PLA 2016 draws more than 8,000 to Denver for nation’s largest public library conference

Heather Cho
Media Relations Specialist
hcho@ala.org

CHICAGO – More than 8,000 public library professionals, exhibitors, speakers and supporters gathered in Denver and online from April 5 – 9 for the Public Library Association (PLA) 2016 Conference. As the nation’s largest public library conference, PLA 2016 explored the library’s evolving role in support of their communities and provided attendees with tools and best practices they need to help people thrive in the digital age. The conference offered more than 100 educational programs; special events showcasing bestselling authors and innovators; and more than 600 exhibitors that featured the latest technology and services vital to today’s public libraries, librarians and their users.

Its theme, “Be Extraordinary,” was a common thread that joined many of the conference programs and served as a challenge to attendees, during the conference and back in their libraries. PLA teamed up with bestselling author Kari Chapin to present “Make It Extraordinary” sessions and a workbook to help attendees optimize their time, adapt ideas and unleash creativity and imagination. To increase the impact of the conference, the workbook included a PLA 30-Day Challenge to keep the momentum once attendees returned home to their libraries.       

Before Anderson Cooper took the stage as the opening session speaker, PLA premiered the first in a series of advocacy videos starring library users who illustrate the positive impacts of libraries in supporting education, employment and entrepreneurship in the communities they serve. To watch the video, please visit http://bit.ly/23czmad. PLA President-Elect Felton Thomas and American Library Association (ALA) President Sari Feldman, as well as PLA, the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy and the ALA Office for Library Advocacy collaborated to develop the videos.

Designed to motivate and empower public library professionals to consider and execute new ideas, PLA’s Big Idea Series included inspiring talks with Harvard-trained lawyer, entrepreneur, author and cultural innovator Vernā Meyers; clinical psychologist, MIT professor and author Sherry Turkle; and New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas.

New to the exhibits hall was COLab, a makerspace equipped with the latest technology available in public libraries – 3D printing, robotics and virtual reality. Many public libraries have developed or are developing spaces like COLab for design and activities that both teach and empower patrons. Colorado libraries teamed up with local makers and businesses to offer attendees structured workshops, Ask Me Anything sessions and opportunities to play, learn, experiment and collaborate.

The inaugural How-To Festival provided a cooperative learning experience, teaching practical hands-on skills attendees could take back to use at their own libraries. The short 20-minute how-to sessions ranged from protecting your library’s Facebook page from hackers to learning how to podcast and making a library pirate radio station.

During the conference, Pew Research Center released a new report, “Libraries and Learning,” which explores where, how and why people pursue professional and personal learning and the impact of technology. The research reaffirms the essential role libraries have in education and lifelong learning. The report found that the majority of Americans think the educational needs of their communities are well served by local libraries. It also revealed that library users often outpace others in learning activities.

The conference’s line-up of distinguished guest speakers included human rights activist Nikki Giovanni, award-winning author Sherman Alexie and Arianna Huffington, chair, president and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post. Comedian Tig Notaro brought PLA 2016 to an official end as the closing session speaker.

Those who could not travel to Denver for the conference participated virtually. There were 110 total registrations for the PLA 2016 Virtual Conference, which presented many elements of the live conference, including high-quality educational programming, networking opportunities and author events. Live programming consisted of five hour-long programs each day – the same available to face-to-face conference attendees.

PLA 2018 will take place in Philadelphia, from March 20 – 24, 2018.

For more information on PLA 2016, please visit http://www.placonference.org.    

The Public Library Association is a division of the American Library Association. PLA works to strengthen public libraries and their contributions to the communities they serve.

***Attendance Figures***

Denver 2016
Attendees: 5,942
Exhibitors: 1,949
Virtual Conference Registrants: 110 (65 single, 45 groups of three or more people)
Total: 8,001

Indianapolis 2014
Attendees: 5,686
Exhibitors: 1,976
Virtual Conference Registrants: 141 (79 single, 62 groups of three or more people)
Total: 7,803

Philadelphia 2012
Attendees: 6,127
Virtual Conference Registrants: 136 (87 single, 49 groups of three or more people)
Exhibitors:  2,502
Total: 8,765

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