See You on the Bookshelf

10. The Librarian Conference


[ keys jingling ]
[ door opening and closing ]
[ footsteps down stairs ]

Jack: These sounds you hear are of me leaving my apartment at 7:30 in the morning, this past Thursday.

[ car arriving ]
[ door opening and closing ]
Jack: I’m pretty good, how are you?

Jack: I was going to the airport. I was flying out for TLA.

[ airport announcements ]

Jack: That doesn’t stand for “tender love and affection” – it stands for the Texas library Association.

Gate Attendant: Can you scan it for me?
[ scanner beeping ]
Gate Attendant: Okay, you got it, Mr. Cheng. Thank you.

Jack: Every year they have a conference.

Pilot Announcer: – your responsibilities on the safety information card –

Jack: That’s right, a librarian conference. In Texas.

Pilot Announcer: – if you are unable to perform the functions please contact –

Jack: The big cities there take turns hosting it. This year, it was in San Antonio.

Pilot Announcer: – departing for San Antonio air shortly –

Jack: My flight out from Detroit was delayed for a couple hours. I get in around one in the afternoon.

[ taxi arriving ]
[ car door slamming ]
Jack: – going to the Grand Hyatt.

Jack: I check into my hotel.

Hotel Greeter: Hi, welcome to the Grand Hyatt. You have luggage in the back?
Jack: Nope.

Jack: Which was right next to the convention center.

Hotel Clerk: Your wifi is complementary. There’s no password or access code –

Jack: This week, on the podcast: what happens at a librarian conference.

Curren: TLA is the second largest library conference in the country after the American Library Association conference. As far as state conferences go, it is the best place to go to get continuing education, meet up with vendors, network with colleagues – just expand your profession.
I’m Curren McLane. I am a public library director in a small city of Azle, Texas, right outside of Fort Worth. And I love my job. I love being a librarian.
I think the biggest thing is a lot of people don’t realize is that there’s an actual Masters degree you can get to be a librarian, and that we’re not just people who have just a little job that’s part-time. We are just as serious about our job as teachers and doctors and every other major profession out there.

Jack: Curren here is also a part of the conference planning committee.

Curren: You get selected by the TLA president – whoever’s president that year. There’s about 30 people and we meet for about a year and a half, and we plan a lot of the sessions, we arrange for speakers … And that’s been my favorite part because I’ve been able to really pick the sessions I know if I was attending that I would want to go to.

Jack: And like any professional conference, there are also workshops and keynote speeches; in the main exhibit hall, there are booths with vendors, all catering to libraries and librarians.

[ crowd noises from exhibit hall ]
Deb Gobel: This is Deb Gobel and I’m here with Junior Library Guild, and we’re a collection development service that deals with just new-release first-edition books that go on to win awards. So the best of the best books. We place our books and categories according to genre and grade level, so it’s easy to aid in the collection development of your library throughout the year.
Rhonda Pike: Rhonda Pike, I’m a retired librarian, but now I work for Southwest Book Company and we are here at TLA selling mostly the author-signing books. So if librarians need a book, they can come to our booth, get it, and go to the author signing.
Steve Orlando: I’m Steve Orlando, I’m the chief executive officer for CoLibri Systems North America. CoLibri is a book-covering system. It can cover a book within 15–20 seconds. So I know you’re looking at us with a surprise and saying, yes, it’s quick. It is – it gives a great efficiency improvement for librarians that spend probably three to four minutes covering a book; we can do it in under a minute.
Jack: Yeah. And you have a nice display here of books, that then –
Steve Orlando: Yes. And it’s great and you know, the Texas show – it’s probably my favorite show, because the people are so genuine. You can sit down and you can talk to them and they’re so nice. And you know, they’re very genuinely interested in the exhibitors here, so it’s a great show.

Jack: As you can imagine, there are a lot of librarians walking around at this thing. I saw a pair of women wearing shirts that said, “Keep Calm and Ask a Librarian”. There was also another group that had shirts saying, “Librarians: we make shh happen.”

