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PLA at National Association of Counties Conference

by Larra Clark, Public Library Association, lclark@ala.org on July 24, 2018

PLA staff and members brought the voice of public libraries to the Smarter Counties Summit: Technology Driving Innovation and broader 2018 National Association of Counties (NACo) conference in Nashville July 12-16. Following the theme of NACo President Charles Brooks, the event focused on issues related to serving the underserved. The summit and conference provided a great opportunity to talk about the value of public libraries, to hear from technology experts, and to network for the future.

PLA’s newly renamed Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships Committee has identified NACo as a high-priority partner for expanded engagement and relationship-building. Others include the National League of Cities, the International City-County Management Association (ICMA), and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This approach aligns with work public libraries are doing across the country to create and develop mission-aligned partnerships to better serve our communities. Committee members identified these groups as national associations with significant impact on issues important to libraries, including local public library funding and engagement, as well as those in which PLA members often participate directly. PLA also partners on key initiatives like early literacy, family engagement and health.

Three PLA Messages

  • With nearly 17,000 public library locations, libraries serve as information and technology hubs and constitute essential community infrastructure to support education, employment, and empowerment.
  • Public libraries are amazing partners. County executives are engaging and should engage public libraries in advancing community priorities—particularly in relationship to new e-government efforts that drive many people who lack technology access or skills to our doors.
  • Public libraries are innovators that are reaching increasingly beyond our physical footprint, whether through wi-fi hotspot lending or pop-up library services.

Three Takeaways for Libraries

The conferences also are opportunities to learn, of course. There was a lot of great content over several days, but three things that seemed particularly of interest or use to libraries include:

  • Discussions about data sharing for policy and practice was a key theme for the Smarter Counties Summit. As more public libraries use Project Outcome resources and other data collection and analysis tools, how might libraries use data with other government and community partners to make and track progress on key concerns? I would have loved to hear even more from Della Jenkins at Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy about targeting interventions based on bringing together public service data about where families are falling through the cracks (e.g., homeless students in Mecklenburg County, N.C., or public housing lead exposure impacts on kindergarten readiness in Cuyahoga County, Ohio).
  • PayPal talked about reaching and serving people who are “unbanked,” or lack access to traditional financial services. More than 30 million Americans are financially underserved and may spend up to 10 percent of their income on fees at non-financial institutions (e.g., pay-day loans or check-cashing services). “It’s very expensive to be poor in this country,” said Barry Murphy, head of government relations for Americas, PayPal.
  • A lively conversation about substance use prevention and education, including the difficulty of training and measuring outcomes. Panelists included Livestories CEO Adnan Mahmud and a principal at RSM, which focuses on case management. The “person-centered case management” approach seemed relevant for looking across different systems to identify and address gaps (including those that libraries may impact).

Five Shout-outs From County Executives

A particular pleasure being out on the road talking about the amazing work of our members is hearing more about all of your work from your own elected and appointed government leaders. At this conference, I heard shout-outs and appreciation for library directors and staff at the Charleston County (SC) Public Library, Libraries of Stevens County (WA), Cochise County (AZ) Library District, Anderson County (SC) Library System and St. Charles Parish (LA) Library. From hosting critical community conversations to helping government leaders better understand the debilitating impact of the digital divide to hosting and promoting innovative public programming, county leaders spoke to the power of libraries.

Through our outreach to NACo, Nashville Public Library Director Kent Oliver also was a featured speaker at a panel sharing how counties can prepare for the 2020 Census. The session clearly positioned libraries as leaders in this work that directly impacts federal representation, federal funding, and data that informs public service delivery and business planning.

What would you like to share with or learn from NACo members as we continue our work together and look at issues of mutual concern—ranging from the opioid crisis to supporting a fair and inclusive 2020 Census? Let us know in PLA advocacy interest group (PLA member log-in required) in ALA Connect or email me directly at lclark@ala.org.



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