Highlights from the Public Library Association
Click above to scroll through a visual presentation of PLA's 2022 year in review. A text version is available below.
PLA Presidents' Reflections
As the Public Library Association (PLA) Board and staff reflect on the year 2022, we are humbled and honored to be representing our members and colleagues in the public library field. This year libraries continued to return to their new normal, which included a return to in-person events like the PLA 2022 Conference in Portland, OR. Looking out to a packed auditorium for the first time in two years was overwhelming—it even drew some tears from Closing Speaker Kal Penn! Conference attendees reported an overall feeling of renewal; a renewed love for the library and passion for the work we do every day.
We are excited and fueled by the progress the field has made in the areas of equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice (EDISJ), but we know we still have a long way to go. PLA’s 2021 Staff and Diversity Survey report showed that nearly 93% of public libraries engage in at least one type of EDI activity, but only a quarter have formal EDI plans and/or dedicated staff in these roles. PLA also refreshed our Strategic Plan this year to place EDISJ at the center of all that we do.
This progress also has brought challenges from some. This year’s annual report reflects the unprecedented number of book challenges and escalated threats to many library workers across the country. 2022 broke the previous year’s record in book challenges. In response, PLA’s conference programming and free virtual town halls provided attendees with resources and a network of support to withstand these challenges. In addition, PLA has supported the American Library Association’s (ALA) Unite Against Book Bans campaign, a national initiative to empower readers everywhere to stand together in the fight against censorship, and encourages all library workers to report their challenges to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom.
All that we accomplished in 2022 is due to our dedicated members, leaders, staff, and supporters. Whether you’ve presented a program, contributed to an article, volunteered to review scholarship applications, or accessed a PLA webinar or resource this past year, the role you play in our association and the public library field is invaluable. We thank you for your continued support of PLA and look forward to what 2023 will bring.
Melanie Huggins, PLA President 2021–2022
Dr. Maria Taesil Hudson McCauley, PLA President 2022–2023
Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice
PLA refreshes strategic goals, positioning EDISJ at center
This fall, the PLA Strategic Plan 2022–2026 was released, following its unanimous approval by the PLA Board of Directors in June 2022. Informed by member surveys, member and partner interviews, and PLA leadership and staff engagements, the PLA strategic plan centers Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice (EDISJ) and expands PLA’s role as a platform for innovation and amplifier for sharing public library community impacts.
The pandemic and national outcry for racial and social justice, and the impact of both on public libraries were key considerations in the strategic plan refresh. A lot has changed since 2018, and PLA's refreshed plan aims to keep pace with these changes. The plan embeds EDISJ throughout the four other refreshed strategic goals: Transformation; Professional Growth; Advocacy; and Organizational Excellence. In addition to centering EDISJ, these goals aim to focus on all library workers as critical to the success of libraries. The plan further describes PLA’s role as a trusted partner to public libraries as they work to meet community needs and serve the public good.
PLA releases first Staff and Diversity Survey report
In August, PLA published the first ever 2021 Public Library Staff and Diversity Survey report. The national survey updates information on beginning librarian and library director salaries; documents traditional and emerging staff roles; explores staff diversity, recruitment, and retention efforts; and captures information about public library equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) goals and activities. The survey is the second in a rotating series of three national surveys exploring public library roles, services, and resources to provide actionable data for decision-making and advocacy.
The results showed that virtually all (95%) public libraries report they engage in at least one type of EDI activity. More than a quarter (27%) of public libraries have formal EDI plans, and 25% report they have dedicated EDI staff roles. When viewed with historic PLA salary data, beginning librarian salaries have been virtually flat, and library director salaries have not recovered to pre-Great Recession levels. More than a quarter (27%) of all public libraries report they lost staff positions in the prior 12 months. About 92% of libraries reported using at least one strategy for hiring staff from underrepresented groups, but staff demographics of the library sector still do not reflect those of the U.S. population.
Public libraries can freely access their own responses and contribute to future surveys through PLA’s Benchmark platform. To read the full 2021 report and explore other PLA data resources, visit the PLA Surveys and Data webpage.
PLA, AT&T launch new and improved digital literacy courses
In the spring, PLA launched new and updated digital literacy courses and training materials as part of its collaboration with AT&T to bring digital literacy training to families. The curated collection of courses—available in English and Spanish—help patrons build skills and confidence using technology and are freely available on PLA’s DigitalLearn.org. The courses address essential skills such as getting started with email, navigating websites and commonly used apps, operating search engines, online safety, video conferencing, and more.
