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#BEA11: Charade Classes, Robot Librarians, and Women Writers, Oh My!

Panelists at the second annual 7x20x21 event at BEA posed more questions than they answered about storytelling and the future of libraries.

By Erin L. Cox

BookExpo America

If you are on Twitter and are tapped into publishing circles, you likely know Kobo’s Ami Greko (@amiwithani) and FSG’s Ryan Chapman (@chapmanchapman) who organize the, now annual, 7x20x21 panel at BookExpo America.

Unfortunately, I was running a few minutes late and missed my former New Yorker colleague and CLMP Spelling Bee winner, Ben Greenman’s presentation, but it was for a good reason…I was having a meeting with the publisher lauded by the Vida Report, which was central to the next speaker’s presentation (Rachel Rosenfelt, editor of The New Literacy) about the role of women in literary criticism and publishing (and which I also missed). 

This year’s panel seemed less about answering questions and more about posing questions (and reveling in schtick). Perhaps I am biased because our own Edward Nawotka was on last year’s panel, but I felt like last year posed more information for publishers and booksellers to take away and use in their business/life. You can read my article here about it here. Though I found it less informative, it was awfully entertaining and provided a laugh in the middle of a busy day.  But on to a recap from this year:

Ben (I’m told) and experimental artist Misha Glouberman were hilarious when talking about charting and the best way to ask a question…just posing a statement and raising the pitch of your voice at the end doesn’t mean you are asking a question. If people can pass out that information at any future events I’m at, I’d appreciate it.

Kevin Smokler, VP of Marketing for Byliner, brought up a great point, but didn’t really tell us how to solve it — we are great at telling people what to read but not why (isn’t that what book critics do?). Going along with that idea, Aaron Shapiro, CEO of HUGE, discussed how to change the consumer/customer experience for this digital generation which, I think, would require the industry to do a touch more market research than we’re doing now and that might influence the “why” of reading in a way that would help us.

Speaking of reading and what readers want…we can say that they love Jennifer Egan and Colson Whitehead, the only novelists on last year and this year’s panels. Last year, Jennifer Egan speaking on new ways of storytelling through PowerPoint for her now Pulitzer Prize winning A Visit from the Goon Squad was slightly more informative than Colson Whitehead’s Gen Forms infomercial, but not nearly as funny. If you don’t follow Colson on Twitter (@colsonwhitehead), you should, he’s funny almost all the time (no pressure, Colson).

I think the most interesting aspect of the panel, for me, was Rita Meade’s examination of the future of libraries. After Seth Godin’s decree this week that librarians should stop being clerks who “guard dead paper,” it begged the question what is it that librarians do and what is their future? Clearly Godin has not been in a library or know any librarians…but that’s beside the point. Meade and Godin ask the same question: Do libraries have to be more tech-focused in the future?  Who will collect and guard the past if not librarians? Meade judged a contest that asked kids what the future for libraries might be (that they thought there was a future was wonderful!)…robot librarians, flying desks and iPads for everyone, and a library on a spaceship were some of the answers.   Ah, the future looks bright.

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