Jack: Say your name and what you’re doing here at TLA.
Jan Sikes: Okay. Hi, my name is Jan Sikes and I’m an author. And I am at TLA to tell librarians about my books. And I also belong to the Texas Association of Authors, so I’m also here to support that organization and that group.
My books are all true stories. They are written about a Texas musician who had made quite a name for himself in 1970. He was arrested and convicted on two counts of armed bank robbery and sent to prison. It is ultimately a love story, and it took four books to tell it. But the other unique thing that I do is I release a music CD with each one of the books that matches the time period of the season.
Gabriel Ransenberg: My name is Gabriel Ransenberg. I’m a teen librarian in Austin – at the Austin Public Library. And I’m here at the Texas Library Association with The Van Show, where we use a puppet to interview authors – picture book authors and teen book authors – about the things that they’ve written and the things that make them human.
Jack: And what would Van say in this situation?
Gabriel: [ laughter ] It’s hard to do Van without having him on.

Jack: So at this point, Gabriel put his puppet Van on and we talked about Van’s cats.

Catherine Stier: Hi, my name is Catherine Stier. I am a member of the SCBWI Southwest Texas chapter. We are greeting librarians and letting them know about our speakers bureau, and this resource allows the librarians to look up perhaps their particular region and see what authors are close by, what illustrators … it lets them know who’s out there, what their books are about, and who’s willing to come and speak at their schools and libraries.
Jack: And what does SCBWI stand for?
Catherine: The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.
Ryan Lindee: My name is Ryan Lindee and I’m with PolyPrinter, and we’re here at TLA because a lot of the libraries are introducing maker spaces. So they’re gonna allow their patrons to come in and use 3d printers and laser cutters and, you know, tools and hardware that people don’t usually have around the house. So we’re here because we manufacture 3d printers and that’s a perfect fit for maker spaces.

Jack: And here, once again is our planning committee member, Curren McLane.

Curren: That whole thing about libraries, you know – that they’re dying in the future – that’s so old. Now it’s like, we’ve got this exciting future with innovation and we can take it any direction we want to.
David: It makes me want to sing. Shoobie doo-wop wop.
Jack: Are you a singer? Do you want to sing –
David: No, I just have a sense of humor, that’s all. [ laughter ] David Martinez, with South Texas School Furniture.
What’s real popular right now are maker spaces and club furniture – pub height, cafe-type of furniture. So there’s a big shift in getting some of these old school districts to have to a higher education look and feel. You know, devices are very big now, and a lot of these old spaces, they have 30-, 40-year-old furniture and it’s not inviting. So when you change up the space and bringing in colors, and bring in areas where you can charge your devices and actually have collaboration, it helps to have the right furniture there.

Jack: There were software companies that do databases for libraries, educational games, and of course, publishers showcasing their books and authors. And that’s also why I’m here at TLA; it’s not just to record an episode for the podcast.

Curren: I mean, I think from a librarian standpoint, we’re the ones who, when people don’t know what to read – they come to us for advice. So it’s really nice to see authors who are passionate about their work. When I see a book on the shelf – okay, it may be great, but coming to like a conference like this and getting to meet authors like you, I get to hear like, oh, this is great because you know, 8-year-olds who maybe have dyslexia would be really good at reading it. Or, you know, 12-year-olds who love science fiction. Seeing that passion, we can pass it on to our readers.
Venessa: We come to Texas because it is the largest state library conference in the world, actually. There are about 7,000 librarians that attend this conference and they come for professional development, they have this really robust programming for authors to speak on panels, like the one that you’re doing today.

Jack: This is Venessa Carson, and she’s one of the people responsible for me being here at TLA.

Venessa: My name is Vanessa Carson and I work for the School and Library team at Penguin Young Readers. We’re a six-person team and I specifically do conference planning for conferences that teachers or librarians attend, and also events with our authors. So I’ll plan dinners, cocktail parties, pretty much any events to get attention on a book and get teachers and librarians in the same room as our authors – so that they make a personal connection.

Jack: And a great example of this was that the night that I got into San Antonio, there was a cocktail party with all the Penguin Random House authors at the conference. We all wore different colored cowboy hats, we introduced ourselves … there was even a scavenger hunt where the librarians were moving around the room and every author had the answer to a different question.

