Standing Up for Health: Notes from the Public Library Association Conference 2018

Mural on the side of a building in Philadelphia.

Mural in Philadelphia.

You know the old adage about closing doors and opening windows? Over a year ago, I wrote a post on my family blog about losing my job. Within three months, I accepted an offer to work with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine in the New England Region (NNLM NER). My new cubicle is at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, MA. I am building on a 20-year library career, each work experience making me better prepared for the next.

During my brief period of unemployment, I wondered how my career path would unfold. I was not ready to give up on librarianship. Once employed again, I taped this message from a fortune cookie on my computer monitor:

 Depart not from the path which fate has you assigned.

In the last year, I traveled throughout New England. I provided an in-person training to public librarians in Maine. I participated in the Vermont Libraries Association Unconference. I presented at the Rhode Island Library Association Conference, and did a lightning talk at the Connecticut Public Health Association Annual Meeting. I had an exhibit table at the New England Rural Health RoundTable, held in New Hampshire. I traveled to the Massachusetts seashore, participating on a panel discussion on Lyme disease. I was a guest instructor for personal care assistants training in the Berkshires. And, I took several trips into Boston, MA to learn about the health needs of urban youth and offer support to those who work with them.

Stand Up for Health

In the early months of my job, I learned about a new NNLM partnership with the Public Library Association to provide training and support to public librarians. Becoming involved in this partnership allowed me to tap into my experiences as a public librarian  and as a community outreach librarian. Together with Bobbi Newman (NNLM GMR), Monique Mason (Akron-Summit County (OH) Public Library) and Carolyn Martin (NNLM PNR), I presented on health information literacy at the PLA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, PA.

Monday, March 19


Warwick Hotel lobby.

I began my journey to PLA 2018 in Springfield, MA. Taking Amtrak is not the fastest option, but I love the clickety clack of the train as we pass the Basketball Hall of Fame. The sudden whoosh of the northbound Acela as we click, click, click through Connecticut. New Haven, New York, New Jersey. Philadelphia!

The Warwick Hotel in Rittenhouse Square was dazzling. After dropping bags in our 11th floor room, my husband and I headed for the hotel lounge for refreshment before a hot shower and a collapse into bed. Despite these efforts, I experienced the standard restless night of sleeping away-from-home. Knowing that my brain is trying to protect me helps only a tiny bit.

Tuesday, March 20

Three women in a conference room consulting a paper.

With my fellow NNLM co-presenters.

I awoke at 4:00am. I lay in the darkness, counting backward from 100 for the next two hours. I dozed once or twice. After breakfasting on the hotel’s eggs and coffee, I headed over to the Philadelphia Convention Center. Ed was on his own for the day.

I wrote about my experiences co-presenting on the NNLM NER Update blog.

The evaluations are trickling in. We all love the “atta girl” and “great job” comments. I am taking a deep breath when reading the criticisms. None are particularly harsh, nonetheless… these are the areas wherein I will grow as a presenter: facilitate interaction between the participants, share stories about my own public library experiences, prepare to discuss sticky collection development issues, and continue to teach with a multidisciplinary team. For an eight-hour preconference, a variety of instructional styles is a big plus.

Wednesday, March 21

Downtown Philadelphia in the winter.

Not a foot of snow.

This was my designated sightseeing day. Alas, nearly the entire city shut down due to a sobering forecast. One foot of snow for Philadelphia. No access to museums. Even Reading Terminal Market was closed.

The sidewalks were slippery. After reading our books in bed all morning, we cautiously made our way around the corner in search of vegetables and whole grains. Real Food Eatery fit the bill. I battled crankiness because, Philadelphia, this was not a foot of snow. The city of Boston would laugh at the shutdown. I was disappointed that I could not visit the Rodin Museum or the Betsy Ross House.

Mid-afternoon, I made my way to the Philadelphia Convention Center to hear Sally Yates, former Deputy Attorney General for the United States. According to her Georgetown Law bio:

As Deputy Attorney General, [Sally Yates] was responsible for overseeing all facets of the Department’s work, including its four law enforcement agencies (FBI, DEA, ATF and Marshals Service), its prosecutorial, litigating and national security components, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. In addition to managing the day-to-day operation of the Department, during her tenure, Yates spearheaded changes at DOJ focused on criminal justice reform, including prison reform; ensuring individual accountability or corporate wrongdoing; and utilizing prosecutorial resources in a focused manner to build safer communities.

