Chicago Crowd a Record

ALA's executive board calls this conference a spectacular success.

July 27, 2009

We expect to close the revenue/expense gap in ’09,” said James Neal, chair of ALA’s Budget Analysis and Review Committee, “but the conference revenue picture will be critical.” The Annual Conference saw an attendance bump-up in Chicago, he noted today at the final meeting of the ALA Executive Board, but the final numbers will tell.
To begin the telling, Conference Services Director Deidre Ross then reported the latest attendance stats, saying that Annual Conference had 22,762 registrants, along with 6,179 exhibitors, for a total attendance of 28,941, possibly the highest ever. These are not final figures, Ross added, but they are close. At 106% of budget, “which is excellent,” she said, $2.1 million dollars was projected, so the numbers mean roughly an additional $120,000. Ross also noted that 60 people paid and registered for the virtual version of the conference that ALA offered for the first time this year.
Ross noted that exhibiting companies had rented 12% less square footage, which will affect advertising and commissions from hotels.  High attendance does not automatically translate into high net revenue because much depends on attendees’ fee-levels, as well as the cost of doing business in the various conference cities that ALA visits.
Asked if major software vendors like Adobe have dropped out of the exhibit hall, Ross told the board that they have never really been there in significant numbers. “We have to work out a sales pitch for that kind of group,” she said. “It’s general software, but they are not going to come to a library conference. They have their own conferences.”
The Executive Board’s general perception of the conference? In the final analysis, no matter how much revenue it generates for ALA, Chicago was a spectacular success.
Opening with Hefner
Opening General Session speaker Christie Hefner drew a clear parallel between businesses and libraries in terms of what they need to do to survive. She noted how, as Playboy CEO, she came to the conclusion that the company “didn’t want to be a magazine company—we wanted to be a company that represented a style of content.” That led Playboy to expand to television in the 1980s, the internet in the 90s, and mobile devices today.
Libraries, she said, can not simply fill the traditional roles of providing books and research materials. Hefner suggested several ways libraries can and are moving beyond those roles, including the online distribution of materials, instantaneous translation of materials, bridging the digital divide, and partnering with both for-profit and non-profit entities. “Who could you partner with to make having and using a library card really cool?” Hefner queried.
She reminisced about the founding of the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards, which grew out of the magazine’s 25th anniversary celebration in 1979. As part of the anniversary, the magazine bought the papers from the trial of John Peter Zenger at auction and toured them around the country, inviting students to enter an essay contest on what the First Amendment meant to them. At the end of that year, the award was founded.
“Over those three decades, not surprisingly, we honored a number of librarians,” she said. “Extraordinarily heroic people, and we got to know them through the close working relationship with the ALA, the Freedom to Read Foundation, and Judith Krug.”
Hefner called working with the Foundation the best perk of her position as Playboy CEO. “For me it was more fun doing banned book readings than to go to the Playboy Super Bowl Party,” she said.
Citing Iranian citizens’ recent use of Twitter and Facebook to get out information that the government wanted to repress, as well as the six states where gay marriage is legal, Hefner argued that the digital revolution has generally made society more tolerant of diverse viewpoints. But she also observed that there’s as much effort to ban information as there ever was.
“I found that the way to respond to those is to be sure you’re true to what you believe,” Hefner said. “I would argue that the way to do that is to spend less time thinking about what you’re doing and more time thinking about what you represent.”


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