Author Delivers Genuine Message to Librarians at PLA Conference

Author and workplace civility expert Shola Richards has an uplifting message for librarians facing the repercussions of rampant book bans.

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Author Shola Richards at the 2024 Public Library Association conference.

The increasing rate of book bans across the country has taken a toll on schools, bookstores, and libraries. Librarians especially have faced turmoil as local and state legislation threatens legal repercussions for not following book bans.

For the past few years, librarians have faced increasing struggles in their profession. Budget cuts, rising stressors in the workplace, and safety concerns for the staff have all contributed to a tumultuous atmosphere surrounding libraries. Amidst these issues, there are a few times each year when libraries across the nation can rally together, one of those events being the Public Library Association conference.

This year’s PLA conference was a rousing success, setting a hopeful precedent for the rest of the year. Let’s break down one of the major moments from the conference.

What is the Public Library Association Conference?

The Public Library Association Conference (PLA) is a division of the American Library Association, a nonprofit organization that supports librarians, libraries, and educators across the US. PLA is the largest association that serves the specific and growing needs of library professionals. Since its founding in 1944, PLA has served roughly 9,000 members across North America and has a growing international presence. 

As part of its mission to offer partnerships to librarians, PLA has hosted a yearly national conference since 1983. This year’s event took place in Colombus, Ohio, from April 3rd to April 5th.

Despite the increasing challenges librarians and their workplaces have faced, PLA’s 2024 conference had strong registration numbers. PLA president Sonia Alcántara-Antoine found these numbers encouraging, telling Publisher’s Weekly:

I think the strong registration numbers for PLA demonstrate that people in the profession are committed and looking for community, and for affirmation that all the work we do matters. I think the PLA conference offers that. It offers practical tools and tips and resources that people need to continue to be effective in their roles and to best serve their communities. And it offers hope.

A Last-Minute Substitute

The PLA conference faced a few issues, one of them being the tornadoes sweeping through Ohio. Another snag was when author Joy Buolamwini, the event’s keynote speaker, had to cancel last minute. Luckily, the conference found a replacement in Shola Richards, author of Go Together: How the Concept of Ubuntu Will Change How We Work, Live and Lead

Book cover for "Go Together: How the Concept of Ubuntu Will Change How We Work, Live and Lead" by Shola Richards.

Author and workplace civility expert Shola Richards kicked off PLA’s event with an uplifting keynote speech that encouraged librarians not to give up amidst the adversity they’re currently facing. 

First, Richards drew on a concept from his book, the African concept of Ubuntu. Ubuntu translates to “I am because we are” and has three core questions: Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?

Richards encouraged the librarians in attendance to keep Ubuntu in mind as they coped with the challenges they were facing. In the question of truth, Richards focused on the importance of building trust, telling the audience:

How in the world can we expect people to do things that we are unwilling to do ourselves in the workplace, especially in libraries? We have to figure out how to model the behavior we want to see in others.

Author Shola Richards delivering keynote speech to attendees at 2024 Public Library Association conference.

Richards’s keynote speech drew on his own experiences in toxic workplaces to encourage librarians to take care of themselves. He encouraged them to make libraries when they felt safe, to turn them into environments of psychological safety: 

[the belief that] you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas questions, concerns, or mistakes.

At the end of his speech, Richards used his time to leave one lasting message with the attendees:

You don’t have to do the right thing every day. You just have to do the right thing today.

Although a last-minute addition, Shola Richards filled the librarians with motivation to face the path ahead of them. If the book bans and restricting legislation is a storm, it’s only a temporary one. Richards encouraged the librarians to endure the storm, as enduring was faster than trying to outrun it.

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