2021: PLA's Year in Review

Highlights from the Public Library Association

2021: Year in Review

Click above to scroll through a visual presentation of PLA's 2021 year in review. A text version is available below.

PLA Presidents' Reflections

As the PLA Board and staff look back on another busy year, we continue to be in awe of public libraries' ability to respond to their communities' evolving needs with speed, compassion, and creativity. Whether navigating long-term COVID-related concerns like health, safety, and equity of access, or fighting to protect the freedom to read during a massive increase in unpopular, politically-motivated book bans, public library professionals continue to manage an ever-expanding range of complex and sensitive challenges with professionalism and resilience.

Public libraries have met each successive challenge with a renewed commitment to some of our most deeply held values, including equitable access to information and services, diversity, intellectual freedom, and lifelong learning.

During times like these, we are more grateful than ever for our strong and vibrant PLA community. We are proud of PLA’s work offering continuing education opportunities to the public library field, highlighting the innovative work of our members while providing both virtual and in-person opportunities to gather for idea sharing and generating. Through webinars, cohort-based virtual trainings, publications, data collection and research, grants, and more, PLA has offered the field invaluable points of connection, support, and opportunities for professional growth.

Our 2021 accomplishments have been possible due to our invaluable access to PLA members: public library professionals who represent widely diverse communities and offer their own diverse perspectives on service, leadership, advocacy and more. We appreciate each one of you, whether you’ve been a speaker, author, blogger, program attendee, survey participant, or simply a dedicated reader of PLA news and publications. Thank you for being a vital part of our work.

We can’t wait to find out what the next year will bring and look forward to learning and growing with you in 2022.

Michelle Jeske, PLA president 2020–2021 & Melanie Huggins, PLA president 2021–2022

Staffing & Leadership

PLA welcomes McCauley, Freidenberger, and Mack

In April 2021, PLA members elected Dr. Maria Taesil Hudson McCauley, director of libraries at the Cambridge (MA) Public Library, to the office of 2022–2023 PLA president. McCauley will serve as president-elect (2021–2022), president (2022–2023), and immediate past president (2023–2024). Also elected to the PLA Board, as directors-at-large, were Erica Freudenberger, outreach, engagement and marketing consultant, Southern Adirondack Library System (Saratoga Springs, NY) and Candice Wing-yee Mack, administrator, young adult services, Los Angeles (CA) Public Library.

Fournier appointed director, Meeks hired for research efforts, more new staff to come

Mary Davis Fournier joined PLA as its new executive director in June 2021. Fournier was appointed following a national search, during which PLA deputy director Mary Hirsh acted as interim director. Fournier brings a wealth of experience in association management, libraries, publishing, fundraising, partnerships, and education to her new role, as well as a 20-year history with ALA’s Public Programs Office, most recently as deputy director. She is especially passionate about the unparalleled power of public libraries to support the most vulnerable and in-need populations through excellence in programming and community engagement.

In 2021, PLA also welcomed Mahogany Meeks as a full-time program coordinator dedicated to PLA’s growing research capabilities and data-driven librarianship efforts. Meeks’s hiring is an important step toward the association’s planned expansion of this vital work capturing and interpreting national public library data.

Despite these exciting additions, the PLA team faced a second consecutive year with critical positions unfilled, due to staff turnover and an ALA hiring freeze affecting most positions. At the close of the year, PLA was down from its pre-pandemic level of 19 full-time staff members to a team of 13 but had published several job postings to fill these important roles in 2022.

Meet the PLA Staff

Data-Driven Librarianship

Free training to boost census data literacy skills

As part of the Census Data Literacy project, PLA offered six free webinars, a general resource guide, and a guide to using Census data for family and local history efforts. The Census Data Literacy project is an initiative of PLA conducted in partnership with American Library Association's (ALA) Public Policy and Advocacy Office. It aims to build data literacy skills among library staff to enhance their services, programs, and initiatives with the overall goal of promoting awareness and use of Census data in their communities. Resource guides and on-demand webinars are freely available on PLA’s website.

