Highlights from the Public Library Association
Click the above image to scroll through a visual presentation of PLA's 2020 year in review. A text version is available below.
Note: PLA strongly supports the wearing of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Other than professional head shots and stock images, all live event photos included in the Year in Review were taken at the PLA Conference in February 2020, prior to public health recommendations that people wear masks.
A challenging but inspiring year
Dear public libraries:
As libraries and communities struggle through the COVID-19 crisis, the PLA board and staff continue to be inspired by the collective strength and innovation public library staff are bringing to bear at a time of fear and uncertainty.
In 2020, we witnessed rapid and profound changes to library programs and services. You moved your story times and other programs online, to be accessible virtually. Your importance as an access hub for communities only grew, as workers, families and even teachers took advantage of your WiFi signals and hotspots to keep working and learning from home or even from your parking lot. You supported community-wide response efforts by making protective equipment with your makerspaces and coordinating with other city and county agencies. And you stayed engaged and productive while “closed,” despite the challenges of working remotely and shifting responsibilities.
Like you, PLA responded powerfully. We led the field in exploring and understanding the impact of COVID-19 on public libraries through surveys, webinars, and more. We adapted programs and developed new initiatives to meet the unique challenges of 2020. We continued to serve as your voice to the media, partners in education and health, and policymakers. We helped libraries navigate through great risks and reinforce their essential roles in communities.
As you read through our 2020 accomplishments, we hope you take pride in PLA and what public libraries do. We continue to learn from each other every day, and PLA is committed to supporting and amplifying your powerful work. Thank you for all you are doing for public libraries and communities.
Ramiro Salazar, PLA 2019–2020 President
Michelle Jeske, PLA 2020–2021 President
Happy 75th birthday, PLA!
PLA had a big birthday on Oct. 13, 2019, and we continued to celebrate 75 years of success into 2020. PLA’s 75th Anniversary website extolled PLA’s impact through stories from members about how PLA has affected their lives and careers. A fundraising campaign provided 15 scholarships to the PLA 2020 Conference for library school students, early-career librarians, and library support staff. The celebration was capped off with thousands of members in Nashville, with the debut of the PLA 75th Anniversary video and recognition at the conference reception. PLA looks forward to another 75 years of helping public libraries reach their full potential!
The Impact of COVID-19 on PLA and Libraries
A few weeks after PLA’s hugely successful 2020 Conference in Nashville, PLA and public libraries nationwide found themselves in uncharted waters, with great risk and huge needs, due to COVID-19.
ALA feels COVID-19’s impact
Starting in March 2020, the American Library Association (ALA) moved staff to remote work and began to suffer negative economic impacts from COVID-19, leading to reduced staff capacity in FY20 and continuing into FY21. Despite these challenges, ALA completed the move of its Chicago headquarters from 50 E. Huron to 225 N. Michigan Avenue in May 2020 and successfully held a virtual Annual Conference in June 2020. ALA and PLA worked quickly to cancel, postpone, or move online other events no longer realistic in person. The association also activated the leadership and membership to help libraries respond to changing needs and strategized about how to continue to support libraries as they re-open and support their diverse communities.
PLA led the field in understanding, educating about COVID-19
In March 2020, PLA fielded an online survey, receiving responses from over 2,500 unique libraries representing every state. Survey findings showed that as public libraries closed their buildings to the public, staff continued to serve their communities in innovative ways. Libraries expanded access to digital resources, launched virtual programs, and coordinated services with local government agencies. Additionally, libraries already began preparing for the increased need to support unemployed workers and small businesses. In May 2020, PLA and ALA fielded a second survey to collect more information about all libraries and COVID-19. PLA was at the forefront of capturing and sharing how its members were adapting to the crisis, and survey results were shared widely through the library field, national media, and with federal policymakers during negotiation of the first COVID relief bill.
