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Highlights from PLA2024

by on May 8, 2024

Author signings, ARCS (advanced reader copies), words of wisdom, therapy dogs, swag, and a rabbit- what could be better? Everyone who attended the 2024 Public Library Association conference in Columbus, Ohio will have different highlights to share. I attended all three days and had a fantastic time.  My only regret is that I couldn’t attend more sessions, because of overlap.

The opening ceremony started on an upbeat note with a live rendition of Kool & The Gang’s Celebration that got folks out of their seats. A stellar speech by Shola Richards followed. A self-professed “kindness extremist” who promotes civility in the workplace, Richards spoke about the African concept of Ubuntu, which means “I am because we are.” Before acting, he says, ask yourself: “Is it kind, is it true, is it necessary?” Richards also spoke about the need to prioritize mental health and advised us to take breaks and vacations and #getatherapist. “The only people who will remember that you didn’t take vacation twenty years from now will be your spouse and kids,” he quipped.

Afterwards, we poured out of the main hall to the individual sessions. Below are a few of my personal favorites, including pithy quotes from each that stuck with me.

  • “Making National History Local: Using Digital Primary Sources to Bring History Home” presented by Library of Congress (LOC) educator Danna Bell, looked at LOC online resources for public librarians helping with local history research. Many collections, from Chronicling America digitized newspapers to Sanborn fire insurance maps and panoramic photos, are available for all 50 states. Bell also reminded us that LOC is the home of copyright– check out their digital resources on that topic, and feel free to ask a librarian
  • “Your State Library: A Resource for All” included representatives from three state libraries (Ohio, South Carolina, and Washington) discussing resources they provide for public libraries. They administer the Talking Books program, circulate STEM kits, and can provide advice for working with government officials and creating policy. They also covered what they do NOT provide- advocacy work. State libraries offer grants: Some are non-competitive – just apply!
  • Libraries remain a critical bridge across the digital divide, but some people are still being left behind. “Digital Navigators: Digital Inclusion in Action” explored how we can better support digital equity in our communities. To get help, people need to feel safe, to be seen, and to feel that help is abundant (not scarce), according to the panel, which included Lo Smith, Luis Delos Santos, and Benjamin Reid. Consider joining the National Digital Equity Alliance (NDEA) to learn more about becoming a digital navigator and/or training librarians in this role.
  • It was standing room only for the presentation “Stronger Together: Trauma Informed Methods to Support Library Staff.” Libraries need to address organizational healing first and foremost (the “put your own mask on first” analogy), Linde Furman and Emerson DeMeester-Lane explained. Furman added: “We need to acknowledge the problem in order to engage in meaningful solutions.”
  • “How to Say the Hard Things: Lessons Learned in Years of Crisis” with Brandi Cummings, focused on addressing difficult issues with the public, like enforcing rules and discussing book challenges. Staff communications were also addressed. Cummings explained the three Cs of crisis communications: clarify, connect, and conflict. Key words: “You don’t need to apologize to acknowledge.
  • At the author lunch with Rainbow Rowell, she revealed that her award-winning book Eleanor & Park, was rejected by several publishers when she first attempted to publish it as an adult novel. After John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars skyrocketed in popularity, a publisher offered to release Eleanor & Park as a YA novel, and the rest is history. Her latest book, Slow Dance, to be released in July, is likely to appeal to “new adults,” those who fit somewhere between YA and adult in their fiction reading tastes.

The exhibit hall had many treats in store. I met a therapy dog named Ohio, known for flopping over on his back for patting. photo of a blonde dog with two people on fake grass in a booth at PLA 2024Although ordered not to give kisses (due to post-pandemic health regulations), he snuck some in when his trainer was distracted. There was even a live rabbit, courtesy of a house rabbit rescue group, promoting My Heart Sings a Sad Song, a children’s book about grief. I took advantage of volunteers conducting mock interviews to find out how I can improve my public speaking. (It turns out I say “uhm” a lot!)

photo of two people Mychal Threets and the author in front of a wall that reads in white Free People and in Purple Read Freely - taken at the PLA 2024 conferenceLast and best of all, scholarship attendees were treated to a Q & A with beloved librarian and spreader of #libraryjoy, Mychal Threets! Threets is currently “resident librarian” for PBS, partnering with animated aardvark Arthur Read to promote literacy. “The library to me is always about belonging,” he told us, adding, “There is no justice or inclusivity without belonging.” Threets answered questions about resources for unhoused people, the Library Afro Revolution, mental health, and his two cats, Machine Gun Kitty and Kissin’ Kat Barlow. He joined comedian Dulce Sloan at the closing event, sending attendees home with a dose of laughter and warmth.

Mental health was a theme that ran throughout the conference. There is emotional labor involved in librarianship, as with other “helping” professions. That’s even more reason to find inspiration and solidarity at a conference like PLA 2024- to remember why we do this work and how much it matters- while learning to be even better at our jobs. Consider attending the 2026 PLA conference in Minnesota. Funding opportunities may be available from Friends of the Library groups, foundations, county government- or the PLA itself. Check out #PLA2024 on social media for fun photos from the events!