Over the past year, the library community in Texas has made quite a few national headlines—though not necessarily for the reasons librarians would prefer. Among the library stories out of the Lone Star State in recent months: school library budgets remain challenged, a controversial plan has emerged in Houston to close school libraries in struggling districts and turn them into centers for students with disciplinary problems, and of course, the passage last spring of HB 900, the most high-profile piece of book-banning legislation in the country, which kicked off a contentious legal battle that would eventually see the law’s most draconian provisions blocked. For Texas librarians, to put it mildly, it’s been a lot.

“Our members have been going through the toughest time they’ve likely ever experienced in their professional lives,” says Texas Library Association executive director Shirley Robinson. “You know that movie title Everything, Everywhere, All at Once? That feels like our life at TLA for the last four years.”

But through it all, from the pandemic and its aftermath to the headline-grabbing book-banning efforts, Texas librarians have proven their mettle. And so too has the Texas Library Association, which is approaching its upcoming annual conference, set for Tuesday–Friday, April 16–19, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in downtown San Antonio, with a striking sense of optimism.

Under the conference theme “Stories Inspire. Opportunities Await,” TLA leaders say the 2024 conference is expected to draw more than 5,000 attendees for a program that will include some 300 education sessions, more than 250 exhibiting vendors, a strong main speaker program, and hundreds of panels and author events. “We have worked very hard the last three years to try and offer a conference experience that looks and feels similar to what it was prepandemic,” Robinson says. “At the same time, we’ve also had to reimagine certain aspects of the event or shift pieces that just no longer work in this new era. But we think these changes are positive, and we will continue to adapt and evolve, and we know we will have to.”

Robinson says the strong support of TLA members as well as the vendor community and other partners (both in Texas and across the nation) has been vital to keeping the show—TLA’s largest forum of the year and the largest state library conference in the country—a vibrant fixture on the professional calendar. The key for organizers, she stresses, has been to stay focused on the value the conference, and the association, can deliver. “The attendee experience is always top of mind, and staying current and trying to set new trends is one of the most exciting parts of what we do as an association at our annual conference.”

In talking with librarians and conference organizers ahead of the 2024 event, what comes through most is that, through all the challenges of the past few years, Texas librarians never lost sight of the vital roles they play in their communities. And in 2024, they are seeking to turn those challenges into an opportunity to tell their
stories, as the conference theme suggests.

“I think we all know the important roles we play in education and in our communities,” says TLA president Gretchen Pruett, director of the New Braunfels Public Library, situated a little more than a half-hour drive from San Antonio. “It’s why we do what we do. We all know the difference we make in the lives of Texans. But I think we are also much more aware now of the ecosystem of library supporters around libraries and library workers, more than ever before. Whether it’s parents and students or public library supporters, we’re seeing people come together to tell us that we matter and that we make a difference. There have been a lot of stories of support out there for us to share. That’s why we chose the theme of this year’s conference. It’s about activating this ecosystem.”

To be sure, Texas librarians—and TLA—have stories to tell. As was the case with most libraries and library associations, the pandemic had a dramatic financial impact on TLA, forcing it to make some important decisions, such as deciding to sell its building, and swiftly updating its technology. It was quite a welcome to the library world for Robinson, an experienced association manager who joined TLA in January 2020, just weeks before the pandemic hit.

TLA as an association has gone through a massive change and we’ve been able to navigate some significant challenges not because of any one individual’s efforts but through strong, intentional leadership throughout the organization.

“The last four years have been a wild ride,” she concedes. “And not just for me as executive director, but for our members, our board, our volunteers, the TLA staff, and all the amazing people who support us, including our friends and families. When I look back now, I am just incredibly grateful for their efforts. I will admit that when I compare stories with leaders from other associations, I am pretty sure I have the most interesting adventure to share. But in all seriousness, TLA as an association has gone through a massive change and we’ve been able to navigate some significant challenges not because of any one individual’s efforts but through strong, intentional leadership throughout the organization.”