PLA, ACRL launch Benchmark, a new digital data tool for libraries

In partnership with the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL), PLA launched Benchmark: Library Metrics and Trends, the newest tool for data-driven planning and advocacy in libraries. Benchmark provides libraries with data visualizations that allow them to compare their inputs and outputs to peer and nationwide data, filling a gap in U.S. libraries’ ability to understand their own performance as it relates to their peers. PLA will also use Benchmark to release annual surveys on a rotating roster of topics, replacing the Public Library Data Service (PLDS) surveys, reducing redundancy in data collection, and capturing information that complements the annual Public Libraries Survey (PLS).

All public libraries have free access to Benchmark that allows them to perform key functions, including completing surveys, viewing prior survey responses, and viewing summary pages with select data metrics and visualizations. Libraries may also subscribe to Benchmark to access additional features, such as a custom report builder that includes historic metrics dating back to 2002. Subscription pricing, an FAQ, and an on-demand webinar that reviews how Benchmark can support your library in everyday decision making is available on the PLA website.

Get Started with Benchmark

New public library diversity survey

Shortly after launching Benchmark, PLA encouraged public libraries to participate in the 2021 Public Library and Staff Diversity Survey. The survey collected data about staff salaries and hours, roles within the library, staff representation, hiring and retention strategies, and equity, diversity, and inclusion goals and activities. The results, which will be published in 2022, will provide nationally representative data to inform and engage elected officials, the media, and funders to increase awareness of and support for library workers. They will also help PLA respond to requests for up-to-date, nationally-valid data about staffing and diversity from public library staff.

Survey finds libraries expand digital equity, bridge gaps in technology access

Over the summer, PLA published a summary report on findings from the 2020 Public Library Technology Survey. The survey gathered information from public library directors at the administrative entity level about their libraries’ public access technology infrastructure, technology-related programming, and technology-related funding streams. While significant differences exist among city, suburban, and town/rural libraries, survey results show how libraries of all sizes continue to serve as hubs for digital equity in their communities. Key findings are available in the full survey report summary. A companion snapshot of public library technology lending provides the most recent and representative data related to U.S. public library circulation of technology to library patrons. Data from the 2020 survey has also been added to the Benchmark portal.

Learn more about PLA's work supporting data-driven librarianship


Research-based strategic planning support

In September, PLA released a new book, Strategic Planning for Public Libraries, addressing the key areas of strategic planning that public library professionals care about most. This instructional publication provides a framework that libraries of all sizes can use as a basis for their strategic planning. The content is supported by research conducted across more than 200 public library professionals and in-depth interviews with more than 20 library directors and leaders throughout the country. Strategic Planning for Public Libraries is available as an eBook or print/eBook bundle. Each purchase also comes with downloadable, supplemental materials, including reusable templates, worksheets, and real-life examples to help guide the reader through the strategic planning process, regardless of whether they are experienced in strategic planning or just beginning.

Ideas for virtual services

Earlier in the year, PLA also released Pivoting during the Pandemic: Ideas for Serving Your Community Anytime, Anywhere, published by ALA Editions. The book shares adaptable ideas based on how several libraries transitioned to virtual and socially-distanced services in 2020. Topics covered include homebound delivery, citizen science programs, virtual reference advice, services to small businesses, remote readers' advisory and book chats, early literacy storytimes, health services outreach, tech guidance for patrons, Wi-Fi hotspot lending; and tips for social media and marketing.

Encouraging early literacy all year long

Just in time for the new school year, PLA published its popular Early Literacy Calendar for 2022, featuring daily literacy-building activities that libraries can share with families in their community. The bright and colorful calendars are downloadable and reproducible and may be purchased through the ALA Store. Based on the Every Child Ready to Read practices of reading, writing, singing, talking, playing, and counting, each download contains twelve months of learning activities, book lists, nursery rhymes, and more.

Shop PLA publications and products

Guidance for social work positions at the library

In Public Libraries Online, the PLA Social Worker Task Force published Guidance for Social Work Positions at the Library. Through the article, task force members share considerations that public library systems should review before determining if a social work program could be a good fit for the library and community.

Statistics article wins Public Libraries 2021 Feature Article Contest

In May, Public Libraries, the official magazine of the Public Library Association, announced the winners of its 2021 Feature Article Contest. Feature length articles published in 2020 were eligible to compete for two cash prizes. The articles were evaluated by members of the Public Libraries Advisory Committee and the winner of the Feature Article Contest receives $500. The committee also identified a winner for the Honorable Mention Award, which includes a $300 cash prize.

