PLA in Person | PLA 2022

In the last days of February 2020, the biennial Public Library Association (PLA) Conference wrapped up amid growing concerns over the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Two years and many virtual events later, the 2022 PLA Conference, held from March 23–25 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, was the first ALA-affiliated conference to reconvene in person.

PLA Portland 2022 bannerIn the last days of February 2020, the biennial Public Library Association (PLA) Conference wrapped up amid growing concerns over the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Two years and many virtual events later, the 2022 PLA Conference, held from March 23–25 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, was the first ALA-affiliated conference to reconvene in person (with a virtual option as well). PLA 2022 did not disappoint, with robust attendance numbers, strong session and speaker offerings, and all-around good vibes attendees eager to see each other face-to-face, talk, and even, sometimes, hug.

PLA reported a final total of 6,005 participants—3,794 in-person, 1,186 virtual, and 1,025 exhibitors—exceeding the association’s early goals of a total of 4,000 attendees and surpassing the 3,000 in-person registrants recorded in early March. “The energy of the conference was incredible,” PLA President Melanie Huggins told LJ. “PLA thanks all the presenters who shared their time and expertise, and all the participants that connected and learned with us in person and online.”

Although Oregon dropped the statewide mask mandate on March 12, conference requirements for masking and vaccination/negative COVID tests remained in place throughout the Convention Center. Attendees were able to upload their proof of vaccine to the conference administration site ahead of time, streamlining check-in and providing a visible verification sticker on conference ID badges. Mobile testing vans were available outside the venue as well. Conferencegoers were diligent about wearing masks when not eating or drinking, and seemed to be comfortable, overall, with both the mask requirements and the proximity of many bodies. And thanks to three-day passes for Portland’s MAX light rail system, they were able to eat, drink, shop, do karaoke, visit the Multnomah County Library, and explore the city. LJ celebrated two years of Jerry Kline Community Impact Prize winners—Cranston Public Library, RI, and Central Arkansas Library System—and Baker & Taylor partied in honor of LJ’s 2022 Librarian of the Year (all of us).

The virtual conference included livestreams of the opening and closing sessions and Big Ideas speakers, recordings of 22 programs and author interviews, about half of them virtual-only offerings, and a virtual conference happy hour. On-demand access to recorded virtual conference programs will be available for one year—although at least one virtual attendee objected to the fact that speakers were livestreamed only, and remote viewers might not have been able to watch because of scheduling or health limitations.

 

SPEAKERS, HOW-TO’S, AND EXHIBITS

Anythink library installation, banner reading: MAY ALL CHILDREN GROW UP KNOWING THEY CAN BE THE MAIN CHARACTER
Detail of Anythink Libraries installation
Photo by Meredith Schwartz

The opening speaker session featured author, podcast host, and “professional troublemaker” Luvvie Ajayi Jones, who talked about standing up for her choices, even in uncomfortable moments, and being courageous—but, she cautioned, “Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t show courage. Commit to being courageous moving forward.”

On Thursday, author, attorney, and entrepreneur Brittany K. Barnett spoke about her nonprofit work to transform the criminal justice system, empowering girls whose mothers are incarcerated and helping people serving sentences because of outdated federal drug laws, and pointed to Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson as an inspiration to young, aspiring Black girls.

Friday closed with two well-attended—and well-loved—speaker sessions. Amy Schneider, a 40-game Jeopardy! Champion and the first openly transgender contestant to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, spoke engagingly on subjects from her game-day strategies to her advocacy as an approachable trans woman in the public eye. (Also see LJ’s interview with her.) Kal Penn—actor, writer, producer, and former associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement—described his journey “from White Castle to the White House.” Penn, who has a graduate certificate in national security and has done antipoverty work with nongovernmental organizations, shared stories of Hollywood and politics, and, in the words of one viewer on Twitter, “flirt[ed] with 5,000 librarians.”

The How-To Stage in the Exhibit Hall offered a range of 20-minute instructional talks, from How To Initiate and Pilot a Social Work Practicum in Your Library to How to Save a Smelly Book. Nearby, PLA hosted a Career Fair, where participants could receive resume reviews, interview coaching, and mini-mentoring sessions.

Anythink Libraries of Adams County, CO, sponsored an installation by artist Alejandra Abad titled “Our Wishes,” which featured colorful banners displaying messages of hope crowdsourced from an Anythink community. Conferencegoers were invited to relax on the provided couches and contribute their own hopeful thoughts.

 

SESSIONS FOCUS ON EDI, CONNECTIONS

graffitied faux wall with text
From the show floor
Photo by Meredith Schwartz

This year’s programming was timely and useful. Many options addressed equity and anti-racism in libraries; in addition to the programs featured in “Equity at All Levels” and “Queering the Library,” “After the Audit,” and “Supporting Staff,” several others examined aspects of EDI work.