PLA collaborates with Freedom Lifted on new Justice at Work in Public Libraries course
This spring, Freedom Lifted launched a new virtual training, Justice at Work in Public Libraries: Understanding Power, Oppression, Resistance and Solidarity, developed in partnership with the PLA Committee on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice. Led by nationally-recognized trainer, facilitator, and leadership coach Mia Henry, this self-paced course helps library staff learn frameworks that get to the heart of social justice, adopt a shared language to talk openly and honestly with one another, and create plans of action to shift culture and develop practices that advance justice in their library. Individual and group registrations are available, along with full customization options. A portion of the proceeds from this course go toward enhancing PLA's EDISJ work.
PLA awards thirty scholarships to attend PLA 2022 Conference
PLA awarded thirty scholarships for public library workers and students to attend the PLA 2022 Conference in Portland, OR. As part of PLA’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in the library profession, scholarships were distributed among three categories: Early-career Library Staff Scholarships, Non-Salaried or Unemployed Library Staff Scholarships, and Library School Student Scholarships. Each scholarship included complimentary conference registration, one year of ALA and PLA membership, and a $500 stipend for travel and housing.
“I have recently been given new responsibilities in the library, in areas of collection development, Latino Outreach, EDI trainings, and Marketing…Attending PLA will give me the fresh ideas and perspectives I need and the invaluable advice and the knowledge of my peers with expertise in these fields…As a young, queer, Indigenous Latinx woman, I often feel that my voice is silenced or ignored. My library continues to work towards diversifying their staff and receiving EDI training to better support our staff of color. It’s a work in progress, so any information and support I can receive at PLA will help give me the confidence to speak up and speak out when I need to.” - PLA 2022 Scholarship Recipient
PLA awards $1.1 million to more than 150 public libraries to conduct digital literacy workshops
With over $1 million in contributions from AT&T, PLA awarded $4,000–$7,000 to more than 150 public libraries to host digital literacy workshops across the country. The PLA Digital Literacy Workshop Incentive, supported by AT&T, is designed to support public libraries in their efforts to boost digital skills for all members of their communities. The workshops leverage online digital literacy courses that are available to anyone through PLA’s DigitalLearn.org and AT&T’s ScreenReady®.
From small towns to big cities, funded libraries’ efforts will be specific to each community’s unique needs. Just a few examples of how funds will be used are: creating new or expanding digital literacy education; hosting digital literacy workshops using the new and updated course materials; and promoting the courses and workshops with patrons and in the community. The workshops will be conducted through March 2023.
PLA surveys the field to gather national data on public library services
In the fall, PLA opened its national survey, the 2022 Public Library Services for Strong Communities Survey, which focused on current and emerging programs, services, partnerships, and facilities in public libraries and how these meet community needs and foster resilience. Every U.S. public library (including all tribal libraries) was invited to participate in the survey at librarybenchmark.org. Thanks to the more than 1,100 libraries who participated, PLA received a 12% response rate. These contributions are essential to providing actionable data for the field on public library partnerships, programs, services, and facilities. Through Benchmark, all public libraries have free access that allows them to: view and complete open surveys; see past survey response data; view select peer comparisons; and access data-related resources. ALA and PLA also use data in federal policy advocacy, media outreach, and planning for member programs and services.
The 2022 survey is the third in a set of three new annual topical surveys gathering unique data that complement the annual IMLS Public Libraries Survey (PLS) and state library surveys. PLA will publish a freely available report of national findings in summer 2023. Reports on the 2020 Technology Survey and 2021 Staff and Diversity Survey results can be found on the PLA Surveys and Data webpage.
PLA supports library workers with trauma-informed framework
Written by the PLA Social Worker Task Force, A Trauma-Informed Framework for Supporting Patrons offers practical guidance and support to library staff, while sparking curiosity and reflection on how everyday patron interactions intersect with trauma and adversity. The workbook is filled with prompts, exercises, and best practices that shed light on how trauma can affect people. It provides a collection of powerful tools that any library can add to their customer service toolbox. The Task Force conducted a preconference workshop at the PLA 2022 Conference that led attendees through the practices taught in the workbook and taught them how to use a trauma-informed lens in all facets of customer service. The workbook is available for purchase in the ALA Store.
Over 6,000 attend first PLA national conference since pandemic
The PLA national conference was held March 23–25, 2022, in Portland, OR—the first large-scale library conference to be held since the pandemic. More than 6,000 library workers and supporters gathered in person and virtually to attend sessions on shaping the future of public library service in a post-pandemic world. According to Travel Portland, the event provided substantial revenue to Portland businesses, with an estimated economic impact of $4.4 million in revenue.