As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough, then came the censorship efforts. Celebrating diversity and the freedom to read has always been core to librarianship. But the right-wing political attack on libraries playing out not only in Texas but across the country is unprecedented. And in many ways, Texas has been the epicenter of the crisis. “In Texas, there were 37 bills filed this past legislative session related to library services and operations,” Robinson says. “We typically used to see three or four. And suddenly our staff and volunteer leaders and board were being asked to respond to the media and to legislators in ways that we frankly could have never imagined.”

That all started in earnest around October 2021, Robinson notes, when former state representative Matt Krause made national headlines by asking schools for information on some 850 allegedly questionable books. By early 2022, TLA had launched Texans for the Right to Read, a grassroots coalition that has since helped advocates speak out in defense of libraries and the freedom to read at school board and city council meetings across the state.

Bear in mind, too, that TLA, like Texas itself, is enormous. The largest state library association by a Texas mile, TLA counts approximately 5,000 members across four divisions and 10 districts—all powered by a small, dedicated staff and the volunteer efforts of its members. And yet, against all odds, the association heads into its 2024 annual conference with a palpable sense of momentum.

“TLA as an organization is in a really strong position, despite our myriad challenges,” Robinson says. “Programs have bounced back since the pandemic. Membership numbers are strong. And we are continuing to evaluate our systems and programs because, to remain strong and responsive to whatever may be coming next, we need a strong association. That’s what our leadership is focused on.”

For Pruett, the success of TLA is due to that leadership and, of course, a motivated, engaged membership. And ahead of the year’s show—which, she notes, comes at a hopeful time, during Fiesta in San Antonio—she again stresses the importance of the broader “ecology” supporting libraries.

“When we chose the theme of the conference, it was partly in response to an observation that I got from a children’s author who was following what was going on in the legislature last year,” Pruett says. “He was talking about our narrative, and how we need to do a better job telling ours than the anti-library folks do with theirs. So for this year’s conference, that’s what we really want to focus on: collecting our stories, being inspired by our stories, and taking the opportunity to be more visible in our communities. I truly believe in the power of sharing what we do, and that we draw strength from each other.”

General sessions and Featured Events

What follows are highlights drawn from the conference program. This year’s general sessions will begin with author and comedian Leanne Morgan (Wednesday, 8:15–9:45 a.m.). A veteran comedian, Morgan recently released her first Netflix special, I’m Every Woman, which premiered last year. She is currently on a stand-up tour, and her first book, What in the World?! A Southern Woman’s Guide to Laughing at Life’s Unexpected Curveballs and Beautiful Blessings (Convergent), publishes in September.

Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin will take the stage for the second general session (Thursday, 4–5:15 p.m.) to discuss her upcoming book, An Unfinished Love Story: A Personal History of the 1960s (Simon & Schuster), set to publish this month. Kearns Goodwin’s books include the Pulitzer Prize–winning No Ordinary Time as well as the The Bully Pulpit, for which she won the American Library Association’s Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction.

George Takei will close the general session program (Friday, 11 a.m.–noon). Takei’s career as an actor has spanned six decades, and he has used his success as a platform to fight for social justice, LGBTQ rights, and marriage equality. And his advocacy is personal: Takei spent his childhood in a U.S. incarceration camp during World War II along with more than 125,000 other Japanese Americans. He will discuss his new children’s book, My Lost Freedom: A Japanese American World War II Story (Crown BYR, Apr.).

As usual, the TLA conference will also include special events with top-notch authors and speakers. Tickets are available via the TLA conference website. Ticketed events include:

This year’s Black Caucus Round Table Author Session (Wednesday, 10 a.m.–12:15 p.m.) will feature Tomi Adeyemi. Named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2020, Adeyemi is a Hugo and Nebula award–winning Nigerian American writer. The first two novels in her Legacy of Orisha series both debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and the highly anticipated third novel in the series, Children of Anguish and Anarchy (Holt BYR) will be released in June.

The Opening Awards and Author Session (Wednesday, 12:15–1:45 p.m.) will feature authors Loren Long, Meg Medina, and Lisa Wingate.