PLA also took quick action in March 2020 to educate its members. Public Libraries Respond to COVID-19 included six webinars between Mar. 26 and Apr. 23, 2020. The webinars covered topics of immediate need to the field, such as addressing the digital divide, managing anxiety, and responding to community needs through innovative solutions and services. More than 9,000 public library professionals registered for the series. The webinars helped library staff connect with their peers and feel less alone, while also giving them ideas for new services, such as mobile printing, lending hotspots, and increasing job search assistance for recently unemployed patrons. PLA was also a partner in the REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) project, sharing updates to help libraries safely reopen.
PLA as the library’s partner in responding, recovery
In addition to the webinar series and survey, PLA adapted its current activities and created new initiatives to support libraries. PLA amplified and expanded free and low-cost online professional development and networking opportunities, including many archived webinars with no-fee access. PLA promoted ALA’s Planning for Reopening Resources webpage, and coordinated with ALA communication efforts to amplify the voice of public libraries. PLA added COVID-19 content to Public Libraries Online and launched two initiatives with Microsoft to help libraries with new challenges posed by COVID-19.
Once again, the best library conference ever!
The PLA 2020 Conference took place Feb. 25–29 in Nashville, Tenn, with over 8,700 attendees. General session and “Big Ideas” speakers included Stacey Abrams, Dr. Bettina Love, Haben Girma, Soledad O'Brien, and Samantha Bee. Over 110 sessions challenged, engaged, and inspired attendees, along with special events such as the Book Buzz, Career Center, Spark Talks, How-To Festival, and interactive Anybubbler Town Square. For the first time, PLA integrated its Professional Development Theory of Change into conference programming, helping attendees chart their paths to becoming data-driven leaders, community advocates, stewards of the public library and its values, and networked innovators. PLA thanks the Nashville Public Library, hundreds of speakers, and thousands of exhibitors for making PLA 2020 a huge success.
Leading up to the Nashville event, PLA made a strong statement on core values and conference sites, recognizing that no conference site is immune to political actions or legislation contrary to library values. PLA is proud to say we turned this challenge into an opportunity. The commitment of PLA and public libraries to equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice (EDISJ) was integrated throughout the event.
Not only did dozens of sessions promote strategies for libraries to increase access and challenge oppression, but PLA helped attendees advance EDISJ principles by promoting more than a dozen local organizations who are fighting oppression and leading community inclusion; inviting attendees to experience social justice work firsthand through a new “Day in the Community” program; and uniting attendees to pack nearly 2,000 snack packs for teens served by the Oasis Center, which provides crisis intervention, leadership, college and career access, and other programs for youth in middle Tennessee. Watch the conference highlights in this YouTube video.
Read about more conference events in American Libraries magazine. The PLA 2022 Conference will be held Mar. 22–26, 2022, in Portland, Ore., and the PLA 2024 Conference will be held Apr. 3–6, 2024, in Columbus, Ohio.
Theory of Change for Professional Development
PLA’s Theory of Change for Professional Development is an example of how PLA is leading not only the public library field but also stands out among professional membership associations. PLA’s Theory of Change offers a new way to think about professional development pathways and how they link to larger library and community impact and outcomes. Based on research with PLA members, PLA identified four critical focus areas for professional development that anchor PLA’s Theory of Change: Data-driven Leaders, Community Advocates, Public Library Stewards and Networked Innovators. In 2020, PLA integrated the Theory into the PLA 2020 Conference and other professional development activity.
Online learning expands and evolves
PLA’s robust schedule of more than a dozen in-person events on social justice, space planning, leadership and the inclusive internship initiative were canceled due to the COVID-19 crisis, but PLA was ready to engage members in outstanding professional development online. PLA continued to offer the best webinars for public library staff and supporters, presenting 23 live webinars to over 20,000 attendees in 2020. PLA’s biannual call for topics and speakers ensures we showcase the best work happening in libraries today and offers a great opportunity to get involved.
