For the editor of Reference Books Bulletin, and in fact for anyone involved in any way with reference publishing, an ALA conference can be a sobering experience. The recent ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim was no exception. On Friday evening, I attended the Books for Youth Forum and got a face full of fun (excited audience, upbeat speakers). I didn’t have a chance to go to the Adult Books program on Saturday, but you can read Keir’s post about it to see that it was a thoughtful discussion about books and ideas. In contrast, the standing-room-only Reference Books Bulletin Editorial Board program (The Future of Electronic Reference Publishing: A View from the Top) on Monday morning addressed the hard, cold question we’ve been grappling with for the past several years. Is print reference dead? Short answer, yes. In fact, we’ve moved beyond the old print vs. electronic discussions. Now, the discussion seems to be more about reference databases vs. Wikipedia and Google. At the program, as I listened to top executives from Gale, Oxford, Britannica, and Sage talk about their next big challenges, I got a sense that digital reference publishing has moved out of its infancy, and is now in adolescence, poised for change and faced with many outside pressures and alluring possibilities, while the parents try to maintain some semblance of control, while not seeming to be hopelessly out of step.
Despite the generally downbeat mood over the past few conferences, there are in fact plenty of exciting things going on in reference publishing, and you’ll be hearing more about these in upcoming issues of RBB. As for me, I’ve reached the acceptance stage in the process of grieving over print (though I do feel nostalgic for all those big, resource-wasting, self-limiting, instantly out-of-date books it used to give me so much pleasure to browse through). One consolation is that some day, with your e-reader tucked in your bag, it’s very likely that you’ll be hearing “is print dead?” discussions at the Booklist Books for Youth and Adult Books programs.
RBB Editorial Board Chair Sue Polanka, who moderated the RBB program, has posted some reports about it on her blog, No Shelf Required, and is also working on a write-up for Booklist Online.