Apr 2, 2024 - News

Thousands of librarians headed to Columbus

A library book stack featuring the phrases "Words Have Power" and "We Are A Book Sanctuary."

A stack of titles that face book ban attempts in various states. A conference in Columbus encourages librarians to fight against censorship. Photo: Ana Fernandez/AFP via Getty Images

Talk of diverse book collections and the Dewey Decimal System is headed to Columbus this week for the Public Library Association's 2024 conference.

Why it matters: Librarians are no longer the shushing protectors of dusty book collections ā€” they're civic leaders, de facto social workers and increasingly the target of public scorn.

  • The biggest library systems and smallest village branches are learning together how best to serve their modern communities.

State of play: The conference opens tomorrow at the Convention Center and runs through Friday.

  • Over 7,000 library professionals representing all 50 states and eight other countries are set to attend, Public Library Association deputy director Larra Clark tells us.
  • They'll attend learning sessions on topics like improving traditional library services and how to connect patrons with social programs, plus hear from guest speakers like author Ta-Nehisi Coates.
  • Sessions will also discuss how to serve a variety of patrons, including at-risk teens, veterans, immigrants, babies and the LGBTQ+ community.

Zoom in: Columbus Metropolitan Library will play a big role as the host library system.

  • CML will lead presentations on how to provide resources for those living with dementia and how to use data to "solve problems and make informed decisions."
  • The conference will also feature tours of CML branches as well as the Bexley Public Library.

What they're saying: "Public libraries are so much more than just books," CML spokesperson Ben Zenitsky tells us.

  • "Public libraries have long served as pillars of knowledge, offering equitable access to resources, fostering lifelong learning and encouraging boundless exploration ā€¦ We're eager to bring together our colleagues and have important conversations about how libraries are meeting community needs in new ways."

The intrigue: For all the public distrust in artificial intelligence, the Public Library Association doesn't necessarily view AI as the enemy.

  • The conference will encourage libraries to explore ethical uses of AI and teach patrons how to use AI tools, just as they have long taught general computer and typing classes.

Yes, but: The conference highlights recent threats like censorship and controversy over holding drag queen story hours.

  • Several sessions offer media and crisis training for librarians who face public criticism, and one details how libraries are pushing back against attempted book bans.
  • One program deals with handling "video auditors" who film inside libraries, sometimes in search of a First Amendment confrontation.
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