2020 also saw the debut of the Advancing Family Engagement in Libraries series, featuring eight virtual classroom sessions, small group work and facilitated discussions exploring PLA’s family engagement framework. Sixty staff from 30 diverse libraries completed the series. In 2021, PLA will conduct two more cohorts of the Advancing Family Engagement in Libraries series and also debut our new series, PLA Leadership Lab: Embedding EDI in Library Leaders.
Partnering to show impact of public libraries
Over the last few years, PLA’s efforts to share library stories through presentations and articles for government leaders accelerated appreciation of libraries and created new library advocates in critical government positions. In 2020, PLA and member leaders created enhanced awareness of libraries with the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, and others. PLA also promoted public libraries to partner groups in critical sectors such as education, health, employment and more, meeting regularly with ongoing and new partners such as the Recreate Responsibly Coalition, Special Olympics, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Feeding America, and the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. PLA also collaborated with American Libraries magazine on its reporting and coverage of more than 100 library-related referenda across 27 states through the Referenda Roundup.
A promising 2021 emerges
All year, PLA worked with the ALA Public Policy & Advocacy office to advocate for public libraries, which became even more critical due to COVID-19. Efforts included census promotion, the $2 billion Library Stabilization Fund Act, and promoting National Voter Registration Day. PLA was also honored that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Geoffrey Starks named “America’s libraries” as an honoree of the inaugural Digital Opportunity Equity Recognition (DOER) Program, citing PLA’s COVID-19 survey and WiFi access point distribution project. As 2020 came to a close, PLA celebrated IMLS’s eighth consecutive increase in federal fiscal year (FY) appropriations, and the Build America’s Libraries Act (S. 5071), was introduced, potentially providing $5 billion to repair and construct modern library facilities in underserved and disadvantaged communities.
From the September 2019 campaign launch through PLA 2020 in Nashville, PLA called on its members to join the #eBooksForAll fight against Macmillan Publishers' harmful library eBook lending model. PLA held webinars, compiled resources, and collaborated with ALA leaders to deliver nearly 160,000 signed #eBooksForAll petitions to the offices of Macmillan Publishers in New York City. While PLA was pleased that Macmillan Publishers suspended the embargo in 2020, we will continue to put pressure on Macmillan and others to create equity and access for libraries in the eBook environment through the ALA Joint Working Group on eBooks and Digital Content in Libraries.
PLA awards honor the best in the public library field
2020 PLA awards recognized the following individuals and public libraries for the best in public library service and for innovation, creativity, and dedication.
- Allie Beth Martin Award: Beth Atwater, Collection Development Librarian, Johnson County (Kan.) Library
- Baker & Taylor Entertainment Audio Music/Video Product Award: McCracken County (Ky.) Public Library
- Charlie Robinson Award: Rivkah Sass, Library Director/CEO of the Sacramento (Calif.) Public Library
- EBSCO Excellence in Rural Library Service Award: Astor County (Fla.) Library
- Gordon M. Conable Award: Jonathan Newton of Greenville, S.C.
- John Iliff Award: Oscar Grady Public Library (Saukville, Wisc.)
- New Leaders Travel Grant: Tiffany Harkleroad, Youth Services Librarian, Butler Area (Pa.) Public Library; Katie Horner, Head of Circulation & Reference, Lake Bluff (Ill.) Public Library; and Crystal Snyder, Assistant Director/Community Engagement Librarian, Columbia (Ill.) Public Library
- PLA Library Innovation Award: Mill Valley Public Library (Mill Valley, Calif.)
- Romance Writers of America Library Grant: Ferguson (Mo.) Municipal Public Library
- The Singer Group Helping Communities Come Together Award: Flint (Mich.) Public Library
- Public Libraries Feature Article Contest: Amy An, Instructional Services II Librarian, Boca Raton (Fla.) Public Library, for The Mission-Informed Library Internal Marketing to Improve the Organizational Climate in the Public Library.
