The Public Library Association 2022 conference drew nearly 5,000 in-person attendees to Portland, Ore., from March 23-26, a significant step toward a return to major library conferences.
In all, PLA officials reported 6,005 attendees: 3,794 attendees and 1,025 exhibitors in-person—surpassing the 4,000 expected to attend—and 1,186 virtual attendees, making this year's show the most widely attended PLA event. “It feels like this might be one of the good things that came out of this pandemic,” PLA president Melanie Huggins said of the virtual event: “that we now know how to do this, and do it well.”
Virtual success aside, being together in person was clearly an important moment after what Huggins called a “rough” two years. “It has been my sincere honor to be with you this week to share all those hugs and the beers and ideas,” Huggins said. “And it’s been a true pleasure to participate as your president during this first in person library conference in two years.”
Librarians in Portland attended sessions on a range of subjects, including updates on freedom to read efforts and the rising number of book challenges across the country, issues around equitable access to e-books and digital content, and issues around safety and services in the wake of the pandemic. Attendees were also treated to a host of great speakers, including an opening keynote from popular podcast host Luvvie Ajayi Jones, who spoke of being “a professional troublemaker,” taking from the title of her most recent book Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual (Penguin Life).
In his closing keynote, actor and author Kal Penn told librarians about the path that led him to take a position in the Obama administration, in an outreach role. Penn described himself as “gigantic nerd” for whom books opened up a world of “immense possibility.”
Perhaps the highlight of the speaker program, meanwhile, was Jeopardy! champion Amy Schneider, who dished about her time on the show and offered a behind the scenes look at her incredible 40-game win streak. Schneider spoke movingly of her experience as a transgender woman, how she viewed her time on the show as an important moment for trans visibility, and how she strived to present her authentic self. “I wanted to show some of the things I was insecure about, like my voice and thinning hair, because that’s what a lot of trans women go through,” Schneider said.
In an emotional Q&A period, a number of librarians thanked Schneider for the visibility she brought to trans people, and spoke movingly of their personal experiences with their own trans children.
“In many ways, it’s just supporting your child and being there for them as best you can, and letting them figure it out for themselves to an extent,” Schneider told one librarian, who asked her for advice about supporting her trans child. “But the fact that you’re there and accepting and loving and that home is a place where he doesn’t have to worry about things being weird or uncomfortable or awkward is really important and a lot of trans people still don’t have that."
As for advice, Schneider said it was important to find the people who support you and avoid the ones that don’t. “It can be really tempting, and I know this from experience, to kind of, like, look for the criticism, and look for the negative out there, and get obsessed with the hateful things that are taught, and the legislation people are talking about, and all the sort of doomscrolling you can do,” she said. “I really recommend trying to minimize that. It’s not good for you. It’s not going to change anything. Find good people in your life, hang out with them, and let everything else take care of itself.”
The successful PLA conference sets the library community up well for its next big step: the ALA Annual Conference, which is set for June 23-28 in Washington, D.C. That conference will be the ALA's first in-person annual conference held in over two years, after the pandemic forced the 2020 and 2021 show to go online only. Registration for ALA Annual is now open.