Once again, librarians of all sorts are converging on Our Nation’s Capital, for the 2019 edition of the ALA Annual Conference and Exhibition!
ALA was last in DC in 2010, which is when I attended my first Annual Conference. I knew a few people from comics, and a few from publishers, mostly because I had attended the Book Expo America trade show, as well as various and numerous comic cons across the country. As a library student (1994) and librarian, my focus was always comics and libraries, even before there was widespread acceptance in the library and bookstore markets.
Back in 2010, librarians, especially those serving teens, knew how popular comics were. Those serving kids were on the cusp, but that would take a few years as publishers like Scholastic, First Second, and Random House tested the market with titles that appealed to younger and beginning readers. That year’s annual conference seemed to be the beginning of a shift within ALA, as there was a small graphic novel area on the show floor, and numerous panels scheduled throughout the conference. (ICV2 reported on those plans in 2010.)
The next year’s conference in New Orleans tested the concept of an Artist Alley, where comics artists could exhibit and sell merchandise directly to librarians! (You can read my post from 2011 here.) The next year, in Anaheim, the program was expanded and made permanent, so that every year since, there has been a GraphiCon at the annual conference, with a dedicated program stage, an Artist Alley, and a nearby pavilion featuring lots of graphic novel publishers (as well gaming companies)!
Librarians have long known that comics are a gateway drug to literacy. On June 14, 2002, a day-long pre-conference, “Get Graphic at Your Library”, was held, featuring talks by Neil Gaiman, Colleen Doran, and Jeff Smith, as well as presentations by many comics publishers. That tradition continues this year, with Penguin Random House once again hosting “Library Con” and ALA will sponsor “GNCRT Friday Discussion Forum: Social Justice and Comics”, both on Friday.
Friday night is the opening reception for the show floor, running from 5:30 to 7:oo PM. There are numerous booth signings scheduled, but the main draw is the food and drink offered!
Immediately after, most of the cool kids head over to ALA Play, which is sort of a mini science fiction convention. The Games and Gaming Round Table sponsors this event, which runs from 7:30 to 10:00 PM, as well as the Gaming Lounge on the show floor. ALA Play features a variety of games, plus other cool stuff like Maker and STEAM demonstrations, and maybe even an escape room!
Saturday and Sunday, the exhibits floor has normal hours from 9-5, then closes early on Monday, at 2 PM. During that time, the Graphic Novel & Gaming Stage hosts speakers around the clock. At the rear of the exhibits hall is Artist Alley, showcasing many great comics creators! Plus lots of other stages and pavilions catering to various interests! Lots of author signings at publisher booths! Raina Telgemeier, Jon Muth, Gilbert Hernandez, Marc Siegel, Brian Selznick, Dan Santat are just some of the superstars who will meet-and-greet librarians and fans this weekend!
Saturday morning, the GNCRT (see below) hosts a Comics Breakfast, where publishers meet and chat directly with librarians about what they like and desire. It’s not all publisher reps…there are numerous creators attending as well!
Saturday night is the ALA Will Eisner Graphic Novel Grants for Libraries Reception. Each year, the Will Eisner Foundation selects three library recipients, awarding grants for Growth, and Innovation. The reception is a great way for all the cool kids to meet and chat.
NEW THIS YEAR!
Last summer, at the New Orleans conference, the Graphic Novels & Comics Membership Initiative Group became a Round Table, allowing for the collection of dues, better organization, and a greater presence at ALA events! Search here for the many events sponsored by GNCRT! Most of these sessions and meetings are open to any registered attendee, so feel welcome to come meet the members! (We might even give you some exclusive badge ribbons found nowhere else!)
After the exhibits floor closes at Two on Monday, things wind down, although the conference continues through Tuesday. Six days of meetings, panels, networking, signings, receptions, and more!