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice
PLA issues call to address racism
COVID-19 wasn’t the only crisis libraries and communities faced in 2020, as longstanding inequalities and systemic racism came to prominence after high-profile violent acts perpetrated against the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. PLA issued a statement in July 2020, sharing the anger, sadness, and frustration of our members and standing in solidarity with people engaging in collective action against systemic racism, oppression, and injustice. The statement provided action steps public library staff could take and expressed the commitment of the PLA Committee on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice (EDISJ) to do more to advance racial equity and organizational change in libraries. PLA followed the statement with a series of Twitter chats (#chatPLA) held in July, August and September, on topics such as recruiting a diverse workforce, partnerships that center equity in services, and health disparities. PLA gained more than 500 new followers, and the top Tweets from each session had over 6,000 impressions.
A stronger commitment to EDISJ
In addition to the activity noted above, 2020 also saw the PLA board officially create the Committee on EDISJ from what had been a time-limited task force. Since its founding in 2017, the committee has made PLA a leader in addressing equity and social justice. Its Equity Starts with Us training events reached nearly 400 library staff in 2019 and would have reached double that number in 2020 had they not been canceled. Recurring articles in Public Libraries magazine, webinars, and other resources have helped libraries nationwide normalize, organize and operationalize activities to address racial equity. The committee maintained important partnerships with groups like the Government Alliance for Racial Equity; made progress on a new framework for public, academic and research libraries through the Building Cultural Proficiencies for Racial Equity Framework project; and collaborated with the PLA Leadership Development Committee on the new PLA Leadership Lab: Embedding EDI in Library Leaders. In December 2020, the Committee embarked on a short strategic planning process in order to determine its priorities for 2021 and, more importantly, position new, incoming members of the Committee to be successful in July 2021.
Digital Literacy, Access, and Workforce Development
Technology support to rural libraries moves communities forward
PLA and Microsoft share the goal of increasing access to the internet and technology training, particularly in underserved communities. Thanks to grant funding from Microsoft, in early 2020 PLA’s DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities program helped 41 libraries serving rural communities activate 158 hotspot devices, to initiate lending programs, and 156 desktop and laptop computers, to conduct digital literacy training sessions in the library and community. Despite COVID-19 shutdowns, libraries told PLA that this technology helped community members connect and learn new skills, and also helped library staff work remotely and served nearby schools conducting remote learning.
Moving quickly to help libraries extend WiFi signals
Recognizing that libraries have been and continue to be essential to the nation’s digital safety net during the COVID-19 crisis, PLA again benefited from Microsoft’s support, this time to provide WiFi access points to rural libraries, with the objective of increasing access to the internet for community members. In May 2020, PLA and Microsoft quickly created a new opportunity, the PLA and Microsoft Public WiFi Access Point Micro Grant Program. The need was overwhelming, and nearly 200 libraries applied. By October 2020, 57 individual access point locations were up and running at rural libraries, with nearly 50 additional library branches are in process of setting up their signals.
Supporting a changing workforce during COVID-19 recovery
In September 2020, PLA and Microsoft also launched a new collaboration, Skilling for Employment Post COVID-19. This initiative helps libraries identify existing and new tools for community members to gain skills for jobs that are well positioned to grow in the future. Nearly 500 people joined the kick-off webinar, 150 Million New Technology-Oriented Jobs and the Skills Needed to Get Them. The initiative is promoting free and discounted resources on LinkedIn, GitHub, Microsoft Learn, and other sites. Additionally, partnerships between libraries, workforce development agencies and technology refurbishers in large urban areas like Cleveland, New York City, and others will provide in-depth training to individuals impacted by COVID-19—and give them free Microsoft Surface tablet computers!