Yates is polished and sincere. I felt she spent too much time wooing librarians (reciting quotes about libraries, talking about her personal experience in libraries) and not enough time talking about her criminal justice reform work. The Q &A focused on the brief period of time that she worked in the Trump Administration. She is famous for being fired after refusing to condone Trump’s executive order to ban entrance to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries. I hoped the conversation would extend beyond this headline grabber. I wanted a policy discussion.

After the speech, I scrolled through my emails on my phone. Another cancellation. We had tickets for a jazz show that was cancelled. A day of disappointments.

Fortunately, the tickets would be honored the following night. I headed back to the hotel for an evening of TV watching.

Thursday, March 22

At 7:30am, I once again trekked the several blocks from my hotel to the Philadelphia Convention Center. I wanted to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak on courage and creativity. Slightly different than what we heard at PLA 2018, this TED talk showcases her approach. I enjoy her style:

I especially value Gilbert’s celebration of mystery. We do not need to know all the how’s and why’s of the world, she told us. Sometimes, there is nothing for you to do. Just be with whatever is happening (such as the city shutting down on your sightseeing day, I told myself).

Quilt made of paper and crayon displayed on a wall.

Paper quilt from Making Justice

Making Justice. After Gilbert’s talk, I headed to the session on “Making Justice: Building Community with Hands-on Learning.” We learned about Making Justice , a collaborative project funded in part by the Madison (WI) Public Library.  This project connects court-involved youth with artists, educators and university students. Librarian Jesse Vieau urged us to hire local artists who have the ability to connect with youth. Carlos Gacharna was a great representative of an engaging art instructor, coaching us through a paper-and-crayon quilt project during the session.

WIC Center in the Library. My second session of the day was “What Having a WIC Center in Your Library Brings (Besides Crying Babies)”. Drew Alvey delivered an animated presentation on the partnership between Houston (TX) Public Library and the city’s Health and Human Services Department. The Library welcomed the opportunity to house a mini Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Center inside a neighborhood library. This is a wonderful opportunity to attract parents who might not attend storytime otherwise.

Applying the Equity Lens. I spent the short break sitting in the vast hallway, charging my phone alongside other conference attendees. In my last session of the day, Valerie Wonder described how the Seattle (WA) Public Library took a hard look at how they were conducting outreach. After mapping their programs and services, SPL shifted bookmobile routes to reach neighborhoods in need. They deliberately partnered with artists and organizations directly supporting people of color for Seattle Reads. This session highlighted simple (and brave) decisions to switch up established practices in order to reach those who are under-served by the public library.

Jazz Parlor

Ed met me at the Philadelphia Convention Center, and together we walked to South’s  Jazz Parlor for our dinner reservations and an evening of jazz with Jessy J. Delicious evening! If you like sound of a smooth saxophone, give a listen to this talented woman:


Friday, March 23

Book entitled Promoting Individual and Community Health at the Library

Promoting Health at the Library

By Friday morning, I was done with my conference-going. PLA 2018 would continue to until midday on Saturday. Ed and I took a bus across town to the 30th Street Station. We boarded our train shortly before 10:00am.

After settling in for the five hour journey, I pulled out my newly purchased Promoting Individual and Community Health at the Library. In my own writings on community outreach, I referenced Mary Grace Flaherty’s dissertation on public libraries as a health information resource. On an impulse, I flipped to the index of the book. Wow. My name was there, as well as the name of my co-presenter Carolyn Martin. I was cited!

I am grateful for the opportunity to attend national conferences. I got a chance to visit briefly with Debbie Montanegro (NNLM SCR). In the exhibit hall, I bumped into former Durham County Public Library colleague Jennifer Lohmann. I heard wonderful stories from librarians working Texas, Wisconsin and Washington State. And, I was part of the first in-person Stand Up for Health training for public librarians.

P.S. My 2011 blog post on the ACRL Conference in Philadelphia.