From April 5 to 9, some 8,000 librarians, publishers, and vendors will descend on the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the 2016 Public Library Association Conference, one of the library community’s most popular events. With some 9,000 members, the PLA is the largest division of the American Library Association. And with a reputation for strong programming, PLA’s biennial meeting has surged in popularity over the past decade.

Just how popular is PLA? Well, in the spirit of the presidential primary season, check out these poll numbers: in their most recent postconference evaluations, 97.6% of attendees at 2014 conference (in Indianapolis) said they “learned something they felt they would be able to apply immediately in their jobs.” Almost 99% said they would recommend attending a future PLA conference to their colleagues. Roughly 96% thought the programs were “excellent or good.”

“My sense is that the conference is an opportunity to take in some of the best courses you could ever imagine,” says Cleveland Public Library director Felton Thomas, who will assume the PLA presidency in July. Thomas says there are a number of programs he is looking forward to this year, adding that he is most excited for a program on leadership, in which he’ll participate. “I’m excited about the new generation of leaders being created in libraries, because we are going to need them,” he explains. “You have to have great library directors, with real vision for what libraries can be.”

Without question, vision is important for librarians these days, as libraries continue to expand their roles in their communities. Thomas points to his own library as an example. In addition to providing access to great collections, the Cleveland Public Library offers assistance with everything from nutrition—the library provides summer lunches and after-school meals for kids—to basic technology needs. “We are looking at a lot of folks who are not thinking about libraries from the standpoint of just coming in and checking out books, but people who see libraries as that kind of stepping stone to help them get out of poverty,” he says, noting that nearly half the residents in some Cleveland neighborhoods still lack home Internet access. “So that’s what we do, whether that is providing computers so people can put together résumés or fill out online applications, or tutoring for kids.” Thomas says that his mission as a library director is broad, and ever-shifting: “to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Big Ideas

On Wednesday, April 6 (2–3:30 p.m.), the PLA main program kicks off in the Colorado Convention Center’s Bellco Theatre with CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. Cooper will be taking time out from his reporting on the 2016 presidential primaries—where he has been in the thick of things—to talk with librarians about a variety of subjects, including his forthcoming book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: And Other Life Lessons I Learned from My Mom (HarperCollins, Apr.), written with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. Dispatches from the Edge, Cooper’s 2006 memoir about covering wars and disasters around the world, hit #1 on New York Times’ bestseller list.

Also in the Bellco Theatre, PLA’s Big Idea talks are designed to send librarians away with “messages that can impact and empower the way [they] think, act, and work,” and this year’s lineup will certainly do that. The series leads off with lawyer, entrepreneur, author, and cultural innovator Verna Myers (Thursday, April 7, 8:15-9:15 a.m.). Known for her dynamic, humorous, and inspirational speeches, Myers is the author of the bestselling books Moving Diversity Forward: How to Move From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing and What If I Say the Wrong Thing? 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People.

The series continues with Sherry Turkle (Friday, April 8, 8:15–9:15 a.m.), a psychologist and professor at MIT. Turkle is the founder and director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and the author of a trilogy of landmark studies on our relationship with digital culture: The Second Self, Life on the Screen, and, most recently, Alone Together.

Rounding out the program will be Anand Giridharadas, (Saturday, 8:15–9:15 a.m.). The New York Times columnist is the author, most recently, of The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas, a gripping account of a Muslim immigrant’s campaign to spare a white supremacist who tried to kill him (and succeeded in killing two others) from the death penalty. Giridharadas regularly speaks on a wide range of topics, and brings a special cultural take to his subjects. At PLA, he’ll address issues of inequality and Islamophobia—issues he brings to the fore in The True American.

The 2016 PLA Closing Session will be keynoted by comedian and author Tig Notaro (Saturday, April 9, 12–1 p.m.). In 2014, Notaro was nominated for a Grammy Award for her sophomore comedy album, Live, a recording of a stand-up set delivered just days after she was diagnosed with stage-two bilateral breast cancer. She has since announced that her cancer is in remission. In 2016, HarperCollins is set to publish Notaro’s memoir, I’m Just a Person.

Panels and More

In addition to the main stage speakers, the PLA program features a slate of bestselling authors, and hundreds of sessions and panel speakers, in what PW contributing editor Brian Kenney calls a “super strong” professional program (for Kenney’s top panel picks, see p. 26). In a new PLA event dubbed Make It Extraordinary, Kari Chapin, marketing mentor and bestselling author of The Brilliant Ideas Launch Pad and Make It Happen: A Workbooks & Productivity Tracker, promises to help librarians “unleash their creativity and imagination” (Wednesday, April 6, 10:45–11:45 a.m., Mile High Ballroom 3–4; and Thursday, April 7, 10:45–11:45 a.m., Room 401-404).

And, of course, more than 300 exhibitors, including publishers, tech providers, and other vendors, will be on hand in the exhibit hall, which will open with a reception immediately following Cooper’s opening keynote.

And if you can’t make it to Denver in person, you can still participate: registration for the PLA 2016 Virtual Conference is now open. On April 7–8, PLA will host a live online conference consisting of five hour-long programs each day, plus opportunities for networking, author interviews, and other features yet to be announced. Check the PLA website for more information.

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