Libraries lead at growing skills
Libraries Lead with Digital Skills is an initiative of ALA and PLA, sponsored by Google, to ensure that public libraries across the nation receive ongoing access to free tools and resources to help everyone across America grow their skills, careers, and businesses. ALA and Google began 2020 by continuing to hold free, one-day events at libraries across the country for job seekers, small businesses, and library staff. When COVID-19 required changing course, many libraries were supported to hold virtual events. PLA and ALA ultimately issued awards of $1,000 to $3,000 to over 300 public libraries to fund workforce provide programming, outreach, and education in their own libraries.
DigitalLearn grows and fills huge need
PLA continued to expand its digital literacy training website, DigitalLearn.org, which offers a collection of narrated, video-based learning modules developed to help learners practice basic digital literacy skills. New courses included Intro to Searching Videos on YouTube, Using Healthcare.gov to Enroll in Health Insurance and Using MyHealthFinder for Preventive Care. About 6,000 learners visit DigitalLearn.org every month, and many libraries use DigitalLearn’s resources and tools for library staff to help with classroom instruction. PLA also brought the number of library-sponsored DigitalLearn.org subsites to 11, with the most recent additions of the Kansas City (Mo.), Cleveland (Ohio), York County (Penn.), and Miami-Dade (Fla.) Public Libraries.
Other PLA Initiatives
Libraries drive 2020 Census participation
Thanks to collaboration with the ALA Public Policy and Advocacy Office and strong work by the joint ALA/PLA 2020 Census Library Outreach and Education Task Force, PLA helped public libraries nationwide use their internet access so residents could respond to the Census online, outreach to communities at risk of being undercounted, and help jobseekers apply for temporary Census jobs. While COVID-19 canceled many library outreach activities, PLA was still able to engage members through release of the Libraries’ Guide to the 2020 Census, webinars and conference programs, tip sheets, downloadable graphics, and more. In late 2020, PLA initiated a new Census Data Literacy Project, which will develop webinars and interactive online training to give library staff knowledge, skills, and confidence to use Census data to plan and implement services that best meet the needs of diverse local communities.
Libraries are leaders in family engagement
COVID-19 didn’t slow down the PLA Task Force on Family Engagement or its efforts to help libraries engage caregivers in their children’s education and promote our family engagement framework. 2020 saw the debut of the Advancing Family Engagement in Libraries series, in which 60 library staff engaged in eight virtual classroom sessions and facilitated discussions. In September 2020, PLA launched its new IMLS-funded program, Exploring a program co‐design approach to better serve and engage low‐income, Latinx communities. The project will work with three libraries of different sizes—Dallas (Tex.) Public Library, Arapahoe Libraries in Sheridan, Colo., and the Forest Grove (Ore.) City Library—to explore strategies and barriers to engaging Latinx community members. PLA also published its white paper on computational thinking, which was also promoted via a Public Libraries Online blog post and educational programming.
PLA helps libraries create healthy communities
The third year of the initiative Promoting Health Communities: Libraries Connecting You to Coverage, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Community Catalyst, kicked off with the open enrollment period in November 2020. Twenty-one libraries were awarded funds to become Certified Application Counselor Designated Organizations (CDOs), and education and materials were provided to them and PLA members nationwide to promote ACA enrollment generally. New in 2020, PLA will also work with libraries to promote enrollment in Medicaid all year round, with a focus on Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas.
Also in 2020, PLA completed its project Public Libraries Respond to the Opioid Crisis with Their Communities, funded by IMLS and in partnership with OCLC. The project released a Summary Report and Supplemental Case Studies exploring a diverse set of communities in which the library is an active partner in response to the opioid epidemic. The Call to Action: Public Libraries and the Opioid Crisis white paper was also released, offering resources and recommendations for libraries to respond to the opioid epidemic in their communities. Along with conference programs and webinars on the topic, PLA received strong placements in national media, and the project staff was awarded the Connie Van Fleet Award for Research Excellence in Public Library Services to Adults from the Association for Library and Information Science Education (ALISE).
