This April, my library sent me to the Texas Library Association Conference, held in Fort Worth. I was lucky to be able to attend three days, Wednesday - Friday, though I did have to miss Neil Gaiman on Saturday (it was my Saturday to work, unfortunately).
This was my first time attending the TLA conference, and I was definitely interested to see how it would differ from the ALA conferences I've attended. After talking to some colleagues, I received kind of mixed reviews - in terms of the exhibits and signings and authors in attendance, it was pretty equal to the national conferences. In terms of the programs and sessions, it was a mixed bag - most talks seemed to be geared toward specific audiences or were sessions with authors broadly discussing their works. So, I'll admit - my expectations were pretty low.
Even with such guarded expectations, I felt mostly disappointed with the conference. Wednesday afternoon was the start of the conference, though the exhibits didn't open until late Thursday morning and the selection of sessions on Wednesday was pretty paltry. I find my colleagues were mostly right about the sessions - I had gone through the scheduler and picked out things I thought sounded interesting and relevant to my job at the library, anything to do with books or programming for tweens (with some children's and teen stuff thrown in here and there). The majority of the programming-focused sessions I attended seemed geared toward school librarians, which is fine, but not necessarily relevant to my job. A number of the sessions I attended featured authors - once again, fine, but several of these were billed as programs that would have the authors discussing ways to use their books in programming and exactly none of them actually did this. I went to a few sessions on new and upcoming titles for tweens and teens and I think there was maybe one book that I didn't already know about. Now, that might be entirely my own deal, considering how obsessively I follow book news, but still, I expected more. I'm not sure I took notes in any of my sessions - that's how useful they were to me.
Obviously, one of my favorite things about attending conferences is visiting the exhibit hall and snagging advance copies. I use these for collection development purposes, reading things I'm on the fence about to decide if I want to order it, as well as just reading things so I have a better idea of what kids I can recommend it to. We also use these advance copies as giveaways at programs and for summer reading prizes. The exhibit hall for this conference just seemed a little off. The hours didn't really seem to mesh well with the conference schedule (though maybe that was just me). Additionally, I didn't visit the exhibits for the first time until later in the afternoon on the first day and by the time I got there, a lot of publishers were telling me they had already run out of copies of some titles. On the first day? Really? I am incredibly grateful that publishers bring these copies of books to librarians, giving us a chance to see what new and exciting things they have coming. But this time around, it just didn't seem like they planned it terribly well.
I love talking to the reps in the publisher booths - this is the only interaction I really have with these people, and I like knowing what titles they are excited about, what titles they are really trying to push, and what hidden gems they can introduce to me. I'm going to come right out and say it - some publishers are better at this than others. The reps at Bloomsbury have consistently been awesome to me, taking the time to chat about what they have coming. One of them even recognized my name from winning a giveaway they had on Facebook - I think that's awesome! Also, the St. Martin's Griffin folks are always lovely - I bug them every time I see them about Amy Kathleen Ryan's Sky Chasers series and they handle my pestering graciously. Similarly, the Abrams reps always seem genuinely excited to interact with you - I've never had a bad experience with them and though their booth is small in comparison, they make up for it in personality. The ladies at Candlewick were also wonderful this time around, letting me know about an event with Patrick Ness at ALA Annual that I am super super beyond excited for. And it is not just the smaller publishers or divisions - there were lovely reps at Disney, Scholastic, Penguin, and Houghton Mifflin (one rep at HMH gave me her card and sent us some Mustache Baby bookmarks after the conference - so wonderful!).
But if there is one publisher that I have had consistently bad experiences with, it's HarperCollins. I have now attended three different conferences with exhibit halls, and I have seen the same reps for HarperCollins at all of them. Every time, these reps have been lackluster and, often, downright rude. TLA was no exception. I stood in the booth for at least 15 minutes, looking over the galleys on display and waiting for someone whose eye I could catch to engage in a conversation. I was ignored that entire time, despite there being 4 reps standing in the booth. They were chatting with each other and ignoring me and any questions I may have had about what they had to offer. Similarly, one of my colleagues was visiting their booth at a different time and inquired if they had any teen galleys she could take back to the library. She was told no. While she was still in the booth, another conference attendee came to the booth, one whom the reps knew, and that attendee was immediately presented with some galleys. When the rep noticed my colleague still standing there, she handed over one title reluctantly. I am not saying that I expect every publisher to have billions of galleys available for everyone who asks, but I do expect them to try to talk with me and let me know what books they have coming that might be a good fit for my library. The reps at HarperCollins are never friendly or engaging and, honestly, they make me not want to visit their booth at all.
Overall, I was underwhelmed by my TLA experience and I don't think I'll plan on attending next year. I would definitely like to see some improvement in the sessions and programs offered at the conference.