Sessions considered not only looking ahead at work to be done, but reckoning with the past. In “Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Antiracism in a Sundown Town,” a panel from the Glendale Library, Arts & Culture, CA, recounted how the library spearheaded work to identify the city as a Sundown Town, defined by sociologist James Loewen as “any organized jurisdiction that for decades kept African Americans or other groups from living in it and was thus ‘all-White’ on purpose.” As a result of the library’s efforts, Glendale became the first city in California (and the third in the country) to pass a Sundown Town resolution, acknowledging its racist past, apologizing for it, and promising to work against it—which included a series of creative programs and public art.

Other programs considered what programming and services will look like as pandemic restrictions begin to lift, and how to navigate those changes. As COVID lockdowns give way to the new normal, libraries find themselves navigating a new hybrid environment—for meetings with remote and on-site staff, for programs with remote and on-site presenters and patrons, and of course, for library conferences. The “Creating Meaningful Connections within a Hybrid Environment” session, led by Cassandra Collucci, training manager, Somerset County Library System, NJ, and consultant Linda Hofschire, used adult learning theory to offer practical tips on every aspect of hybrid event development, whether for onboarding new employees or entertaining faithful program attendees.

Some of the key tips included chunking up content into segments of 10 minutes or less; reducing the information you would present in an in-person event by 10 percent and slowing it down; using repetition; employing memory tools such as mnemonics and visual images; telling stories, asking questions, and using analogies; and building in opportunities for application and reflection. To maximize engagement, the session leaders suggested starting with an easy warmup activity, such as a poll, and thereafter building in a form of interaction every five minutes, whether it’s something as simple as asking attendees to put an emoji in the chat or as complex as leading breakout sessions. Practicing what they preach, the panelists advised incorporating physical activity, and paused their session for a stretch break.

The presenters also recommended making sure you offer ways to engage without having to speak out loud for attendees who aren’t comfortable with that, such as sharing in chat, using annotation tools and whiteboards, or reflecting with old-fashioned paper and ink. They suggest pushing out links as discussed, not just in advance, and having a separate tech producer to be fully focused on the virtual aspects of the hybrid event. Set expectations ahead of time on whether there will be breakouts and when, if ever, attendees are expected to have their cameras on, they advised.

Gamification, ranging from a quick quiz to a complex virtual escape room, is another way to drive engagement, as are visual aids that organize responses, such as a grid or word cloud. While some of the platforms have built-in tools, the speakers also led a brainstorm of third-party tools, including Mentimeter, Padlet, Jamboard, Kahoot—especially useful for icebreakers—and Flipgrid, handy for pre-recorded introductions. Notes from the brainstorm, along with other resources, can be found here.

They advised being clear ahead of time about what kind of communication technology and accessibility accommodations you will provide. To make sure the content is as accessible as possible, they recommend taking advantage of the Microsoft Office Accessibility Checker, similar features in Adobe products, and Grackle for Google. On the hardware side, they recommended the Meeting Owl Pro, which combines a 360-degree camera that follows the person speaking when they move with mic and speaker.

 

STANDING UP TO CHALLENGES

The increase in book challenges at public as well as school libraries, clashes between libraries and their boards, and a growing number of bills proposing legislation that would change the methods for challenging books—and often legal ramifications for library workers and administrators—were all top of mind.

Deborah Caldwell Stone and Kristin Pekoll of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) joined Megan Cusick, assistant director of state advocacy for ALA’s Public Policy and Advocacy office, and Sacramento Public Library Director Peter Coyl in “Prepare Your Library for Today’s Censorship Battles,” a panel discussing the ways book challenges have ramped up at local, state, and federal levels. The “perfect storm” of the 2020 election and the previous administration, augmented by increases in mis- and disinformation and the difficulties of remote learning, have provided a convenient issue for political operatives looking for issues to bring to swing voters. Many are taking cues from Texas Rep. Matt Krause’s list of 850 books, largely centering LGBTQIA+ issues and anti-racism, that he feels should be questioned. This and similar lists are being circulated more quickly and widely, in addition to how-to videos with training resources for challenging books, making FOIA requests, and using the platform of public board meetings for book-banning purposes.

Many library directors and board members are standing up to protect collection policy, but they have been subject to harassment and professional and legal threats. More than 100 bills have been introduced across the country that would establish parental review committees, increase board influence in the collection process, permit access to children’s and teens’ library records, require excessive filtering, and remove legal protections for library decision-makers under Harmful to Minors laws. Most of these focus on K–12 schools, but public and even academic libraries are being targeted.

In response to the question of what to do in the face of challenges, the panelists advised libraries to build strong relationships within their community, from elected officials to state organizations to users—voters—who trust their library. Get in front of the narrative of what libraries do, and emphasize the message that “libraries are about so much more than any single book,” said Cusick. The best defense, added Caldwell-Stone, is strong written policy—and make sure that trustees are well versed in it. Panelists pointed audience members to ALA’s statements and toolkits, and Pekoll noted, “This is a long game. Each challenge is an opportunity.”

PLA also hosted several resource-sharing opportunities, including an Ask a Lawyer session and one-on-one appointments with OIF.

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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Meredith Schwartz

mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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