Every year, the Spanish speaking world descends on Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico for the FIL - Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara. For the past 9 years, the American Library Association has worked with the FIL to provide scholarships to US librarians to attend. This year, I was one of the lucky ones.
My dean prompted my colleagues and I to apply this summer. Being as how, I enjoy traveling and learning new things about library world, I decided to apply. Much to my surprise, I was selected to attend. The scholarship included registration for the FIL, 3 to 6 nights in a hotel (depending on whether you were willing to have a roommate), 3 breakfast coupons, and $100 towards airfare.
As the dates approached, the listserv setup for participants began to spring to life. Librarians from all over introduced themselves and questions regarding vendors and what to expect began to fly. Personally, I learned of a handful of people that were going to be on the same flight as I and even someone that was willing to assist with my virtually non-existent Spanish skills.
After various travel woes, I arrived in Guadalajara the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I ended up with a wonderful roommate who not only had been to the FIL before and could give me tips and hints, but also knew how to make a telephone call state side. She made me feel at home and gave me a preliminary scouting report.
Most of the people that I met at the FIL were selectors and purchasers of Spanish language materials for their libraries. The areas of the US I found represented were Virginia, all of California, Arizona, Maryland, Illinois, Texas and then me from Arkansas. Although I am sure there were more, I was amazed by the thought of the increasing need for Spanish materials throughout the country.
My 1st day at the fair (Sunday) was OVERWHELMING. I was in a foreign country and completely out my normal library element. As I ended up explaining several times over the course of 5 days, I am a systems librarian. I neither knew Spanish nor had any collection development duties. My charge was to be a scout and to determine how and with whom to establish vendor relationships. Boy, did I have a lot to learn.
My first impressions of the fair were awe and dismay. I was struck by how many people were interested in attending a BOOK FAIR. Here in the US, I can’t imagine anything short of a Rock Concert attracting this many people. None of the vendors were interested in speaking with me. I began to wonder why I had come all this distance for something that wasn’t even really my job. Thankfully, there was an orientation session on Sunday evening which put things in perspective.
I learned several things in that session. First, Monday – Wednesday 8-5p is reserved for professionals. All other times the general public is permitted entrance. So that morning, I had been amongst the masses and seen firsthand that the Spanish speaking countries tend to be highly literate or at least have a literary awareness that is unheard of in Arkansas, if not the whole US. Second, regulars had spent the weekend scoping out the fair to give us hints, tips, tidbits, and finds at various booths. I took notes as one gentleman rattled off all of the big name players in field and explained that most of their items would be available from book jobbers. Thus, it was advisable to go by their booths and make laundry lists of those titles we were interested in. Third, another woman gave advice as to how to approach the fair in general. She encouraged us to focus our search on the population we were purchasing for, to work with a jobber, to use the Salon del Libros for suggested titles since they were picked by collection specialists by public, school, and academic librarians, and finally, to pace ourselves and stave off overwhelm in any possible fashion. Finally, the session broke into library types. I attended the academic session and was amazed. The two speakers had scouted the fair for specific kinds from small publishing houses and authors. They gave a list of booths to not miss, a breakdown of who accepted credit and who didn’t, specific titles that were key in the various disciplines, and again, be focused in your search. After this session, I felt much more grounded and was able to proceed with my scouting tasks the remainder of the week.
Many of my fellow librarians were of assistance throughout the week. The experience and interaction with colleagues actively involved in this area gave me many new concepts to be understood when dealing with collection development. They included dialectal differences in Spanish, why come to the fair at all (very limited book runs, amongst other things), how selective book jobbers can be about their vendors, what questions to ask a vendor (fill rate, shipping, publishing houses worked with, timeline for order completion, and more), and a fraction of the political/social dance that is done in maintaining vendor relations.
In addition to the intensity of the work at the fair, ALA strove to ensure that we took time to socialize and network. Two major events were held, the Grand Gala on Sunday night and the reception hosted by the US Consulate on Monday night. Both events allowed for decompression and exchange of those rare finds found during the course of the day. I am truly grateful that ALA-FIL took as much time as they did to intentionally orient and organize us. I feel that my perspective on the world of librarianship has grown tenfold through this experience. I know in college, they always wanted to graduate “well-rounded” individuals. I believe that this experience has gone one more step towards making me a “well-rounded” librarian. So, although I am merely a systems librarian, I hope that ALA-FIL allows my attendance in the future and continues this program so that I may encourage others to participate.