PLA in Person: Conference Preview

UPDATE: While the state of Oregon will be dropping the mask mandate effective March 12, PLA 2022 requirements for masking and vaccination/negative test will remain in effect during the conference. 

The Public Library Association (PLA) conference will take place in Portland, OR, Mar. 23–25, at the Oregon Convention Center

After two long years, the Public Library Association (PLA) biennial conference is the first major national library conference to be held in person—fittingly, since it was also the last in 2020 before pandemic shutdowns.

PLA is also the first major U.S. library conference to be run on a hybrid model since the COVID pause. The virtual offerings include livestreams (but not recordings) of the opening session with author Luvvie Ajayi Jones, the Big Idea series with attorney Brittany K. Barnett and Jeopardy! champion Amy Schneider, and the closing session with actor Kal Penn. Eleven time slots with two choices of sessions across all three days of the conference will offer virtual programming—half also available at the live event, and half virtual only. (Live attendees can watch virtual-only sessions with their registration.) Recorded virtual programs will be available for one year.



With case counts falling but every state in the United States still at high risk of transmission, plus pressures on public library budgets, it remains to be seen how many attendees will choose the full in-person experience. Some 3,000 had registered for the in-person event at press time. The Oregon Convention Center requires that attendees show proof of either full vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the first day of the event; mask wearing will be enforced by safety ambassadors throughout the convention center. Free disposable masks will be available, and free tests are offered via a mobile testing van outside the convention center. PLA will be the only event in the center, and conference organizers have planned to offer socially distanced seating where possible.



In light of the dramatic escalation in book, display, and program challenges, PLA is offering a drop-in Intellectual Freedom Forum, location and schedule TBD, on March 24, including peer sharing roundtables, Ask a Lawyer, and one-on-one appointments with the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom.

Also in locations to be announced, Multnomah County Library, OR, is offering a Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) affinity space and sharing information about the library’s work to center equity, inclusion, and belonging in outreach, community engagement, marketing and communications, recruitment, and more. Anythink Libraries (Adams County, CO) brings artist Alejandra Abad and her “Our Wishes” project, a collaboration with the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art that displays crowdsourced messages of hope, and Richland Library (Columbia, SC) will re-create its “Overdue” event with interactive arts, crafts, virtual reality, and live music from THE Dubber, a Richland Library Artist-in-Residence.

Below is a list of selected programs that caught LJ editors’ eyes. For the complete program and session locations, which had not been announced at press time, visit All sessions are listed in Pacific Standard Time; sessions that are available virtually are marked with (V). —Meredith Schwartz

Matt Enis
Senior Technology Editor

Libraries and Equitable Broadband Acces
Wed., Mar. 23, 2–3 p.m.
The COVID pandemic made it clear that broadband internet access is crucial for the many ways people work, learn, and socialize online. Featuring leaders from the Digital Public Library of America, Cleveland Public Library, Richland Library, and San José Public Library, CA, this panel will discuss how libraries can “ensure that internet access is a basic right for all.”

Privacy Field Guides: Take Action on Privacy in Your Library
Wed., Mar. 23, 2–3 p.m.
Drafted by some of the leading privacy experts in the field and published following feedback from librarians from all over the United States, these new guides are designed to offer practical, how-to information for making privacy enhancements in any library. Alameda County Library, CA, Division Director Erin Berman, a colead on the project, will host this interactive session discussing these Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and ALA sponsored guides.

Digital Navigators: Supporting Patrons by Meeting Them Where They Are
Thurs., Mar. 24, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Leaders from the Salt Lake City Public Library; Columbus Metropolitan Library, OH; and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance will discuss the role that digital navigators can play in libraries, providing “support to community members related to digital access, including home connectivity, tech support, skill building, and device access.” Speakers will discuss recent findings from pilot projects, how libraries can partner with community organizations to improve digital access, and how to create a sustainable project at your own library.

Accessing Health in Rural Libraries: Developing the WISE Telehealth Network
Thurs., Mar. 24, 2–3 p.m.
Through a partnership with the WISE (Women in the Southeast) Telehealth Network, Charleston County Public Library, SC (CCPL) recently began providing women access to preventive care through telehealth services at their library. CCPL Outreach Manager Kathleen Montgomery and CCPL Community Health Worker Amy Chang will discuss opportunities to form similar partnerships and establish a telehealth network in a library, as well as research methods to evaluate the success of a telehealth initiative.

MeckTech: Supporting Digital Equity Through Free Computer Distribution
Thurs., Mar. 24, 4–5 p.m.
Using funding from a CARES Act grant provided through IMLS, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, NC, provided free computers to more than 2,000 local households in 2020. This year, pending the receipt of an $8 million U.S. Federal Communications Commission Emergency Connectivity Fund grant, the library is planning to distribute an additional 20,000 refurbished laptops, making a substantial dent in the estimated 80,000 Mecklenburg County households that don’t have computers. Leaders from the library “will discuss partnerships, iterating to adapt to challenges, and plans for continuing this program moving forward.”


Session presenters, l.-r.: Alameda County Library Division Director Erin Berman, Denver Public Library EDI Manager Ozy Aloziem, Iowa City Public Library Director Elsworth Carman                                                

Barbara Hoffert
Editor, Prepub Alert

Building a Dynamic World Languages Collection for Your Multilingual Community
Wed., Mar. 23, 10:15–11:15 a.m.
Representatives from Ohio’s Columbus Metropolitan Library and Cuyahoga County Public Library, plus NYC’s BookOps, will share info on how to develop and maintain a world languages collection for all ages, including tips for identifying good selection resources, working with vendors, and partnering with staff to ensure discovery and use.