Conference attendees were kept busy with a three-day schedule that packed in the learning and fun. With more than 100 programs, the conference highlighted and shared innovative and responsive best practices for public library programs and services that address evolving community needs—ranging from managing censorship attempts to enabling access to telehealth, entrepreneurship, and other vital resources for diverse communities. Special events included the ever-popular How-To Stage, Career Center, Intellectual Freedom Forum, author lunches, Book Buzz, and library showcases featuring Anythink Library (Adams County, CO), Multnomah County (OR) Library, and Richland Library (Columbia, SC). A collaboration between PLA and My People’s Market offered attendees the unique opportunity to shop within the exhibit hall and support Portland business owners of color.
PLA 2022 officially opened with New York Times best-selling author, podcast host, and professional troublemaker Luvvie Ajayi Jones, by challenging attendees to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. The Big Idea sessions continued to inspire attendees each morning. Led by author and lawyer Brittany K. Barnett and Jeopardy! Champion Amy Schneider, the sessions attracted hundreds to talks that focused on equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice. Actor, writer, producer, and former associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Kal Penn certainly brought the expected humor to a packed closing session. He also brought sincere appreciation for the library community, its early impact in his life as a reader, and its support for his memoir You Can't Be Serious (Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books).
For more details on the conference, to view the daily recap videos, or read the PLA Daily News, visit www.placonference.org. Program sessions from the Virtual Conference are available for purchase on the ALA eLearning site.
The next national conference, PLA 2024, will take place April 3–5 in Columbus, OH.
Over 10,000 people register for PLA’s online learning
This year over 10,000 individuals registered for PLA free webinars and over 700 individuals registered for PLA paid webinars. PLA’s webinar programming in 2022 covered topics of perennial interest such as intellectual freedom, community partnerships, adult learning, and leadership while also exploring emerging issues around climate change, COVID vaccines for children, serving LGBTQ+ families, accessibility for users with sensory needs, and leveraging data to engage underserved communities. Explore PLA’s catalog of on-demand webinars.
Horner wins Public Libraries magazine 2022 Feature Article Contest
In January, Public Libraries, the official magazine of the PLA, announced the 2022 recipients of the Feature Article Contest for articles published in the previous year. First prize of $500 was awarded to Katie Horner, Head of Circulation & Reference, Lake Bluff (IL) Public Library, for her article “We Can Do Better – Best (and Worst) Practices for Manager Responding to Sexual Harassment Claims,” which was published in the September/October 2021 issue of Public Libraries.
Honorable mention prize of $300 was awarded to Tamar Kirschner, Library Technology Program Lead and Instructor, Job Skills for Library Careers: Access & Technical Services in Libraries, Diablo Valley College, Pleasant Hill, CA, for her feature article, “We All Win—Training and Advancement for Non-MLIS Library Workers,” which was published in the November/December 2021 issue. Both winners were chosen by members of the Public Libraries Advisory Subcommittee.
PLA returns to in-person programs and events at ALA Annual Conference
Over 13,000 library workers gathered in Washington, DC, for the ALA Annual Conference—the first in-person conference for ALA since 2019. PLA hosted 17 educational programs and informational sessions dedicated to public library workers and celebrated with over 200 members at the complimentary PLA Member Welcome Breakfast.
Keynote speaker and White House correspondent April Ryan shared memories of going to her local library growing up in Baltimore, MD, and having a mother who encouraged curiosity and getting to the answer. Ryan spoke about her new book, Black Women Will Save the World: An Anthem, and the role libraries play in upholding intellectual freedom.
PLA’s Committee on Family Engagement develops free webinar series on social emotional learning
Launched in the fall, PLA’s Committee on Family Engagement developed a four-part series of free webinars to introduce key concepts of social emotional learning (SEL) and how libraries can incorporate SEL into the work they do with families every day. Topics covered in the Social Emotional Learning in the Library series were Fundamentals of Social Emotional Learning; Practical Applications of Social Emotional Learning in the Library; Kids Yoga in the Library; and a final Recharge and Refresh.
Advocacy & Awareness
PLA convenes town halls to address intellectual freedom challenges and public library threats
As libraries continued to confront unprecedented attacks on the freedom to read, PLA responded by providing libraries a safe space to support one another, share ideas, and advocate for the role of public library staff. The virtual town hall, Facing the Challenge: Intellectual Freedom in Libraries (presented on March 4, 2022), was so popular that PLA expanded it into an Intellectual Freedom Forum as part of the PLA 2022 Conference. The in-person sessions included: Ask a Lawyer, Peer-sharing roundtables, and 1-on-1 appointments with ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.
In response to five member libraries being the target of physical and violent threats in late September, PLA convened public library leaders and collaborated with the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) and Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) to host another town hall to address these safety issues. Over 2,700 people registered for Spotlight on Safety: Addressing Threats in Public Libraries (presented on November 30, 2022), where panelists discussed safety protocols, the impact of trauma on library workers, and effective policies and practices.