The 2021 Feature Article Contest award winner was Mary Jo Finch, Director, Westbank Community Library (Austin, TX), for her article Learning From Our Statistics – Twelve Simple Rules for Understanding and Using Our Numbers Better, which appeared in the September/October 2020 issue.

The 2021 Honorable Mention Award went to Define & Design: The Bookstore Model of Customer Service, by Marissa Bucci, youth services librarian, The Ferguson Library (Stamford, CT); Jay Janoski, assistant director, Westhampton Public Library (Westhampton Beach, NY); and Nicole Scherer, assistant director, Nassau Library System (Uniondale, NY).

Visit Public Libraries Online

Online Professional Development

Support for family engagement programming and services

Based on PLA’s Family Engagement frameworkAdvancing Family Engagement in Libraries is an eight-session series that enables public library professionals to expand their current family engagement programming, refine related strategies, and plan for new programs and services. Each session is led by experienced facilitators from the PLA Committee on Family Engagement. During the series, participants engage in small-group work and facilitated discussions with their peers, complete work outside of virtual sessions, and submit a final project for their library. Two cohorts participated in this series in 2021; sessions for the second cohort are continuing in 2022.

Workshop on EDI library leadership

Consisting of six live, 90-minute virtual sessions, PLA Leadership Lab: Embedding EDI in Library Leaders explored transformational leadership through the lens of the current social crises, emphasizing equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice (EDISJ) principles and approaches, supplemented by leadership development and asset-based community development tools. Participants shared their primary work function and community size, then were assigned to a small group that convened for breakout sessions throughout the series. By completing the workshop, participants became better prepared to embed EDISJ principles that dismantle systemic racism in library services and policies.

Free webinar series on workforce development

Co-developed by PLA and Libswork, a national networking group on workforce and small business development in libraries, the Public Libraries: Partners in Workforce Development six-part webinar series provided practical tools and resources for libraries to plan, deliver, partner, and advocate for workforce development services to advance equitable economic opportunity.

Topics covered in the series included: Boosting Youth Workforce ReadinessBridging Workers’ Digital Skills Gaps through LibrariesSupporting Patrons to Obtain In-Demand Credentials That Boost Employability and Career MobilityStrengthen Patron Workforce Opportunities with Labor Market InformationPartnering to Meet Community Workforce Needs; and Supporting Formerly Incarcerated Individuals with a Fresh Start @ Your Library. The on-demand recordings remain freely available on PLA's on-demand webinars webpage.

Browse PLA online learning opportunities

Conference Planning

COVID-19 and PLA 2022

Due to ongoing health and safety concerns relating to the spread of COVID-19, 2021 brought continued uncertainty regarding in-person gatherings, especially large events like professional conferences. With the PLA 2022 Conference on the horizon, the PLA staff worked closely with its board of directors to determine the best way to move forward with the information available. Together, staff and elected leaders decided to forge ahead with an in-person national conference, completing significant planning before opening registration in October 2021. A parallel virtual conference was also planned for those unable to attend in-person, with registration opening in early 2022.

The PLA 2022 Conference took place March 23–25, 2022, in Portland, OR, and the PLA 2024 Conference will be held April 3–6, 2024, in Columbus, OH.

Learn more about PLA's national conference

Ongoing Initiatives

PLA and AT&T digital literacy collaboration

In 2021, PLA and AT&T joined forces to improve digital literacy and promote broadband adoption among families and communities. Through the collaboration, PLA and AT&T developed a curated collection of courses for parents and families, intended to support those newly connected to the internet as they navigate home schooling, distance learning, remote employment, and other essential activities affected by the pandemic.

Based on content from PLA’s DigitalLearn.org training site, digital literacy courses were updated to address searching, navigating a website, using passwords, and avoiding scams. New content was also created to focus on using mobile devices and video conferencing. Courses will be available virtually for everyone and offered in-person at public libraries, community centers, AT&T Connected Learning Centers, and other learning spaces. All courses and related materials will be available in English and Spanish.

Following 2022’s release of the new courses and the debut of the new and improved DigitalLearn website, PLA and AT&T will provide training and funding to public libraries nationwide to conduct digital literacy programs in their facilities and communities.