Digital Books: Where Do We Go From Here?
Wed., Mar. 23, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Given the pandemic acceleration to digital use, plus recent laws and lawsuits over library ebooks, it’s important to learn about the current strategies from publishers, distributors, and authors, where we stand, and what it could mean for the future from Alan Inouye, ALA’s senior director of public policy and government relations, plus the top leaders of three library systems.

After the Collection Diversity Audit
Fri., Mar. 25, 10:15–11:15 a.m. (V)
Once your collection diversity audit is complete, what do you do with what you’ve learned? The panel will address how to use data to assess collection development practices, form initiatives, and inform trainings.

Lisa Peet
News Editor

Effective Peer Comparisons for Planning and Advocacy with Benchmark
Wed., Mar. 23, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
PLA’s newest data tool, Benchmark: Library Metrics and Trends, promises a means for libraries to compare metrics for their own programs, services, operations, and communities with those of peer institutions nationwide. Interactive data visualizations and reporting tools pull from PLA, IMLS, and census data, and could be useful for data-driven planning, service improvements, and advocacy. Session presenters will also share an update on PLA’s 2021 Public Library Staff and Diversity Survey.

Finding Joy: Library as Space for Playful Learning and Creativity
Thurs., Mar. 24, 10:15–11:15 a.m.
There has been no shortage of serious topics to surface in libraries this year, but the upbeat side is equally important to think about. Michael Stephens, professor at San José State University, CA; and Stacie Ledden, director of strategic partnerships at Anythink Libraries, look at what it means to help library users find their joy—in learning, exploring, experiencing, and “simply being immersed in an amazing story.”

Fostering Equity and Inclusion by Promoting Employee Wellbeing
Thurs., Mar. 24, 10:15–11:15 a.m.
Denver Public Library (DPL) has done strong work to make sure its EDI efforts are effective throughout the organization. When interviews with current and former employees revealed that more support was needed, the library turned its focus to the well-being of BIPOC and frontline staff. In 2020, DPL piloted a culturally responsive wellness model; Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager Ozy Aloziem will offer findings from the pilot and recommendations for its implementation in other libraries.

Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism in a Sundown Town
Thurs., Mar. 24, 2–3 p.m.
Thanks to research conducted by Glendale Library, Arts & Culture (GLAC), CA, in 2020 Glendale became the first city in California to pass a Sundown Town proclamation, acknowledging and apologizing for its history of racist treatment of Black people. GLAC’s Assistant Director Nicole Pasini and Senior Library, Arts & Culture Supervisors, Caley Cannon and Tiffany Barrios will discuss how research into the history of a community’s racism can build understanding and elevate BIPOC voices to make a difference.

Collective Bargaining: What We Didn’t Learn in Library School
Fri., Mar. 25, 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
As more library workers across the country unionize, directors are often unprepared for their part in the collective bargaining process. Three directors who are working on collective bargaining efforts in their systems—Sonia Alcantara-Antoine of Baltimore County Public Library; Jessica Hudson of Fairfax County Public Library, VA; and Rose Dawson of Alexandria Library, VA—discuss what they have learned, best practices in leading organizations through the process, clear communication, and resiliency.

Meredith Schwartz

Policing and Social Justice in Libraries
Wed., Mar. 23, 10:15 –11:15 a.m.
Given heightened awareness of police bias and brutality against Black people, leaders in public libraries are reexamining the role that police officers and security guards play in keeping libraries safe, secure, welcoming, and equitable. I’m eager to hear how speakers from Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Public Library and Prince George’s County Memorial Library System are grappling with these issues.

This IS Library Work: Outreach for People Experiencing Housing Insecurity
Wed., Mar. 23, 2–3 p.m.
Staff from King County Library System, WA, will detail how the library’s outreach program for people experiencing homelessness started small and has expanded to serve 40+ locations in partnership with local organizations. Presenters will discuss logistics, funding, and feedback models and share impact stories from patrons who have achieved their goals.

Prepare Your Library for Today’s Censorship Battles
Thurs., Mar. 24, 10:15–11:15 a.m.
School and public libraries alike are seeing an unprecedented number of book, display, and program challenges both locally and at the state level, and escalations that take the decision out of the library’s hands and include threats of prosecution and legislation. We’ve never more needed this session on how to be proactive in building local and legislative support, and how to respond when a challenge arises at your library.

Creating Meaningful Connections within a Hybrid Environment
Thurs., Mar. 24, 2–3 p.m. (V)
As library programs and workplaces, as well as library conferences, tentatively reopen while still in a pandemic, library staff are working on how to integrate the strong online staff processes and patron programming they developed during shutdowns and limited service with restarting in-person programs. A hybrid approach, in some ways the best of both worlds, can also sometimes be the worst. I’m looking forward to learning about adult learning theory concepts and tools, plus resources that can be used to “foster optimal engagement in a hybrid environment.”

Ready Access: Reentry Services for Decarcerated Populations
Fri., Mar. 25, 10:15–11:15 a.m.
The Ready Access initiative was produced by four California librarians who work with incarcerated and decarcerated people. They’ll present a tool kit and case study to help bring library services to community members leaving jail or prison, who may not know all the library has to offer to ease their transition.

Recruiting, Retaining, and Engaging Transgender and Nonbinary Library Staff
Virtual only, time TBA
Elsworth Carman, director of the Iowa City Public Library, will lead a session by transgender and nonbinary library staff and managers about how libraries can revise job postings and recruitment strategies to be more attractive to trans and nonbinary applicants; evaluate spaces, policies, and practices to be more welcoming to trans and nonbinary staff; and create a training plan for current and future staff and other stakeholders. 

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