The Public Library Association (P.L.A.) 2014 Conference took place March 11-15, 2014 at the Indiana Convention Center & Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The P.L.A. is a division of the American Library Association (A.L.A.)
Before the PLA 2014 Conference took place, Christopher John Farley observed in The Wall Street Journal, “Libraries, for me, have always been portals to unexpected places, but in the coming years some of them could become casualties of the internet age. Much of this will be a topic of discussion at The Public Library Association’s (PLA) biennial Conference, set to be held next month in Indianapolis. Public school libraries are enduring budget cuts and staffing reductions. According to a Pew survey released in 2013, 54% of Americans ages 16 and older had personally used a library or library website in the past 12 months, down from 59 % the previous year. The American Library Association (ALA) reports that the use of library materials has increased in recent years, but recent numbers indicate that physical visits have dipped slightly.”
The A.L.A. stated on Thursday, March 20, 2014, “Humorist and author David Sedaris brought PLA 2014, the nation’s largest public library conference, to a laugh-filled close. Nearly 8,000 librarians, library workers, exhibitors and supporters participated in five days of programs that explored the changing role of public libraries. Sessions and events featured the nation’s leading innovators and professionals both within and outside of the library community.”
Public libraries provide more programs and services than ever before. For many the public library is a lifeline to technology, a primary conduit to other community agencies and a provider of free lifelong learning resources. Additionally public libraries are becoming active centers for participatory content creation and civic discourse.
Opening Session speaker civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson echoed the value of libraries and the vital role librarians and library staff play in offering equal opportunities for disadvantaged communities and youth. Stevenson’s inspirational remarks brought tears, cheers and pride that library professionals are at the forefront of social justice and democracy efforts in their communities.
The A.L.A. pointed out that during the PLA 2014 Conference, the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (I.M.L.S.) released public library usage data. “According to national data released during the conference… public libraries served nearly 300 million people throughout the United States in FY2011, a number that is equivalent to more than 95 percent of the total U.S. population.” The I.M.L.S. data also shows that public libraries circulated more than 2,400,000,000 items, the highest circulation in ten years, representing a continued increasing trend.
The A.L.A. stated, “The uptick in demand for library services is not surprising as libraries coast-to-coast expand beyond their traditional roles, providing more opportunities for customer engagement and participation and delivering new services that connect closely with their communities. The engaging Library Space Pavilion at PLA Conference highlighted unique ways to offer interaction in the library, such as a hands-on Camp Happiness space and a Makerspace lab. Additionally conference sessions such as the Turning Outward to Lead Change in Your Community series, provided a national forum for library professionals to participate in discussions regarding community engagement and how library staff can better fuel dialogue to inspire change and growth in the community. No longer just a place for books, the expansion of unique services continues to strengthen the position of public libraries as vital to the success and health of the communities they serve.”
PLA 2014 provided a learning experience that motivated and empowered its attendees to consider and execute new ideas. Such programs as the BIG IDEAS series which featured three programs with innovators and bestselling authors Simon Sinek, author of ‘Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t’; Megan McArdle Newsweek/The Daily Beastcorrespondent and the author of ‘The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success’; David McRaney, the author of the bestselling “You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality”; Clive Thompson author of “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better”; and Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor and presenter of the TED talk, ‘Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.’
Conference Author Events drew large crowds as attendees learned about current works from such bestselling authors as Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction winner Richard Ford, ‘Canada’; Brad Meltzer, ‘I Am Amelia Earhart’ and ‘I Am Abraham Lincoln’; TODAY Show contributor Jane Pauley, “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life”; Mary Kay Andrews, ‘Ladies Night’; Andre Dubus III, ‘Dirty Love’; Rainbow Rowell, ‘Eleanor & Park’; John Green, ‘The Fault in Our Stars’; Craig Johnson, ‘Walt Longmire Mystery’ series; and Lisa Unger, ‘In the Blood.’ And bestselling author and independent bookstore owner Ann Patchett author of ‘This is the Story of a Happy Marriage,’ shared book recommendations during the Ann Patchett Book Hour.
Hundreds of people who could not travel to Indianapolis for the conference participated virtually. More than 265 individuals (seventy-nine single registrations, sixty-two group registrations of three or more people) participated in the P.L.A. 2014 Virtual Conference on March 13th and 14th. Live programming consisted of five hour-long programs each day, plus author interviews, poster sessions and opportunities for networking with peers.
The P.L.A. 2014 Conference offered more than 150 educational programs; special events showcasing bestselling authors and innovators; and nearly 400 exhibitors that featured the latest technology and services for public libraries, librarians and their users. The next biennial conference will be P.L.A. 2016 in Denver, April 5-9, 2016.
 I find it more likely that public libraries served people 300,000,000 times than that they served 300,000,000 people. It would be manifestly obvious if 95% of Americans used public libraries even once a year.