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2024 Public Library Association Conference Preview

by on March 25, 2024

It’s almost that time for the Public Library Association (PLA) conference, when public librarians from all over the country gather to learn about what trends, best practices, challenges, and successes are happening in public libraries. While there are many other local and national conferences for librarians, the biennial PLA conference brings focused attention to public libraries and provides opportunities for staff at all levels to network with and support each other.

This year’s PLA Conference, in Columbus, Ohio, from April 3 – 5, boasts over 100 in- person programs across a wide spectrum of topics. There are also over 20 programs available via the virtual conference. Educational programs, author events and mindfulness videos will also be recorded and available on demand for a full year, but the rest of the sessions are only available at the live conference. There is a separate
registration for each conference (in person and virtual) so participants can register for both or just one or the other.

The featured speakers are always a highlight. This year’s speakers, as described in the conference program include Dr. Joy Buolamwini, the founder of the Algorithmic Justice League who is also a groundbreaking MIT researcher; a model, and an artist, Ta-Nehisi Coates, an award-winning author and journalist; Mary Annaïse Heglar, a writer who works at the “intersections of climate change, climate grief, and climate justice” and Dulcé Sloan, one of the “sharpest, fastest rising voices in comedy.” Registration also includes access to the popular exhibit hall with hundreds of vendor booths and many free books and other giveaways. Despite the rise of digital books, physical copies of new books, sometimes in pre-release format, and opportunities to get the book signed by the author attract a lot of attention and foot traffic at the event. Be sure to pack an extra suitcase or plan to ship some conference trappings home!

The Tuesday workshops all require payment of an extra charge. Depending on your budget to pay for extra sessions and stay an extra night, there are few workshops that stand out. Libraries have been in the news a lot this year, so there are two programs that are particularly relevant. The first is “In the Driver’s Seat: Proactively Protecting Your LIbrary and Staff in Challenging Times. This panel presentation will focus on how to react to everything from book bans to bomb threats. The second is “Media Training: When Your Library is the Headline” presented by the Richland Library, will give tips and tricks on how to talk to the media and try to impact the narrative.

Wednesday, April 3 is the first day of the full conference. The first program that deserves a highlight is “Community Librari-Aid: Providing Wraparound Social Service Support through Partnerships,” presented by the Akron Summit Public Library. The summary notes that “20-
50% of households that are eligible for safety net programs do not utilize them.” Helping customers understand what support is available to them can have a profound impact on a community.

Another innovative program scheduled for Wednesday is “Creating Youth Opportunities: Libraries Serve Youth at Risk of Incarceration.” The information about this panel presentation by Michelle Hamiel, Chief of Programs at Urban Libraries Council and three colleagues from urban library systems notes that “library buildings significantly outnumber juvenile detention centers” positioning libraries as “meaningful reformative and transformative programs and services.” We often talk about re-entry but it’s important to also put emphasis on how to help young people stay on track and avoid incarceration in the first place.

It is a little-known fact that Black men hold less than 1% of all MLIS degrees. The program “Black Men in Public Libraries” will introduce a panel of Black male librarians from Dayton Metro, Cleveland Public Libraries, and Las Vegas Clark County Public Library who will
share their suggestions for diversifying the profession and supporting this population to attain leadership positions.

Over the past few years, information about trans identities has been all over the news and much more accessible than previously. Join Morrill Memorial Library staff’s presentation of “Debunking Mis-Information about Trans Identities and People to learn fact from fiction
and how to understand the research and separate opinion about transgender people from concrete scientific information.

Day 2: Thursday, April 4, 2024
Many libraries have embraced the approach of trauma informed services when working with customers. This has led some staff to ask, “What about the trauma of the staff?” The program “Stronger Together: Trauma Informed Methods and Models to Support Library
Staff,” presented by Pima County Library staff will discuss changes that can be made to bring work culture into a trauma informed model which will bring healing to staff who have been impacted by the stress of public library work. Stars in the public library world, groundbreaking Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden and PLA President, Sonia Alcantara–Antoine, will be joined by colleagues Shauntee Burns-Simpson of the New York Public Library and Roosevelt Weeks of the Austin Public Library to share their journeys and the “legacy of Black public library leadership and opportunities ahead.”

Public libraries are committed to providing diverse programming that is representative of their communities and educates customers about people they may never meet but would like to understand. Los Angeles County’s staff panel will present “Amplifying Programming
around Culture, Faith and Diversity,” sharing how to create a place for people who may be underrepresented or forgotten in traditional library programming.

Day 3: Friday, April 5, 2024
Artificial Intelligence (AI) presents challenges and opportunities for public libraries. In this panel presentation, “Activating AI Education and Algorithmic Literacy” by Toronto Public Library, attendees will learn about a variety of public programs and staff learning
opportunities around AI and how it will influence our future. Mothers who are struggling with isolation and postpartum depression often visit the library looking for a safe place to find connections for themselves and for their children. In the program “Mamas Matter: Creating Restorative Spaces in Public Libraries for all Mothers” Abby Black of Allendale Township Library discusses how to create a mom’s support group using restorative practices. As libraries continue to look for ways to meet the needs of their customers, many have turned their attention to food deserts and access to healthy, fresh and affordable food. Partnerships with food banks and other non-profits have helped address these needs. An Urban Libraries Council panel will present their white paper “Food is a Right: Libraries and
Food Justice” by explaining the “state of food insecurity and the strategic role libraries play in responding to local needs.” For a fun change of pace, consider attending “Read Romance/Fight Patriarchy” by Lincoln High School teacher/librarian Lori Lieberman. Find out why readers of romances (the most popular genre!) are often shamed and stigmatized for their reading choices, how to push back against those negative stereotypes and how to start a romance book club reading books that are feminist and diverse!

Registration is still open for the workshops, special ticketed events, full conference, single day conference, virtual conference or exhibits only. Visit placonference.org to register and for more information.