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Getting Spicy at PLA 2024

by Jesse Cole, Simmons MLIS ‘25, Technical Services Coordinator at Greenfield Public Library (Greenfield, MA), PLA 2024 Scholarship Recipient on April 26, 2024

A highlight of my first PLA conference was the panel “Hot Ones: Burning Issues in Library Operations.” Hosted by Directors of 5 public libraries, the panel promised a rapid-fire Q+A on public librarianship’s spiciest (i.e., most controversial) topics. In addition to being playful and informal, this panel’s diversity in responses echoed one of the biggest benefits I found in attending PLA: the conference is a fantastic opportunity to find different solutions to similar problems. Hearing the panelists’ hot librarianship takes gave me a wealth of new ideas and information to bring back to my home library.

Interactivity and humor were incorporated from the moment I walked into the conference room for “Hot Ones,” which lended the panel great success. As I found a seat, panelist Anne Kemmerling of Denver Public Library handed me a bag of spicy Takis—what librarian doesn’t love snacks? Panelists also shared their favorite spicy snack from their library’s home states in opening introductions, a sweet way of sharing more about their communities and creating a relaxed atmosphere. Before panelist discussion, the audience participated in a poll that introduced each topic, the results of which were displayed on screen. This was an effective way of engaging the audience, and it was fascinating to see the room’s responses. I was surprised to see that 70% of the room did not come from a union library – this made me much more grateful and proud to be part of a union. The interactive elements also created a sense of camaraderie in the room. My neighbors and I chatted about the results of each topic and compared our own libraries. I learned that many libraries offer a faxing service – we don’t currently at my library, and having data showing that it’s a needed service is great to bring back to my library director. The panel also stayed entertaining through big audience reactions to some of the spicier topics. The biggest reaction in the room came from Kemmerling’s reveal that Denver Public Library offers up to 100 free prints per person a day. The audible group gasp that resulted from this news made me smile – only librarians could have such a reaction to printing policies.

The panelists themselves were responsible for keeping entertainment value high. The five directors, representing Washington D.C., Denver, Hoboken, San Jose, and Tacoma, were some of the most confident and passionate librarians I heard at PLA. Each panelist had a great sense of humor and was unafraid to address controversial topics like drug use in libraries, security, MLIS requirements, and more. The libraries represented are all from bigger systems than my own library, which is in a town of 18,000, and I enjoyed learning how larger systems approached similar problems to ours. I was particularly inspired by Tacoma Public Library’s Narcan policies. Director Amita Lonial shared that the library’s Narcan vending machine had been a huge success, and that they’d administered over 1,000 doses through the machine since it was made available to the public. It was exciting to hear that such a “spicy” offering has had success in their community, and I look forward to creating more overdose prevention services at my own library. “Hot Ones” was one of many opportunities I received at PLA to hear from the biggest innovators in the field, and I’m so grateful for the panelists’ honesty and passion for public librarianship.

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