ALA, PLA stand with Ukrainian library community
The American Library Association (ALA) and its divisions, including PLA, came together in support of our Ukrainian colleagues and worked with the global library community to answer the appeal from the Ukrainian Library Association to provide accurate information as a means to support democracy and freedom of expression. Thanks to the generous support of over 150 ALA donors, $12,000 was sent to the Ukrainian Library Association, to purchase technology equipment, as well as materials to overcome stress for children and adults.
PLA helps get the word out about COVID-19 vaccines for children
The ALA partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) “We Can Do This” campaign to share trusted information about COVID-19 vaccines with parents and families with children. PLA helped to raise awareness of the campaign and its resources among public library staff with a free webinar and promotion in May: Informing Parents and Families About Recommended COVID-19 Vaccines for Children. Panelists included PLA President (2021–2022) Melanie Huggins, pediatrician Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, and HHS Strategic Partnerships Director Erin Hemlin. PLA President (2022–2023) Maria McCauley subsequently spoke at a public event in August 2022 at the Prince George's County Public Library in Maryland. The event included a press briefing with local and national media, as well as a story time and successful COVID-19 vaccine clinic, and highlighted the role of public libraries as trusted community hubs for credible information and resources.
PLA collaborates with ALA Public Policy & Advocacy Office to raise awareness of federal funding opportunities
Throughout the year, PLA coordinated with colleagues in ALA’s D.C.-based policy and advocacy office to share policy news and funding opportunities, particularly related to digital equity. Through Public Libraries Online blog posts, social media, and articles in the monthly e-newsletter, PLA members learned about the Digital Equity Act and outreach grants available to support enrollment in the Affordable Connectivity Program, among others.
PLA welcomes Alcántara-Antoine, Colford, and Icaza to PLA Board
This spring, the membership elected Sonia Alcántara-Antoine, Director, Baltimore County (MD) Public Library, to the office of 2022–2023 PLA president. Alcántara-Antoine has served extensively in PLA, the American Library Association (ALA), and the Urban Libraries Council (ULC). Highlights include serving as a coach for PLA’s Leadership Academy, as a member of PLA’s National Conference Program Subcommittee, as an ALA Councilor-At-Large, and as a member of ULC’s Antiracism and Digital Equity action teams. She also has served proudly in the Maryland Library Association and Virginia Library Association.
Also elected to the PLA Board as directors-at-large were Michael Colford, Director of Library Services, Boston (MA) Public Library, and Mary Ellen Icaza, CEO/Executive Director, Stark Library in Canton, OH.
PLA celebrated our success on social
PLA grew our community online via social media, with a 52% increase in Instagram followers from 3,237 to 4,174 members and non-members alike. We loved highlighting our PLA people, especially during the #PLA2022 Conference. Some of our top Instagram posts spotlighted #PLA2022 speaker Luvvie Ajayi Jones and showed appreciation for the library workers who took off time to attend #PLA2022. Similarly, a Facebook post remembering #PLA2022 Closing Speaker Kal Penn on Take Action for Libraries Day received lots of love from our online community with 502 engagements. In addition, our Twitter community enjoyed hearing about the announcement of PLA President-Elect Sonia Alcántara-Antoine in April.
PLA adds four staff to growing team
PLA was thrilled to welcome four new staff members to our team this year. As the program coordinator of continuing education, Alison Armstead has been supporting PLA’s growing continuing education portfolio, including webinars and PLA Conference. Alison’s experience working on diversity, equity, and inclusion programs are among the many qualifications that make her well suited to help PLA advance our strategic goals. Mary-Clare Bietila, program manager of programming initiatives, has hit the ground running by taking over PLA’s Digital Literacy Workshop Incentive, supported by AT&T, which awarded over $1 million in funding and resources to over 150 public libraries looking to expand their digital literacy services.
PLA’s latest data and research team member is Katina Jones, program manager of evaluation and assessment, who comes to us from Mid-Continent Public Library in Missouri where she was the Statistical Research Analyst. Katina served on PLA's Measurement, Evaluation, and Assessment Committee for four years and spearheaded this year’s national PLA survey—Public Library Services for Strong Communities. Eliana (“Ellie”) Tang Kleiman is the latest staff member to join PLA and has been supporting PLA’s marketing, communications, and membership activities as the new communications associate. Ellie has strong non-profit and digital content experience as a former communications associate for the HANA Center, a non-profit service and advocacy organization that serves Chicago’s Korean, Asian American, and multi-ethnic immigrant communities.
Thank you to our members, volunteers, and partners.
We could not have achieved all that we did in 2022 without your dedication and support.
Public Library Association (PLA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA)
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