From Pole to Pole at PLA
Public Library Association-PLA-Annual Conference-Portland
By Francine Fialkoff, Editor-in-Chief, email@example.com -- Library Journal, 04/15/2010
What a split personality of a PLA! Those of us from LJ who attended the Public Library Association conference in late March in Portland, OR, ricocheted from news about budget cuts, layoffs, and shortened hours (while libraries remain busier than ever) to programs about brave new futures for libraries and librarians, including innovative service models and new roles for staff.
We heard an emotional outpouring of gratitude from the likes of singer Natalie Merchant, who debuted her new album at a free concert, wrapping up with a rendition of “Kind and Generous” and coming down off the stage to shake hands with what one observer said seemed like a couple of dozen librarians.
We passed around thank you notes handed out by a mother and two sons to librarians in front of the convention center. At the Best Small Library in America reception (the award is given by LJ and sponsored by the Gates Foundation), Oregon State Librarian Jim Scheppke shared the one he got, about 3" x 4", printed on plain brown paper. It read:
The release of a national report on public library computer use reinforced the message from that Portland family. They may not have mentioned computers, but many of the services they refer to are likely provided via Internet access. The report, “Opportunity for All,” revealed that nearly 77 million Americans, about one-third of all of us age 14 and over, used a public library computer or wireless network to job search, do school work, connect with government services or one another, or find health-care information. The report was funded by the Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services and undertaken by the University of Washington Information School.
As PLA president Sari Feldman reminded me, however, the other half of the two-thirds of Americans who use libraries are reading books, borrowing movies and music, and attending programs. Literacy is as much an equalizer as is bridging the digital divide. At Cuyahoga County Public Library, OH, where Feldman is executive director, a “Reconnect with Reading” push drove both circulation and library visits over the past two years. At King County Library System, WA, Director Bill Ptacek hired Nancy Pearl (Book Lust; One City, One Book progenitor) to teach readers' advisory to everyone from pages on up.
It seems the only ones not making the connection among libraries, livelihood, and literacy are our legislators. Not enough of them understand the true impact of libraries. Would that they had received that note and other messages from nonlibrarians and responded with financial support instead of budget cuts. No wonder many of us at PLA, and in general, feel as if we are being pushed from pole to pole, one representing the harsh realities libraries face, the other the hard stats and soft thank yous from users. Let's be louder and make a case funders can't ignore.
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