibit Hall! First, however, I jumped in line to meet Ransom Riggs as he signed Map of Days, his newest addition to the Miss Perigrine's Home for Peculiar Children series. This was an awesome moment for me, because I read the first of that series while I was writing A Whitewashed Tomb. I was so glad to have the opportunity to tell him how his skillful story-telling raised the bar for my own description writing.

After a couple hours of wandering around the exhibit hall, I fetched my materials from the car and set up at the booth of Headline Books, who graciously invited all the Indie Book Awards winners and finalists to showcase their award-winning titles. Heather did a fabulous job of spreading the word about A Whitewashed Tomb, attracting all the dystopian-lovers in the hall; and my fellow authors and I chatted and shared stories between signing copies of our books for the various ALAAC attendees. 

We stood posted there for three hours, then wrapped up and said goodbye to our new connections. Being good church-going Catholics, Heather and I then drove to the nearest church that had Mass that evening. It happened to be at St. Patrick's, a gorgeous church with an amazing choir, stellar homily, and vibrant community! What a lovely way to end the day.

The weekend flew by and it was sad to leave the convention center. Still, we had one more day of exploration to look forward to! ALAAC would continue on Monday, but as most of the sessions were closed meetings, we decided to hit up New Orleans as unabashed tourists for our final day.

 

Monday

Highlights

  • Beignets and gumbo

  • St. Louis Cathedral & Cemetery

  • Live jazz in the French Quarter

After catching up on sleep a little, Heather and I made our way to the French Quarter, which felt very much like wandering the streets of Europe! Mule-pulled carriages clopped along beside us as the distant sound of trains echoed from the riverside. Our first stop was Café Du Monde, where we tried beignets (French donuts) for the first time. It was love at first bite. 

Next, we got a tour of the St. Louis Cemetery, famous for its massive above-ground tombs. Our quirky tour guide had an array of fun facts to share, including a few that may have ruined gravy for me forever (I'll spare you the decomposition lesson). Pictures did not do the cemetery justice. It was a massive labyrinth of history and culture, well worth the sunburn we were left with.

In desperate need of cooling off, we sat inside St. Louis Cathedral for a bit to rest and pray. The soft sound of Gregorian chant paired with crisp air conditioning was a tranquil repose from the blazing Louisiana heat and city noise. When we were slightly less sweaty, we braved the outdoors again and made our way to the river walk, where we watched the Natchez Ferry as it pulled away from the docks. 

We sat beneath a shady gazebo for a while until the promise of food lured us to the "world-famous" Gumbo YaYa. Once again I anointed my palette with New Orleans cuisine that I'd never tried before, and though I'm still not quite sure exactly what it was that I ate, it was delectable.

Lastly, I followed my ears to some live jazz at a bar called Bamboula's, where the Leroy Marshall Band covered classics like "A Wonderful World" and "L.O.V.E." After a beer or two I found myself chatting with the lead singer about the power of music. Creatives have a way of touching each other's souls wherever they chance to meet.

We took the trolley home and so concluded our first trek to the delightful city of New Orleans. After some heart-to-heart conversation with our hostess, we slept.