Magazine article American Libraries

Special Chapter Report: Texas Does It Bigger

Magazine article American Libraries

Special Chapter Report: Texas Does It Bigger

Article excerpt

The folks at the Texas Library Association (TLA) have got to be feeling pretty good right about now. Lauded by exhibitors and librarians alike, they have again successfully carried off the country's third largest library conference and their biggest ever - 8,200 attendees in San Antonio, April 1-4.

There is a widespread buzz that no one does it better. But how do they do it? "Shhh," one Texas librarian whispered jokingly. Whatever the secret is, she didn't want anyone to know.

In fact, it was with the ambition of reverse engineering the recipe that this reporter spent four days at the 1998 TLA asking two simple questions: What do you think is so special about TLA? and What makes TLA different from other conferences? The first conclusion I reached is that there is no simple answer: It isn't a recipe with a secret ingredient, like adding rum to the sauce.

Almost everyone agrees that the success starts with TLA Executive Director Patricia Smith (who is also a member of the ALA Executive Board). "She has the ability to make everyone feel special," said one Highsmith vendor. But if Smith is a warm-hearted host, she also has a reputation for excellent organizational skills and attention to detail. "If you're going to put on a class act, sometimes you have to spend the money," she said, explaining the costs of bilingual translations at one of the forums.

For many exhibitors, TLA is the second most important library conference of the year after ALA Annual and ahead of ALA Midwinter. The amount of traffic in the exhibit hall helps explain why. In Smith's address to the TLA council she asked everyone to visit the exhibits and to "remember, there are two halls. Some of these folks spent a lot of money to come down here because they think we're important - which we are, of course - and I'd like you to give them a big Texas welcome."

Welcome wagon

Smith said she has been encouraging exhibitors to bring their large (and expensive) national booths to TLA, apparently with some success. "I just hate to think our librarians might not have access to the best there is," she explained.

Another reason the exhibit hall traffic compares favorably to ALA's Midwinter Meeting is because, relative to the comparable size of the exhibits, the number of events going on is small. TLA 1998 planned approximately 200 events; Mid-winter includes about 1,250. According to Mark Smith, TLA's director of communications, "TLA is the second-largest library trade show in the U. …

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