Long is the author and illustrator of the bestselling Otis picture book series, now an animated television series on Apple TV+. He is also the illustrator of Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama, Love by Matt de la Peña, and Change Sings by Amanda Gorman. His latest book, which he wrote and illustrated, is The Yellow Bus (Roaring Brook, June).

Medina, who is currently serving as the national ambassador for young people’s literature, is the author of the Newbery Medal–winning book Merci Suárez Changes Gears, which was followed by two more books about the Suárez family: Merci Suárez Can’t Dance and Merci Suárez Plays It Cool.


Wingate is the bestselling author of more than 30 novels, including The Book of Lost Friends and Before We Were Yours. Her new novel, Shelterwood (Ballantine), will be published in June.

Always a highlight of TLA, the Texas Bluebonnet Award Author Session (Thursday, 11:45 a.m.–1:45 p.m.) will feature Charly Palmer, whose The Legend of Gravity: A Tall Basketball Tale (FSG BYR) is being honored. Students representing 10 Texas school districts will be on hand to present the award to Palmer. The Texas Bluebonnet Award is a nationally recognized children’s choice award. Twenty books are nominated by a committee, and students who have read at least five of those books vote for their favorite titles each January.

This year’s TLA Leadership Symposium: Preventing Burnout and the Power of Self Awareness (Thursday, 8–10 a.m.) will feature San Jacinto College administrator Michelle Cantú-Wilson. In this session, participants will learn about the origins and impact of burnout and will develop personal plans for preventing it in the future.

Bestselling authors Kate DiCamillo and Kelly Yang will feature at this year’s Teacher Day (Thursday, 8–10 a.m.), which celebrates the important collaboration between teachers and librarians. Note: tickets for the event must be purchased by Friday, April 5.

Professional Program picks

The following are among the sessions that were highlighted by TLA president Gretchen Pruett as her “President’s Program” selections. The full slate of programming can be found on the TLA website.

Elephant in the Library: The Plight of Destructive Leadership in Academic Libraries (Tuesday, 11 a.m.–noon, room 208).

Drawing on scholarship from organizational and social psychology, this session will demonstrate how destructive leadership does not arise solely from the actions of a single individual but rather requires a confluence of leader, follower, and environmental factors.

Burnout and Vocational Awe in Libraries: The Things We Don’t Talk About (Wednesday, 1:30–2:30 p.m., room 224).

Libraries are beloved institutions that strive to improve the world, but what happens when the normal people working in those institutions get worn out? This panel will offer tactics for identifying, preventing, and combating burnout, and recommend further resources for learning about these topics.

Mind the Gap: An Analysis of Intentional Practices for Diversifying Collections (Wednesday 1:30–2:30 p.m., room 221D).

Presenters will share the results of a survey that will help librarians update their
collections with confidence.

Beyond Book Challenges: A Practical Approach to Intellectual Freedom Advocacy (Thursday 8:30–9:30 a.m., room 224).

This session will provide practical tips for dealing with media requests, fielding interviews, writing effective op-eds and letters to the editor, and speaking effectively on issues of First Amendment advocacy and librarianship.

De-escalation: How to Safely Communicate During Challenging Interactions (Thursday, 11:30 a.m.–noon, room 225C).

Librarians may be called upon to interact with agitated individuals, or patrons in a mental health or emotional crisis. This presentation provides an overview of several key de-escalation techniques to help librarians confidently and successfully interact with individuals in difficult or high-stress circumstances.

The Power of Library Ambassadors: How Students Can Lead in the Library (Friday, 9:45–10:45 a.m., room 207).

Student library ambassadors can strengthen the library program in important ways. In this session, school librarians will explore how a team of student library ambassadors have made an impact in an elementary library.

Exhibits and more

The Exhibits Grand Opening will kick off the show on Tuesday (2–5 p.m.) and the Exhibit Hall will be open on Wednesday (10 a.m.–5 p.m.) and Thursday (9 a.m.–3 p.m.). The exhibits will feature more than 250 companies, including publishers, book jobbers, and many others. In addition, more than 200 authors will be signing in the authors area and in exhibit booths, and poster sessions will be held on Wednesday (11 a.m.–1 p.m.) in Hall 3. As always, consult the TLA website for the full schedule.