Dispatches from PLA 2018

I had the wonderful opportunity to return home to Philadelphia last week to attend the Public Library Association Conference. Despite a vicious nor’easter keeping me home in Annapolis a bit later than I planned, I was able to get myself out the door early in the morning on Thursday and still catch a good chunk of the conference on Thursday and Friday and catch up with two of my iSchool classmates and my former, wonderful, supervisor!


Here are some highlights from some of the sessions I attended:

Making Justice:

I loved this session hosted by the Madison (WI) Public Libraries about their makerspace/justice project, one facet of which involved bringing artist educators in to work with young people in the justice system. I loved the way the artist they brought to lead a demo session tied cultural lessons with the teens’ lives and brought all that into the art they would then create together. One of the key takeaways I got from this session was the importance of listening to those whom the program is for – as one presenter put it, not “com[ing] in with all your adult goals.” I also learned about how slowly building relationships with perhaps reluctant partners in the community, such as the local juvenile detention center in this example, can lead to really fruitful partnerships as trust builds.

More about this project here.

Applying an Equity Lens:

This program was all about Seattle Public Library’s recent initiative to apply an equity lens to all they do, they two presented examples being their bookmobile placement and their One Seattle, One Book (not sure if that’s the official name) celebration. A key takeaway here was within the four elements of consideration that made up applying an equity lens to a program, namely:

  • Participation: Did we engage people of color in the program, both in attendance and in creation?
  • Content: Was the content about, relevant to, and developed by people of color?
  • Budget: Who benefits financially from this program? Is the money going back into the communities it is developed for and by?
  • Community Involvement: Were members of the community and local leaders consulted in the development of the program?

I also appreciated something the speaker addressed when discussing their bookmobile site reallocation, which was that they went through an entire, data driven process of re-allocating the bookmobiles to more adequately serve communities in need who would not be able to get to the library, and it wasn’t until the very end that they realized they never asked if Bookmobiles were what people wanted. Much like in the Making Justice program, the takeaway was that community feedback is a crucial step in the process.


I loved this session, not the least because it was led by two Maryland librarians and featured several references to the library where i got my start – Prince George’s County! Aside from that, I was impressed by the many different particularly outreach and advocacy ideas they had including: bringing the equipment into local schools, having local politicians test drive the equipment, collaborating with local manufacturers for job skill training and connecting with local VR/AR developers to pilot new ideas and learn about trends in the field.

I also appreciated the focus on content development. While I think many libraries who have VR systems have comfortably forayed into the world of exploring games and tools that have already been developed and are available for purchase, creating VR content on the back-end is much more challenging but perhaps more useful in the long-term as we look toward a future where VR and AR become more and more predominant parts of daily life. Teaching people now how to create their own VR content and demystifying what happens behind the screen can set people up for greater success later when VR becomes perhaps as omnipresent as a laptop is today.  

Creating a Common Culture with Athens-Clarke GA

So many wonderful tips emerged from this session with regards to getting a community history project off the ground and making sure you are reaching who you need to reach. I loved that the ACPL archivist focused on creating a dialogue with patrons – she would share her story before asking them to share theirs – with no pressure to do so if they were uncomfortable or unsure. There was also an emphasis on making sure that this program is promoted as something that benefits the community – even if there is history collected as a result, it should be presented to the community as something that is for them to help them document their own history. I loved that the archivist said she would ask those who didn’t participate: “why is my message not reaching you?” or “what makes you think your story isn’t valuable to share?” so that she should continually improve the messaging and reach of the program.

That’s just a brief summary of some of the many things I learned this weekend! I had a wonderful time and can’t wait until the next PLA.



A Midsummer’s Update

Can’t believe summer feels like it’s almost over. Thought I’d give an update on what I’ve been up to this summer.

Interning at the Library of Congress:

I’ve been *so* fortunate this summer to spend the past 8 weeks interning at THE Library. Of Congress!!! I’ve been working with the Educational Outreach team, which does some really amazing and wonderful work creating primary source analysis and engagement resources for teachers, as well as providing plenty of professional development opportunities for educators across the country. See what they do here.

It’s been wonderful working at the Library. As a junior fellow, I’ve had the opportunity to go on amazing tours of the different reading rooms and research centers and other divisions of the library. I’ve learned a ton in a short amount of time, not only about history but about the amazing work Library staff does that I was not even remotely conscious of. My tour of the preservation division today was particularly eye opening.

My particular work has been focused around creating a resource for children visiting the library, as well as providing assistance during our five, week-long, summer teacher conferences. Hopefully I will be able to post more on those things in the future. I am sad that I only have two weeks left working at this amazing place!