Venessa: We don’t go to every single state for conferences, but there’s huge book buying opportunities in Texas because there’s the Texas Blue Bonnet Award, there’s the Lone Star … different awards that help to get books on state reading lists so that teachers have an idea of what is coming out and what they should be introducing their students to.
Yesterday, someone said to me – who’s not a part of this conference; he’s not an author – said, “Wait, you’re at a library conference? Like, people still go to the library? I thought that was like a dying thing” – which is really like, a stab in my heart. [ laughter ]
But you know, so many people go to the library because they don’t have a computer at home. People go to the library because they want to interact, and if you’re older and you’re retired, you can be part of a book club. If you have a toddler, you can go to story-time. The library provides something new and different for several age groups. Many people don’t really know that that’s at their fingertips and it’s free. But a lot of people do know.
And people are reading more than ever now, especially kids. I know when I was growing up, YA wasn’t a thing, but now kids are gobbling it up. It’s amazing to see people read and then see the movie, you know?

Jack: So Venessa and I recorded this when we were waiting outside a room for one of my panels to start. That same afternoon, I did another panel, and then a signing in the main exhibit hall where we gave away dozens of copies of See You in the Cosmos to attending librarians. At 6PM, not even a day-and-a-half from when I landed in San Antonio, I was headed back home.

Jack: All right, so where are we right now?
Kate: We are in the San Antonio International Airport, sitting on the floor.

Jack: So when I was getting my bags from the hotel, I ran into two Penguin editors I’d met the day before. They were going back to New York, but it turned out that we had the same connecting flight through Atlanta.

Kate: I’m Kate Meltzer. I am an assistant editor at Putnam Books for Young Readers.
Marissa: I’m Marissa Grossman. I’m an associate editor at Razorbill Books for Young Readers.
Jack: And is this your first TLA for both of you?
Both: Yes. Yes, it is.
Kate: My first conference and my first TLA.
Marissa: I’ve worked some consumer-facing conferences. I’ve done Comic-con, stuff like that. But this is definitely my first librarian conference and it’s really fun.
Kate: Yeah. We knew we were going to be busy, and that proved to be incredibly accurate. I feel like the whole week was just a blur, start-to-finish.
Marissa: Yeah. On our feet the whole time, sometimes working in the booth and hand-selling the books and letting the librarians know all about our different books at Pengin Young Readers. And then, sometimes at panels and signings and sort of doing all that. So constant movement.
Kate: Yes. Now I feel like my expectations are very high going forward, because everyone said TLA is the best. But now this is my benchmark for what conferences are supposed to be like. And everyone was so nice.
Marissa: Yeah. Librarians are very enthusiastic – apparently it’s specially Texas librarians. My understanding is, from a few authors that I talked to, that libraries around the country – librarians around the country – really look to Texas to be their beacon. And Texas librarians are a very tight-knit community and they’re very hardworking and very enthusiastic. So it’s been – it was impressive.
Jack: So these events are organized by the School and Library marketing team at Penguin.
Kate: Yes.
Jack: And so how does it work in deciding who gets to go and what –
Marissa: I think they put a call out to all of us, to whoever can put all hands on deck, for the different imprints. A lot of the publishers, either they’ll come themselves or they’ll send their staff. In my case, I had two authors – I’m a Razorbill editor and two of my authors were here at the conference, Emily Henry and Nikki Loftin. So it made sense for me to be here to see them. And I’ve said this a bunch of times, but especially Emily – who I worked very close with, and we’re on the phone a lot and we email a lot – we’ve never actually met in person until this conference. So I was kind of chomping at the bit to be here and get to meet her. So it was nice.
Kate: Yeah. I think it’s dictated by, you know, also who has been at a conference recently. I think they try –
Marissa: Rotating it out a little bit.
Kate: Yeah, rotating it so different people can go. But also who’s actually attending in terms of the authors and who they work with.
Jack: Do you do much traveling otherwise for authors and tours?
Kate: I don’t.
Marissa: Yeah, not really. I mean, obviously our School and Library group travels all the time because they go to all these conferences, but for the most part we don’t. Which is sort of why I’ve never really met Emily Henry in person. We work out in the New York office, and we edit and we write our letters and we do all our stuff …
You know, it’s 2017. Technology is fantastic and you can do all that, but I don’t really travel much.
Kate: Yeah … no, it’s a lot of desk work or coffee shop work.
Marissa: And a lot of around-New York stuff, you know, book launches and parties and dinners and agent lunches and stuff outside of the office. But none of it’s traveling and it’s not meeting as many people on the ground as librarians and readers. The only interaction I really get with fans and readers is occasionally when we have book signings and book launches and parties around on-sale for books. Otherwise we don’t really get to engage with the consumers the way that our marketing groups do.
Kate: Which is part of why these conferences I think are so fun, because we actually get to see authors engage with the readers. And for us, even just seeing the readers and how much they appreciate the work –
Marissa: It’s always nice, I think, in any industry to hang out with the people you work with outside of the corporate atmosphere. So to be at a conference with – obviously we know all the School and Library people and we see them all the time in the office, but it’s very different, you know, to see them in their element certainly. They’re so great at this, and to watch them and to hang out with them and have dinner with them … it’s nice to see people outside of the office and get to know each other as people and not just colleagues.
Kate: Yes.
Marissa: So that was nice to be with everyone. We had the Penguin Random House family dinner last night, and that was really cool to have everyone – you were there.

