Public Librarians Meet over Books in Minneapolis

Public Librarians Meet over Books in Minneapolis

In Minneapolis for the 12th biennial national conference of the Public Library Association (PLA), March 25–29, public librarians from across the country and around the world gathered for a week of discussions, seminars, exhibits, and programs. Many of the activities were all firmly rooted in unabashed reverence for the power of reading and books, as evidenced by the dozens of authors who appeared throughout the conference. No one drew a bigger crowd than opening session keynoter John Wood, who dazzled a large portion of the more than 10,000 attendees with his vision of “education for every child on earth.”

Calling himself “an accidental philanthropist,” Wood explained why he left his high-powered job at Microsoft in 1999 at the age of 35 after a trek to Nepal, where he observed the dire need for libraries in that part of the world. He said his conversion led to the formation of Room to Read, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping children break the cycle of poverty through the power of education. Since its start in 2000, Room to Read has sponsored the opening of more than 280 schools and 3,600 multilingual libraries across the developing world. Following his program, dozens of Wood fans formed a long line to get an autographed copy of his book Leaving Microsoft to Change the World (HarperCollins 2006).

Several hundred registrants joined librarian Nancy Pearl and representatives from four top publishing companies to hear about some of the best upcoming books. Offering sneak previews to the delighted crowd were: Virginia Stanley from HarperCollins, Talia Ross from Holtzbrinck, Marcia Purcell from Random House, and Emily Cook from Milkweed Editions. Pearl is the popular commentator on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and the author of several books about books, including Book Crush: For Kids and Teens: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Interest; published by Sasquatch Books.

Pearl also spoke at one of several sold-out author luncheons, as did Louise Erdrich, (The Plague of Doves, forthcoming from HarperCollins), children’s author Pat Mora, illustrator Raul Colón (Tomás and the Library Lady, Random House), and Arthur Frommer and his daughter Pauline Frommer, who offered travel tips from their famous Frommer’s guidebooks. Friends of Libraries USA hosted a chocolate-and champagne reception featuring Charles Baxter (The Soul Thief, Pantheon). Popular children’s authors Avi, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Sarah Weeks, and Brian Selznick packed the house for two presentations of Authors Readers Theatre, following the tradition of the readers/actors standing on stage reading from prepared scripts.

Calling the conference “a wonderful opportunity for all of us to learn new ideas, share success stories, hear best practices, and meet colleagues from across the country and around the world,” PLA President Jan Sanders, director of Pasadena (Calif.) Public Library, said PLA offers “something for everyone,” from the intensive all-day learning at preconference programs to the latest and best products from the show floor, “not to mention the best networking opportunities available to the public library world.”

This year, librarians who were unable to make the trip to Minneapolis could participate in the conference virtually. The PLA 2008 Virtual Conference featured panel discussions, poster sessions, interactive workshops, and chats with speakers such as Nancy Pearl, all from the comfort of one’s own PC. Held March 27 and 28 and supported by WebJunction, the Virtual Conference included many familiar elements of the live conference, along with some that were unique to the online venue, including live, interactive webcasts; handouts and other supporting presentation materials; online poster sessions; and discussion boards, both general and subject-focused. Conference registrants automatically received access to the Virtual Conference as part of their registration, and the Virtual Conference Community, including archived programs, will be available for one year after the live conference’s conclusion.

The PLA conference also served as the venue for a couple of major announcements. The American Library Association released the results of a groundbreaking study on library service to new Americans at a press conference at Hennepin County Library’s New American Center. “Serving Non-English Speakers in U.S. Public Libraries” is the first national study to consider the range of library services and programs developed for non-English speakers, including effectiveness of services, barriers to library use, most frequently used services, and most successful library programs by language served. The study also analyzes library service area populations and patron proximity to local libraries that offer specialized services. The most frequently used services by non-English speakers were special language collections (68.9%) and special programming (39.6%), including language-specific story hours and cultural programming.

New Orleans Public Library used the conference venue to announce its $650-million master plan to fund the construction of 13 libraries and operation costs for the next 25 years. Primary architect of the plan is Jeffrey Scherer of the firm Meyer Scherer Rockcastle. At a press conference in the firm’s Minneapolis office, Scherer said that it was somehow appropriate that a firm at one end of the Mississippi should lead the revitalization of a library in need at the other. Of the $199 million earmarked for construction, about $114 million will enable construction of a new main library and archives building by 2016. A capital campaign will be launched to raise about $610 million, with the remainder available through existing revenue streams.

Scheduled to close the conference is humorist Paula Poundstone, whose book There’s Nothing in This Book That I Meant To Say was published in 2006 by Harmony Books, a division of Random House. The Public Library Association is one of the 11 divisions of the American Library Association.

Posted on March 28, 2008. Discuss.