Capturing and sharing library impact
By the end of 2020, nearly 2,000 libraries had used PLA’s Project Outcome to measure and analyze their program outcomes, collecting 323,261 survey responses from program participants! PLA continued to support libraries through webinars and a community of practice and released new tools specific to the COVID-19 crisis, for instance on measuring virtual programs and grab-and-go services. PLA was also honored to support the Association of College and Research Libraries in creating Project Outcome for Academic Libraries.
PLA is your source for articles, books, and more
Public Libraries magazine is published bimonthly and sent to nearly 9,500 PLA members plus almost 500 subscribers. Like the print iteration, Public Libraries Online focuses on issues and topics that matter to public libraries and public librarianship. Updated several times per week, the site features selections from the print magazine and unique content and averages approximately 8,000 views per week. In 2020, driven to be more accessible (particularly as libraries were closed due to COVID-19) and sustainable, Public Libraries magazine went “digital” with the July/August and September/October 2020 issues.
In addition to Public Libraries magazine, new and revised products included the 2020 and 2021 Early Literacy Calendars, the books Library Space Planning: A PLA Guide and Pivoting during the Pandemic: Ideas for Serving Your Community Anytime, Anywhere, and the latest digital download in the "Quick Reads" series, PLA 2020: Ten Essential Programs. PLA also introduced its new Learning Tapas, with the first videos and guidebooks focusing on Effective Networking Skills and Finding a Mentor or a Coach (PLA member login required).
PLA Board works harder than ever
The PLA Board of Directors had barely unpacked from Nashville when COVID-19 changed everything. Even as they dealt with challenges at their own libraries, they recognized that PLA and public libraries needed their strong leadership more than ever. Moving from quarterly to monthly meetings, the board tackled PLA’s response to COVID-19 and how to best help libraries, changes in ALA related to the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness and the ALA Operating Agreement, and PLA’s search for an executive director following the retirement of Barbara Macikas.
PLA welcomes Huggins, McNeil and Schmidt
In April, PLA members elected Melanie Huggins, Executive Director of the Richland Library (Columbia, S.C.) to the office of PLA president. Huggins will serve as president-elect (2020-2021), president (2021-2022), and immediate past president (2022-2023). Also elected to the PLA Board, as directors-at-large, were Brandy A. McNeil, Associate Director, Tech Education at The New York (N.Y.) Public Library and Dara Hanke Schmidt, Library Director at Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Public Library. Stephanie Chase, Executive Director of Libraries of Eastern Oregon, was re-elected as the ALA Division Councilor on the PLA Board.
Candidates for the 2021 PLA election were announced in December and include (for President) Richard Kong of Skokie, Ill. and Maria Taesil Hudson McCauley of Cambridge, Mass., and (for Directors-at-Large) Candice Wing-yee Mack of Los Angeles, Calif., Lois Langer Thompson of Marysville, Wash., Erica Freudenberger of Saratoga Springs, N.Y. and KennethWayne Thompson of La Plata, Md.
PLA is your voice within ALA during critical changes
In 2020, ALA continued to pursue association-wide changes through the Steering Committee on Organizational Effectiveness (SCOE) and its recommendations in the Forward Together report, while also beginning the process to revise the ALA operating agreement (OA), which outlines the financial and programmatic relationship between divisions like PLA and ALA. The OA allows PLA to govern itself through its board, speak for public libraries, and determine its strategic goals and financial priorities. The PLA board has been involved every step of the way, commenting on proposed changes through SCOE and convening ALA Councilors biannually to share information on PLA’s programs and positions.
Committees and Task Forces
The 400+ members serving on PLA’s 12 committees, 3 task forces, 2 advisory groups, and 10 award juries were busier than ever in 2020. Their work is reflected throughout the many accomplishments in this report. Each year, PLA solicits members to fill vacancies, receiving hundreds of applications from library staff experts nationwide.