Jack: And that’s one thing I haven’t mentioned yet. After that cocktail party the first night, we had a dinner with all the Penguin Random House authors and staff. I got to meet my fellow Dial authors – Victoria Jamieson, Jon Agee, Bryan Mealer … I also met authors like Ruth Behar and Marie Lu and Jennifer Niven, who actually blurbed my book.

Kate: You guys are kind of like an extended family, too. Like cousins you never get to see or something.
Jack: Yeah.
Marissa: I love that it’s called “family dinner.”
Kate: Yeah, yeah.
Marissa: It’s perfect. Did you wear your hat or did you just hold your hat?
Jack: I wore my hat for the most of it.
Kate: I heard the hats were kind of uncomfortable, so kudos to you.
Jack: All hats are uncomfortable to some degree.
Marissa: I mean, yeah, way to be a team player, some people don’t wear their hats –
Kate: Well, straw can be very uncomfortable.
Marissa: Yeah true.
Kate: As a material, I don’t know that that’s the most –
Marissa: Then there were some authors who were wearing their hats and I was like, your hat kind of goes with your outfit. It doesn’t look like it’s a costume for this party. You look like you could be wearing a cowboy hat right now. So that was cool. Some people just can pull anything off.
Kate: I’m thinking about things that I would do differently next time, and everyone warned me to bring comfortable shoes. I cannot overestimate –
Marissa: Bring comfortable shoes.
Kate: Yeah.
Marissa: We’re both in massive amounts of pain right now.
Kate: I’m happy to be sitting here right now.
[ laughter ]
Marissa: I cannot wait to get back to New York and go get reflexology on my feet, which are like – I figured I wouldn’t be able to feel them at this point. So they’d be like, no, and you’d be like, whatever. But no, they’re like, throbbing. So we’re – yeah, we’re in pain. Definitely in pain.
Kate: Crowding our thoughts at the moment.
[ laughter ]

Jack: Shortly after we recorded that, we got onboard the flight. Kate and Marissa went back to New York. I came back here to Detroit. I ended up getting in just a little past midnight.

[ plane lifting off ]

Jack: Thanks very much to our planning committee member, Curran McLane. Also: Venessa Carson and the entire School and Library team at Penguin Young Readers. You guys rock. Thanks also to Kate Meltzer and Marissa Grossman for the TLA hot take. See You in the Cosmos is available now at your local public library. And if it’s not there, you can go in and ask your librarian to order it. They’re a friendly and enthusiastic bunch – especially the ones in Texas.

And remember: You can not overestimate comfortable shoes.

Marissa: I mean, I thought I was wearing what I considered to be probably the best-case scenario of shoes.
Kate: Yeah, I thought I had comfortable shoes. No – now I’m ready to just go out and buy … what are those awful rubber things that Mario Batali wears?
Jack: Crocs?
Kate: Crocs. Now I’m ready to go buy a pair of Crocs.
Marissa: I don’t think you can really walk around TLA wearing Crocs though.
Kate: But what if they were black Crocs?
Marissa: No, that’s not good.
Kate: Could I hide them?
Marissa: No.
Kate: Never mind.