submitted by Julie Holden, Cranston Public Library
It has been over 2 years since there was an in-person national library conference, and this year’s Public Library Association (PLA) conference drew a semi-large crowd of library workers from across the country. Although Portland, Oregon is pretty much one of the farthest conference spots away from Rhode Island, many library staff from the Ocean State were able to make the trip.
According to attendance estimates, over 4,000 people journeyed to the Oregon Convention Center, which was down from the 8,700 who attended the Nashville conference in 2020. Each attendee had to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test, and masks were required while at all indoor conference events. PLA also provided a virtual conference option this year, with about 1,100 people taking advantage. “Travel Portland,” the local tourist agency, gave out free TriMet rail passes to all attendees, so that we could ride the light rail to and from all downtown locations and even the airport.
In keeping with past PLA conferences, the “Big Ideas” stage opened up early each morning with inspirational speakers: author and lawyer Brittany K. Barnett, and recent 40-game Jeopardy champion Amy Schneider. The conference opening speaker was the impressive Luvvie Ajayi Jones, author of Professional Troublemaker, who encouraged us to speak up and speak out. The closing session featured actor and author Kal Penn (of Harold & Kumar fame), who told us the hilarious tale of how he came to work in President Obama’s administration as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.
The conference sessions were packed with new and interesting ideas from libraries across the country and included engaging sessions on the current topics we are all facing in our libraries: the first amendment; inclusion, diversity, equity, and access; censorship and intellectual freedom; and the digital future.
The exhibit hall featured aisles of library vendors, including everyone’s favorite prize supplier, Rhode Island Novelty! Lots of publishers were giving away both uncorrected proofs and published books to conference attendees, who then had to make the most difficult calculation facing a library employee: just how many free books can I actually fit in my suitcase to take home with me?
All in all, it was a nice return to in-person conferencing, and if you have never been to PLA, the next conference will take place a lot closer to home, in Columbus, Ohio, in 2024.
Library Journal Kline Award Event with staff from the Cranston Public Library.
The cherry blossoms were in full bloom in Portland - photo courtesy of Karen McGrath.
The Oregon Convention Center featured a giant cosmic swinging pendulum - a favorite meet-up spot of conference attendees. Photo courtesy of Karen McGrath.