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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Non-fiction book fair

Yesterday I had my final speaking engagement. It was at the Non/Fiction Book Fair, at a large hall just opposite Gorky Park. The traffic is USUALLY bad in Moscow, but it was particularly crowded around the fair. There were two incredibly long lines outside the building to buy tickets. But as a speaker, I already had one.

I dropped by the coat check room (most building in Moscow seem to have one -- the legacy of cold winters) -- then went upstairs. Peter from the Embassy introduced me to Americans from the company Foreword Reviews, who represent many small and independent publishers. They knew about Douglas County Libraries because they'd met some of our people at the recent PubWest conference in Colorado.

One thinks of such fairs as industry gatherings. But apparently there are so few retail outlets for books that the Moscow citizenry just swarms the place. Almost every space was elbow to elbow. A lot of book buying was going on -- really more of a consumer event. I've posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook.

Peter took me to a large gathering space downstairs, where there was a stage, a large projection wall behind it, and serious amplification. When I walked in I was offered a lanyard with a radio device and earpiece. This was for simultaneous translation. The speaker before me was talking about Internet filtering and copyright, and the dangers of taking a wide open space and turning it into a series of walled enclosure. He may have been German (the hosts of the conference, as it happens) but he was speaking in English.

When he finished, I met Gelmiza Andrey, CEO of Knigabyte, Russian Digital Publishing Expo and Conference. I gather he was one of the main conference organizers. He told me that I'd be part of a panel with three others: a Russian publisher, a hardware and content distributor called Wexler (, and another site ( that's a kind of mix of social networking and content delivery. I went first as a speaker, for about 30 minutes. Then the Wexler and Koogi folks went, then we all took questions. In brief, I would say that the Russians are quite as sophisticated and tech savvy as we are, but there appear to be two large differences. First, there seems to be in Russia no ubiquitous ereading device (although I sure saw a lot of iPads). Wexler is marketing such a device, based on Android, if I got that right. Second, there appears to be no widespread Digital Rights Management standard or systems. So the market for econtent lags that of the US by quite a bit, and nobody seems to be making money at it. Meanwhile, consumers are learning that stealing the content is childishly simple.

Getting the simultaneous translation was interesting, but kind of sloppy. When a few questions were directed to me, I really couldn't make sense of them. I did track down a few people afterward, and Peter quickly made both sides clear to each other. These Embassy people are pretty darn good. other questions seemed to be along the lines of "is the library really that busy or interesting to the public?" Oh yes.

In my closing remarks, I said that I think there are three phases to gearing up for the digital publishing revolution. First is infrastructure: we need to develop software to host and deliver the content. This can happen very quickly. Second is relationships: the opportunity for new partnerships between authors, publishers, vendors, and libraries. Third is marketing: we need to find ways to encourage good writing, then promote the works through greater discoverability, and engagement with readers. But there is a place for the digital book.

When that was over, Gelmiza Andrey took up to see his "techmedia" exhibit. The idea was to assemble various "modules" to promote digital literacy. He showed me a terrific display screen (which I'll try to patch in here later) that would be put, for instance, in a park or cafe.

It's a very different style of display than DCL has been using, and I found it attractive and inviting. Then he took me to a children's area, which though small was populated with whimsical furniture (bean bag chairs and book/magazine trees, with the books ingeniously strung up to wire),
listening and viewing stations, and a live video studio of kids talking about books, then immediately having the video streamed on large panels around the room. It was delightful. We exchanged cards, and I would very much like to get this guy to some American library conferences. The sense of play and exploration was palpable. We haven't really talked that much about technology in the children's space, and this was genuinely promising.

Finally, I came back to my hotel, had dinner here, and spent the rest of the evening packing and reading. Naturally, I now seem to have the beginning of some kind of a cold, due no doubt to a persistently interrupted sleep cycle. I'm ready to go home.

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