En route to the Charleston Conference, an important U.S. event, it occurs to me that I should write something about the American Collective Stand, which has made our international conferences go so smoothly. I was introduced to Janet Fritsch and Jon Malinowski at an American Library association conference two years ago, and we did our first show with them in October 2006. Since then, weâ€™ve been to Beijing and to Frankfurt again and Iâ€™ve come to appreciate how easy theyâ€™ve made our early days in international trade. Jon and Janet are brother and sister, and they travel the world together enabling smaller publishing companies and service providers to do their business without the hassle of shipping, customs, and set-up.
Iâ€™m not saying that excellent customer service is unusual in the publishing, bookselling, and library world, but by and large itâ€™s not what weâ€™re known for. ACS, on the other hand, has been nothing but superb, with prompt follow-ups, regular information, and a gentle willingness to walk a newbie publisher through all the steps. On the floor, they and their staff are always ready to help, answer questions, and do whatever they can to take care of practical matters so we can get on with deal making.
And itâ€™s hardly a surprise that they understand guanxi! Jon and Janet started going to the Beijing Book Fair last year and have the kind of flexibility and curiosity that makes things work in China. Weâ€™re already talking about ways to encourage publishers to start exploring the world of Chinese publishing, and theyâ€™ve been enthusiastic about Guanxi: The China Letter. In Beijing they hosted a dinner one evening for the ACS participants that was one of the highpoints of the trip, and Liz and I still laugh about how they gently tried to explain to a group of Indian gentlemen that they were a private firm and not representatives of the U.S. government.
Finally, for anyone who happens to read this and doesnâ€™t know about the Charleston Conference, I have to give it a plug, too. And not just because it takes us to a charming southern city in November. The Charleston Conference is an amazing enterprise, inspired and informed by Katina Strauch, who also edits Against the Grain (this makes her my boss, I guess, as Iâ€™m guest-editing the next issue). The conference is dense with discussion of all kinds of seriousâ€”and serialâ€”library issues, many of which I donâ€™t understand, but Iâ€™ve been told that what keeps people coming back is the chance to talk with colleagues in a wonderful, informal environment. Charleston is no longer a small conferenceâ€”heading towards 1,000 attendees, much larger than most of the academic conferences I go toâ€”but it remains congenial because of the people who organize it and the serendipity that the Francis Marion Hotel allows. You never know who youâ€™ll bump into around a corner or in the lounge. Charleston is a key event for librarians from universities and special libraries, and Iâ€™ll do my best to record impressions and capture some of the discussion and debate of the next couple of days.
I was on Skype for a few minutes at the airport this morning and got a message from Shanghai, â€œYou must be happy about whatâ€™s going on.â€ I had a moment of disconnect, then realized that my Irish friend too was watching the U.S. election returns. Yes, I am happy, though, for the record, Iâ€™m not a great fan of the Democratic Party either. I think what bothered me most was the Republicansâ€™ declaration that to vote for the other party was siding with terrorists. Respect for other peopleâ€™s opinions is one thing that is fundamental to our democracy, and a statement like that about other reasonable, responsible people is un-American. As W.E.B. Du Bois put it, writing about town meetings in the Town Hall across the street from our offices, “Gradually as I grew up, I began to see that this was the essence of democracy: listening to the other man’s opinion and then voting your own, honestly and intelligently.”