Over three days in Denver, librarians will have a chance to refresh their skills in core public library services, be challenged by experts from a variety of fields, and hear about the most innovative experiments happening in libraries across the country. The 2016 PLA programs are sharp, up-to-the-minute, and responsive to the issues we’re struggling with. No wonder that PLA is the first choice in conferences for many librarians.

My top 20 programs reflect my own personal bias toward topics of innovation, presented by speakers with deep expertise and a willingness to be frank, and for programs with multiple presenters representing a range of libraries. I’ll offer one piece of advice: if a program is really important to you, show up 15 minutes early and stake out a seat. PLA seems to have a habit of booking popular sessions in rooms with capacity for 30. (Note: all rooms are in the Colorado Convention Center.)

Thursday, April 7

10:45–11:45 a.m.

Disasters Bring Out the Best in Us (Mile High Ballroom 3–4)

Hurricanes, tornadoes, massive flooding, wildfires, terrorism, rioting, and shooters—pick one, and it’s likely that your community will experience it in the next few years. This session will explain how the library can become an integral part of emergency preparedness and response efforts in your community.

Tech Assistance for Cutting Edge Communities (Room 405–407)

My library recently developed a plan of service for adults, and much of the talk was about how, where, and when to provide assistance with technology. I’ll bet we’re not alone.

Score! Engaging Sports Fans at Your Library (Room 702/704/706)

I admit it—except for showing World Cup matches in our auditorium, I can’t say I do much for sports fans. That might all change after I attend this panel, which promises to offer insight into what makes a sports fan tick, and ideas about programs and marketing.

2–3 p.m.

Tech to Go: Circulating Nontraditional Items (Room 401–404)

Cookie cutters, snowblowers, concrete saws, and hedge shears—libraries are lending a whole lot more than books these days. This session will help you add technology to the mix, including Rokus, GoPro cameras, mobile hot spots, and much more.

It Happened in My Town (Room 102/104/106)

While “Disaster Brings Out the Best in Us” will demonstrate how to be part of a disaster response plan, this panel will offer insight from librarians who have survived both natural and man-made disasters and understand what resilience looks like in the face of calamity.

Code at Your Library (Room 501–504)

This has been a dream of mine: to offer a serious coding course for adults in my community, providing them with possibilities for new careers. This discussion will describe how the Louisville Free Public Library did just that, and provide an overview of the Denver Public Library’s DevCamps for teens.

Creative Merchandising Strategies for Libraries (Room 201/203/205/207)

Libraries today have the opportunity, space, material, and expertise to do fabulous merchandising, which has a direct impact on circulation. In this session, you’ll hear from the folks at Anythink Libraries (Thornton, Colo.) as well as David Vinjamuri, “Brand Truth” columnist for Forbes.

4–5 p.m.

Merchandising Master Class: Youth Materials and the Art/Science Behind Extraordinary Displays (Room 405–407)

More with the merchandising—this time for kids: the program will include such topics as pop-up libraries and holistic merchandising. After this session, which features quite a panel of experts, you’ll be a merchandising guru, too.

Friday, April 8

10:45–11:45 a.m.

Designing Spaces for People, Not Collections (Room 405–407)

This is pretty much the mantra of public libraries today, and this session will inform librarians on how to conceive spaces for discovery, creation, learning, performing—you get the picture. The program features a speaker from the “it” library of the moment: Denmark’s Dokk1, of the Aarhus Public Libraries.

2–3 p.m.

Think Outside the Box by Going Inside the Box (Room 405–407)

Oak Park, Ill., has the Idea Box, a dedicated civics and art space that provides a new community experience every month. Meanwhile, over in nearby Skokie, the library’s Boombox is a “connected learning space” that offers rotating STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) experiences.

Engaged and Inclusive: Institutional Approaches to Racial Equity and Social Justice (Room 707/709/711)

Many public libraries are looking for ways to address racial disparities and create more inclusive public space, and librarians from Madison, Wis., will discuss their efforts to dismantle structural barriers to equity at the library.

4–5 p.m.

Creating Alternative Library Facilities (Room 109/111/113)

Rapid growth in residential and commercial developments, especially transit-oriented developments—mixed-use projects designed to maximize access to public transport—is challenging libraries today. This session offers ways to work with developers to incorporate library services in such communities.

Building a Better Board to Support Your Library (Room 401–404)

Learn from the masters—the folks from the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library—and become more successful in fund-raising and advocacy. It’s all about the people (and the structure), people!

Saturday, April 9

9:30–10:30 a.m.

So a Planner and a Librarian Walk into a Bar... (Room 501–504)

Hear from a librarian and a planner about working with staff, developers, neighborhood leaders, patrons, and underserved populations to build engagement for new library construction.

Where the Black and Brown Boys Aren’t (and Why) (Room 201/203/ 205/207)

Recognize and reverse five factors that lead to reluctance to read and limit the use of libraries by some young males of color—and pick up some strategies to improve engagement.

The Hyperlinked Classroom: Extraordinary Learning Experiences in Public Libraries (Mile High Ballroom 3–4)

The l word—learning—dominates much of the talk about public libraries today. What does the library of the future look like as we encourage learning everywhere as a means of transforming ourselves and our users?

One Community, Many Faces (Room 109/111/113)

At successful public libraries, staff members often reflect the diversity of the communities that they serve. This session will elaborate on the strategies used by four libraries to build inclusive communities.

10:45–11:45 a.m.

Open to All: Serving the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Community in Your Library (Room 108/110/112)

Many libraries, especially smaller and more rural ones, have faced challenges in adequately serving gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender patrons. Offering best practices and suggestions on how to find local partnerships, this fantastic panel of experts will help librarians do better. Isn’t it time?

Crossover Appeal: Books That Work for Teens and Adults (Room 501–504)

Books that appeal to both teens and adults offer libraries the chance to bring different generations together. This panel includes authors Paul Rudnick, Robin Talley, Marissa Meyer, and Matthew Quick. Bonus feature: free books, and an author signing.

Library Board Wars and Power Plays (Room 401–404)

A director’s toughest job may well be managing the board of trustees, taming troublesome trustees, and creating a high-functioning board that will help the library succeed. This session features a panel of heavyweights with years of experience who are ready to offer the tools that every director needs.

PW contributing editor Brian Kenney is director of the White Plains (N.Y.) Public Library and a former editorial director of Library Journal and Publishers Weekly.

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