My first trip to ALA:


Yes, this summer I had my first trip to the amazing city of Chicago as well as my first visit to the American Library Association Conference. It was incredibly overwhelming, but wonderful and I am so glad I went. Some highlights:

  • Dr. Carla Hayden’s fabulous conversation with the leaders of 3 major public library systems, which gave me some insights into the ways public librarians should be thinking about their market, their opportunities, and their challenges. Particularly of interest was their discussion around innovative partnerships and collaborations – I think these are vital for success in the public library and it was good to hear that the leaders are thinking about them in new and interesting ways to ensure effectiveness.
  • Ron Chernow’s speech after the ALA awards. I unfortunately did not get to stay for the whole speech, but I was wowed to hear him talk about using the Library of Congress’s resources (there’s clearly a theme to this post) to prove that Grant hand-wrote the draft of his own biography. It was a fascinating story and really demonstrated the value of our archival institutions, as well as the continued relevance of physical materials and physical presence in the library, despite arguments to the contrary.
  • YALSA’s new members orientation. It was a lot of information to take in, but has given me a lot of confidence to proceed with more involvement in ALA and YALSA.
  • Being able to meet new professionals from around the country as well as run into and reconnect with those I already know. As a soon-to-be-grad, networking is vital, but more than that, it’s wonderful to feel that sense of camaraderie and belonging to community of my people.
  • THE FREE BOOKS. I don’t think I need to say more about that.
  • Unexpectedly seeing one of my teen idols, Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, speak about a really cool new comics project that is giving voice to lesser heard audiences and stories – as he describes it, embracing the “weird.” I’m slowly getting into comics now, a lot thanks to the wonderful Gene Luen Yang’s work as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and I am very excited to get my hands on some of the comics in the Young Animal imprint.
  • The city of Chicago. What a magical city – I can’t wait to go back.


Library Tourist in Atlanta

Once, when I was in high school, I was in the middle of a college tour when the guide stopped and announced: “Ok, now we’re going to the library. I know this is the most boring part of the tour so bear with me.”

Everyone else chuckled but I was disappointed. The library was my favorite part of any tour, in fact, one of the reasons I didn’t want to go to one university was the outdated vibe of its library. To me it was the symbol of the college experience, only slightly less important than the food quality and the dorms’ habitability. Lately, that interest has spread to public libraries, and I’ve been known to go out of my way to visit any library I pass while I’m in a new place (much to my boyfriend’s dissatisfaction.) I feel like sometimes visiting the local library can give you a clue to understanding the city and its community. (Not to mention that I like to be… “inspired” by the ideas I see at the places I visit.)

My traveling companions and I. (The bear we met while traveling).

This past weekend, I took a 10-hour drive South with two of my college friends to visit Atlanta. Our main purpose was to spend time with our good friend who is now in a master’s program at Georgia Tech. However, I couldn’t resist taking some time to see the sights and, *of course*, drag my reluctant friends to the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library to get a feel for the system.

For the most part it looked like any other city library I’ve visited, a bit on the older side and full of people of all backgrounds working on computers. I liked that there were a lot of print resources on a huge variety of topics, ranging from dewey decimal numbers of popular topics to programming brochures to informational pamphlets. I know we’re in the digital age but print resources are still so vital to some and I was glad that there seemed to be a wide range of ways for patrons to get what they need.

I must say I was very impressed by the children’s and teen sections.The children’s section was gorgeous and I was envious of the enchanted forest theme at its entrance, as well as the extremely beautiful Dr. Seuss 3-D mural next to it. I was surprised to see a huge TV in their storytime room, but I imagine it comes in very handy for A/V incorporated storytimes as well as various other programs. They also advertised some seriously unique programming, most surprisingly, “Know Your Rights” for kids, which I thought was both an excellent programming idea and an important resource for both kids and adults, especially in a major city.

The teen section was the most impressive to me. It was truly adapted to the needs of modern teenagers who might visit the library, complete with a gaming section, couches, plenty of important informational resources, and even a guitar and bass for music lessons. I was lucky enough to be able to speak to the librarian on duty at the teen desk and he was able to give me a little insight as to how the teen section operates. I wasn’t surprised at all but I had to chuckle when he told me that they had certain hours in place for use of the teen zone so as to discourage truancy, since that’s a big issue for us here as well and it’s always funny to see how some problems are the same no matter where you go. I really appreciated the encouraging, welcoming nature of the space, all the way down to specific tables reserved solely for teens. They are a population that can sometimes be neglected and I was glad they had such a welcoming space to visit.

In all, it was a productive visit. Usually, I kind of wander aimlessly and awkwardly and leave, happy to be part of the atmosphere but not exactly sure what I’m looking for. I was proud of myself and saw it as a sign of personal growth that I engaged in meaningful conversation with the librarian there and I feel like I walked away with a better sense of what AFPL is all about.