View available opportunities and resources offered by PLA and AT&T

IMLS-funded Inclusive Internship Initiative

PLA’s Inclusive Internship Initiative (III) welcomed 40 host libraries for its fourth summer of introducing high school students from diverse backgrounds to careers in librarianship, providing mentor and leadership opportunities for library staff, and helping host libraries reach new audiences by engaging local young people in outreach and program planning.

In alignment with PLA’s strategic goal of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice, III was created as a pathway program to increase diversity in public librarianship. Since its inception, 198 high school students at 119 libraries in 44 states have participated. III is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Read about host libraries’ III experiences on ProgrammingLibrarian.org

Health insurance education and outreach initiative

2021 marked the third year during which PLA partnered with Community Catalyst and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to help libraries inform their communities about health insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act. PLA’s work in 2021 focused on helping libraries promote the COVID-19 Special Enrollment period for federal marketplace coverage and promoting Medicaid all year long.

Access free resources for your library’s ACA education and outreach efforts

Skilling for employment post-COVID-19

With support from Microsoft Corp., PLA promoted tools to help job seekers in high-growth careers through the Skilling for Employment Post COVID-19 initiative. The initiative connected public libraries and their communities nationwide to specialized free and discounted online training and certifications through December 31, 2021.

As part of the initiative, PLA and Microsoft also funded four libraries to promote skilling resources and help community members find low-cost home internet and device solutions. Targeted programs were offered in Cleveland, El Paso, Memphis, and New York City.

Review tools for helping community members gain skills for in-demand employment


Defending the freedom to read

In response to 2021’s dramatic increase in book challenges in libraries, the PLA Executive Board joined with ALA's Executive Board and the Boards of Directors for ALA's seven other divisions to release a joint statement. The statement condemns coordinated attempts at censorship and removal of library materials that focus on the experiences of, or are written by, LGBTQIA+, Black, or other BIPOC individuals. ALA and its divisions also condemn attempts at intimidation and threats targeting library workers, educators, and board members, and commit to continuing to defend the constitutional rights of all individuals of all ages to use the resources and services of libraries.

Read ALA’s statement on censorship in U.S. schools and libraries

$7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund

Established as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program offers $7.17 billion in funding for libraries to purchase connected devices and broadband internet connections for off-site use by patrons, students, teachers, and staff who otherwise lack internet access. The ECF presents an unprecedented funding opportunity for libraries to expand broadband equity to those who need it most beyond the confines of library walls.

The first round of applications for ECF funding were accepted June 29–August 13, 2021. In collaboration with PLA, ALA promoted this opportunity and created an ECF webpage with a toolkit including five scenarios with step-by-step guidance modeled on examples collected from libraries across the country.

ALA led library advocacy efforts for emergency funding as part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which includes the ECF and other library-eligible funding opportunities. During the ECF design process, ALA urged the FCC to develop ECF program rules that protect library patron privacy and minimize barriers to library participation. PLA is proud of these advocacy successes and urges its members to apply for ECF funding in 2022.

View ALA's ECF toolkit and learn about 2022 funding opportunities

ALA data brief on public library infrastructure needs and the Build America’s Libraries Act

In May 2021, ALA released a data brief that addresses the need for funding to support construction and renovation in America’s approximately 17,000 public libraries. Extrapolating on the results of public library facility needs assessments in nine states and the District of Columbia, ALA estimates that over $32 billion is needed to address a wide range of concerns including repairs to foundations, roofs and building systems such as HVAC and plumbing; updates for greater accessibility and modernized technology infrastructure like electrical outlets and Wi-Fi routers.

The bipartisan, bicameral Build America’s Libraries Act (BALA) of 2021 (S. 127/H.R. 1581) would have provided $5 billion to support these kinds of long-term improvements to library facilities, including addressing needs that have arisen due to COVID–19, to enable libraries to better serve rural, low-income and underserved areas, as well as people with disabilities and other vulnerable library users. Despite wide support, BALA and other Build Back Better initiatives were not passed in 2021.

Access ALA’s data brief on public library construction needs

Learn more about the Build America's Libraries Act

Thank you to our members, volunteers, and partners.

We could not have achieved all that we did in 2021 without your dedication and support.

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