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Camaraderie, Reignition, and Actualization at PLA 2024

by Kimberly Clayton, Branch Manager, Monroe County (GA) Library, PLA 2024 Scholarship Recipient on April 15, 2024

I applied for the PLA Scholarship for the experience of attending the conference for the first time; I left the conference with so much more. I began my conference experience by attending the pre-conference workshop, “Media Training: When Your Library is the Headline”. I looked for a lifeboat to save myself and my library from the unchartered waters of censorship and the consequent never-ending media campaign. More than the fantastic tips, tricks, and knowledge offered by Tamara and Anika, I was embraced by the fears and frustrations of my fellow public librarians in this workshop, which turned into a safe space for us to gain some power over our library’s true story. Tuesday was about realization.

Wednesday, I attended an informative and eye-opening session, “We See You: Programming for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities”, that shares the joys and motivation behind facilitating unique programming for an often-forgotten group of patrons. I learned how to structure programs, use proper verbiage, and initiate outreach for the IDD community. Wednesday also pushed me to the limits of my comfort when attending the “Radical Supervision: Applying the Teachings of Black Liberation Leader to Management” session. I sat at a table and discussed the nuances of leadership by and for black library workers and examined how we can use radicalism to become better managers, librarians, and advocates. This session opened my eyes to the desires of librarians nationwide to decrease the inequity and lack of diversity in the profession and its policies, hiring, and practices. The opening of the exhibits was full of energy and excitement. The band was a great touch (*chef’s kiss*). Also, attending the Scholarship Meet and Greet allowed me to meet with other fortunate librarians and library students like me. Wednesday was about camaraderie.

Thursday morning, I learned how to foster cultural diversity and acceptance through baby times. I listened to the work and goals of an Anti-Black Racism group. For lunch, I had a fantastic conversation with an archival librarian about censorship and how it affects queer librarians. However, the highlight of the conference for me was the “PLA President’s Program: The Black Librarian in America”. I listened to the words of the Librarian of Congress as she listed the accomplishments of black librarians past and present and emphasized the importance of the work we do, even as such a small minority in the profession. I mentally devoured every word of the panelists, each highly accomplished librarian, as they candidly shared their paths and experiences as black librarians in America. I lamented with my fellow librarians in the room as they shared their less-than-optimal experiences and sought motivation and advice on how to excel and overcome environments that wanted them to fail so clearly. I, in my hesitance, shared my story at the microphone, pleading for some form of motivation as I have been in a war for equity in materials in my own branch. I entered this program unclear of my future in libraries, ready to surrender and admit defeat. I left this program feeling reenergized, strengthened, and ready to reclaim my place as a librarian with a newfound network of librarians of all backgrounds behind me. Thursday was about reignition and emboldening.

The fun came to an end Friday. However, I attended a session focusing on teens, which will help my library tremendously. I will be able to take back information to aid my teen specialist in not just catching but keeping teens’ interest in our community. I gained insight into more effectively injecting diversity into our collection development, ordering, and organizing, which will be extremely beneficial for me as a manager. I learned an innovative method of engaging patrons through Lit Kits. The greatest surprise of the conference was the exclusive discussion with Mychal Threets for the scholarship recipients! I ended my conference experience at the Closing Session with sincere inspiration from the current PLA President and transparent laughs and words of truth from Dulcé Sloan. Friday was about actualization.

I could never have imagined the impact this conference would have on me. I can imagine the impact my knowledge will have on my library. I know this was more than a conference; it was an experience. But more than that, it was a necessity. I cried, I related, I questioned, I hugged, I held hands, I encouraged, I was encouraged. This conference transformed into a haven for so many librarians on the brink. This conference was about transparency, enlightenment, and apperception. This conference was the beginning of a revolution. Thank you, PLA!

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