Commitment to Organizational Excellence
Keeping you and the public informed
In 2020, PLA issued 35 member news releases, on everything from PLA 2020 Conference speakers, new resources for members on digital literacy or insurance enrollment, public policy developments, and opportunities for involvement in PLA. On Facebook and Twitter, PLA saw increased activity before and during the PLA 2020 Conference, and PLA had strong media placements during the conference in The Tennessean, the New York Times and other outlets based on the conference and the opioid project. Later in the year, national and regional media inquiries were higher than usual due to the COVID situation and interest in the results of PLA’s COVID-19 surveys. PLA and ALA responded to prominent national media (New York Times, Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, NBC Nightly News, PBS News Hour, Christian Science Monitor), local media (Denton Record-Chronicle, Columbus Dispatch, the National Public Radio affiliate in Kansas City, MO), and other outlets such as the AARP magazine, Country Living Magazine, Wired, Forbes.com and the Food Network magazine. Finally, PLA produced 12 monthly PLA E‐News emails and dozens of blast emails about events, resources and more to the membership.
A new world needs a new strategy
In December 2020, the PLA Board kicked off a new strategic planning process by hiring a consultant and initiating new data collection efforts. While we don’t anticipate significant changes to the 2018-2022 PLA Strategic Plan goals of Transformation, Leadership, Advocacy and Awareness, EDISJ, and Organizational Excellence, the experiences of 2020 have taught us we need to think creatively about how we deliver support to public libraries, plan for unexpected scenarios, and work even harder to be at the forefront of public library programming and services.
Despite challenges, PLA’s financial position is strong
PLA expects to end fiscal year 2020 (FY20, September 1, 2019 to August 31, 2020) in a strong financial position. PLA’s modest net revenue projection of $111,475 will likely be exceeded due to the high registrations and exhibit fees at PLA 2020. PLA will also end FY20 with a balance of over $8.5 million in grant funding for special projects. PLA’s efforts to secure corporate, foundation, and government grants helps pay for programming not covered by dues or educational program revenue, and we continue to have strong success: PLA added five new grants totaling nearly $500,000 during FY20 and entered FY21 with about $300,000 in grant commitments. In addition, smart financial management has resulted in nearly $5 million in reserves for PLA, through a fund balance of $3.5 million and a long-term investment account of $1.5 million. These funds are critical for PLA to support operations in non-conference years when revenue is modest, to provide ongoing support to important initiatives such as DigitalLearn.org and Project Outcome, and to weather crises such as 2020’s COVID-19 pandemic.
PLA is grateful for the financial support it has received during the past year for general operating and special initiatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Capital One, Community Catalyst, Google, Institute of Museum and Library Services, the John L. and James S. Knight Foundation, Microsoft, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. PLA also thanks the 32 corporate sponsors, advertisers and exhibit game participants who supported the PLA 2020 Conference.
Fund for the Future supports library leaders
PLA’s Fund for the Future launched in 2018 with the goal of developing and supporting future leaders of America’s public libraries. Kicked off by the support of 70 founding donors, the fund has provided important support to the PLA Leadership Academy, the ALA Emerging Leadership program, and conference scholarships. In 2020, although PLA reduced the number of appeals it sent in recognition of the tough financial times facing members, PLA received 62 individual gifts totaling $5,145.
The best staff in the business, if we do say so ourselves
Since 2015, new programs and opportunities have nearly doubled PLA’s staff size, to 19 full-time positions. During most of 2020, only 13 positions were filled, due to routine turnover complicated by an ALA-wide hiring freeze due to COVID-19. PLA staff continued to represent public libraries and deliver the high-quality programming PLA members expect and deserve. Notable in 2020 was the retirement of Barbara Macikas, whose service to PLA and public libraries during her 11-year tenure as Executive Director was greatly appreciated. In September 2020, Mary Hirsh assumed the role of Interim Executive Director.
Thank you to our members, volunteers, and partners.
Your perseverance, resilience, and dedication shown in 2020 continues to inspire us.