Public Library Association President Carolyn Anthony faces a dilemma. “There’s so much I’m looking forward to that it’s hard to know where to start,” she says, when asked for her perspective on the division’s upcoming biennial conference, set for March 11–15 in Indianapolis, Ind. “I look forward to meeting people whom I’ve long admired, such as Jane Pauley, Ann Patchett, and Richard Ford, some of whom I’ll even get to have lunch with and chat with a bit. And to close with David Sedaris?

Everyone is sure to leave laughing.”

Looking at the program, you can understand Anthony’s excitement—the PLA 2014 conference has one of the strongest lineups of authors in recent memory, as well as a professional program brimming with timely issues. There are three major library conferences in the first six months of this year (PLA is sandwiched between last month’s frigid ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philly, and the ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas in June), but the PLA program is a can’t-miss event.

With more than 9,000 members, the PLA is the largest—and fastest-growing—division of the American Library Association (ALA). And its conference, held every two years, has been surging in popularity.

“The PLA conferences have earned the well-deserved reputation of being jam-packed with programming that is all right on target for staff in public libraries,” says Anthony, director of the Skokie (Ill.) Public Library. “And public library trustees also jockey to attend for a good overview of what’s new and compelling. I think this is why the PLA National Conference stands out. With no committee meetings, librarians have time to attend programs, hear top-notch speakers, and actually spend time in the exhibits, talking with vendors about everything from books to new technology and library furniture. Vendors tell us they like the PLA conference because they make good connections—and they can see the results in sales.”


In 2014, public librarians head to Indianapolis with a sense of optimism. At the last PLA, in Philadelphia in 2012, there was a palpable tension: libraries and publishers were grappling over e-book access, and the economy was fragile. This year, there has been progress on the digital front, the economy is getting its legs back, and a series of Pew surveys has generally confirmed that Americans love their public libraries. But libraries still face an ever-growing array of complex issues, even while the more existential threats to them seem to be yielding.

“E-books, digital content, and the changing nature of library collections are big professional concerns currently,” Anthony says, speaking of the issues that will be addressed during the professional program. “So too are leadership and innovation practices that can help libraries to reinvent themselves in ways that are relevant to their communities. Public libraries are places for learning and discovery in social ways, both in person or virtually. And youth librarians are on the front lines of early-childhood literacy and are always looking for ways to keep older kids and teens engaged.”

Budgets and management issues are perennially important, and a number of sessions at PLA focus on fiscal and staff management. “We seem to be over the worst of the economic downturn,” Anthony says, “but budgets and fund-raising still keep managers awake at night.”

Meanwhile, PLA is rolling out a Big Ideas speaker series at the upcoming conference. Anthony compares the new series to the popular TED talks, describing participants as “provocative speakers who really get the little grey cells stirred up.”

On Thursday, March 15, from 8:15 to 9:15 a.m., Big Ideas speakers include Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, and Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, who studies “how we perceive and are influenced by other people—and vice versa.”

On Friday, March 14, from 8:15 to 9:15 a.m., the lineup includes Megan McArdle, special correspondent for the Daily Beast and the author of The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success; David McRaney, author of the bestselling You Are Not So Smart and You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality; and Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better.

And, of course, don’t miss the opening of the exhibits on Wednesday evening, from 4 to 6:30 p.m., where you can say hello to your favorite vendor, and maybe hammer out a deal over a glass of wine and a canapé.

Authors and Speakers

The cornerstone of any PLA conference, of course, is the authors and speakers who attend—and this year’s lineup is a strong one.

On Wednesday, March 12, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m., the Author Program gets off to a lively start with Ann Patchett, the author of bestselling titles such as Bel Canto, Run, and State of Wonder. Patchett will host what is being called “a book hour.” Librarians who attended her talk at ALA Annual in Chicago last year will know what that means—Patchett hit the stage and hosted one of the most engaging, fun, lively chats about books ever seen at a library conference. She draws not only on her work as an author, but as a voracious reader—and as the owner Parnassus Books, a beloved independent bookstore in Nashville.

Later on Wednesday, March 12, from 2:30 to 4 p.m., Bryan Stevenson will keynote the PLA Opening Session. An inspiring speaker with a powerful message, Stevenson is the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., and is also an acclaimed public interest lawyer. He will talk about social justice—and the work of libraries to provide “equal, unbiased access to information, regardless of race or income.”

And what a way to wrap up the show: on Saturday, March 15, from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., David Sedaris will read from his works. Anyone who has ever seen Sedaris knows this is a must-see event. Sedaris has more than seven million copies of his books in print, and they have been translated into 25 languages. His titles include Barrel Fever, Holidays on Ice, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, his latest.

And, of course, don’t forget to check publisher booths for more authors who will be signing on the show floor. Those with tickets can also attend the opening lunch with Carnegie Medal–winner Richard Ford. The Adult Author Lunch is with veteran broadcaster Jane Pauley, who will talk about her upcoming book, Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life (January 2014). The Children’s Author Lunch will feature Brad Meltzer, who will talk about his transition from bestselling writer of adult fiction to writing an illustrated children’s series highlighting historical heroes like Abraham Lincoln and Amelia Earhart.

For more information and a complete lineup, visit the PLA conference Web site ( And we’ll see you in Indianapolis.

Our PLA 2014 Preview continues with:

How Do You Manage? PLA 2014

PLA 2014: Seven Trends in Children’s and Teen Library Services