In March, 11 staff members and four Library Board members from Jackson County Library Services went to Portland to attend the Public Library Association Conference (PLA). PLA is a division of the American Library Association (ALA), which focuses on… you guessed it, the needs of public libraries. Every two years, they hold their conference in cities across the country. The last one was held at the end of February 2020, in Nashville, Tennessee. We all know what happened to the world right after that! There has not been another major, in-person library conference since then. It seems fitting then, that the first one to return would again be PLA. We were fortunate that it was being held in our home state, so more people from JCLS could attend.
I have been to and/or presented at a number of special interest, statewide, and nationwide library conferences throughout my career. You might be surprised to hear that there are so many library conferences and events. I’ll usually post something on my social media pages prior to attending as a way to connect with my library contacts across the country. It’s a great way to try and meet up if they’ll be there too. I can usually count on one of my “non-library” friends to make some snarky comment like, “A library conference? What on earth could there be to talk about at a library conference? Do you sit around debating the Dewey Decimal System and library fines?” The answer to their question is: there is actually quite a lot to talk about, and debating Dewey is sometimes one of them. It’s a lot more complicated than you think. If you, like my friends, wonder what happens at a library conference and why JCLS invests in sending staff, I’ll be giving you a small “behind the scenes” tour sharing some insights.
PLA was held March 21-25, which included an optional pre-conference with more in-depth sessions. Medford Adult Services Librarian, Carrie Tannehill, attended a pre-conference session on library leadership. The main conference began March 23 with the Opening Session, and speaker Luvvie Ajayi Jones. Ajayi Jones shared about the impact libraries have had on her and about the important work that libraries do in connecting people with resources and information. She also talked about the concerning trend in more books being challenged and banned. She noted that librarians are at the forefront of fighting the battle to make sure that others do not dictate what you are allowed to read.
After her inspirational start, we were sent off to a whirlwind of conference sessions, author talks, meetings with library vendors, networking, and more. I was surprised at how rarely I ran into anyone from JCLS at the conference. The good news is that it meant that we were all learning different things that we could bring back and share with each other, maximizing the conference benefits. Library Director Kari May, noticed the same and said “the fact that we didn’t bump into each other much also meant that library vendors in the Exhibits Hall observed that they had met other people from Jackson County, so I know we were well-represented – and the vendors noticed.” Michael Grutchfield, who manages the Rogue River Branch and is the Lower Rogue Area Manager said “I was really glad this year’s PLA was held in Oregon and that so many JCLS employees were able to go, it made being at a 4000-person event less intimidating because I knew a lot of people there.” We did plan some times to meet up as a group. Many of us had never met in-person since we work at different branches throughout the county and have only been meeting virtually. Getting to know my colleagues better was one of the highlights for me.
This was Ashland Teen Librarian Jackie Keating’s first library conference. She told me she came away from the conference “with a sense of excitement and possibility.” She got to meet with other Teen Librarians from around the country to learn about what they were doing and how they handled challenges, as well as share some of the excellent work we’re doing in Jackson County. One of the sessions that stood out to Jackie was called The Library’s Role in Equitable College Prep for Teens. “One was a really excellent presentation from a youth services librarian in the DC system who runs ACT and SAT test prep courses for teens every quarter,” said Jackie. The presenter shared that the public library is largely responsible for helping her go to college by supplying the resources she needed, such as computers for filling out applications and SAT and ACT prep books. Jackie is interested in seeing how JCLS can offer support to students preparing to enter college.
Laurin Arnold, JCLS Central Area Manager, spent time with one of our library vendors, Brainfuse. They offer a product that JCLS subscribes to called JobNow. Laurin was surprised to learn how much this service can help job seekers in Jackson County. “With JobNow, you can download a free, professional looking template in English or Spanish that you can plug your experience into. You can also get live resume help from an expert 1pm-10pm every day!” Laurin reported. She also found out you can practice interviewing with a real person through JobNow.
One of my favorite sessions was called, Finding Joy: Library as Space for Playful Learning and Creativity. From the title, you may think it was all about children, which would make sense that I would attend being that I am the Children’s Librarian in Medford. Instead, it was about ways to instill joy in people of all ages as they return to our libraries. According to the program facilitators, “creating joyful adventures focused on what the library should be about: the joy of learning; the joy of exploring, the joy of experience, and the joy of simply being immersed in an amazing story.” I bet you never thought about libraries wanting to bring you joy… but we do!
The conference was not all work. In our off time, we enjoyed walks under beautiful cherry blossoms along the Willamette River, trying a Voodoo Doughnut, and buying books at Powell’s Books. A librarian can never have enough books. I even tried to learn how to play the ukulele with about 25 other librarians. If you want to know how a bunch of librarians sound while playing a ukulele and singing to “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” visit me in Medford… I have video!
At the beginning of the conference, PLA President Melanie Huggins told attendees, “The last two years have been rough. We have navigated changes, challenges, and risks in our own personal and professional lives.” She continued by saying “We want you to return to your communities feeling energized and inspired to continue the important work that you do.” I think I can speak for all of us who attended from JCLS, we do feel energized and inspired, and we look forward to bringing things we learned and ideas we developed at PLA back to Jackson County so we can serve you better.