Session Notes: Annual PaLA Conference | Compendium

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Sarah Meitzler

Sarah Meitzler


Sarah Meitzler,
Circulation Manager
Lower Macungie Library

After working in libraries for fifteen years, I was able to attend the Pennsylvania Library Association’s Annual Conference at the Kalahari Resorts in the beautiful Poconos. If you have never attended this annual conference, I would highly recommend it.  This conference is well worth your time and money.

The PaLA Annual Conference is a great place to network with librarians from the whole state throughout times of the conference such as the Conference 101 session, the mixers, the chapter dine in, the trivia competition, the field trips such as an escape room, and the workshops. I would especially recommend taking advantage of the meals where speakers are presenting, such as the Carolyn W. Field Award Luncheon which is presented to a Pennsylvanian author or illustrator for the best book in the past year.  This year Susan Campbell Bartoletti won the award for the teen book, Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story About the Deadliest Cook in America. There is time to meet with sales representatives from companies such as J.P. Jay Associates and time to try new library products as well.  I found that the PaLA business meeting was informative too. I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to attend this conference, thanks to the Office of Commonwealth Libraries Professional Development grant. The areas that I focused on for the grant included community engagement, facilities management, measuring and evaluating, STEM, strategic planning, and teen services. Most of the session presenters at the PaLA conference provided handouts which can be downloaded from the PaLA website.

The President’s Opening Keynote Luncheon
Presented by Ben Bizzle author of Start a Revolution: Stop Acting Like a Library

The luncheon began with a recognition of the PA Forward Star Libraries Program.  To participate libraries must follow the PA Forward initiative and develop programming centering on the different aspects of PA Forward.  For libraries that are already providing programming and services, the next step would be to focus on programming and partnerships that meet one of the PA Forward initiatives and then all library marketing should have the PA Forward logo.

Ben Bizzle shared in his presentation, “It’s All About the Story”, how to engage the community in unconventional ways. It was a call for librarians to think outside of the traditional definition of libraries in order to reach more people.  Bizzle is a library marketer and advocate who encouraged the audience to use borderline tacky or offensive marketing (shock value) to get people curious and engaged with libraries who might have never had a library card. The key to this presentation was that as libraries we need to share what is going on in the library with the community to better engage the community. Some examples of taking risks include not only marketing the library and programs, but also providing programs such as speed dating, talent shows, concerts on the lawn, casino night, and Elvis week. Not only was the presentation attention grabbing with Bizzle’s humor, but he was committed to helping libraries and even met one on one with library staff to come up with specific strategies to improve the library program.  Our library staff took advantage of this meeting time and is currently working on steps to become a PA Forward Star Library.

Policy Checklist: Basic Policies for Every Library
Presented by Carolyn Blatchley, Public Services & Staff Training Coordinator, Cumberland County Library System and Wendy McClure, Human Resources Coordinator, Cleve J. Fredricksen Library

Written Policies and procedures need to be updated periodically to reflect changing times in libraries and to provide exceptional customer service and safety.  Blatchley and McClure provided an easy to use policy checklist of the different kinds of polices that libraries should include that support the library’s values and priorities that staff can consistently implement. Policies need to be tested for legality and polices should ideally be written prior to a crisis. As the circulation manager at the Lower Macungie Library, I am responsible for assisting with updating the policies and procedures manual.  The policy checklist and examples shared will help our library’s new polices for our expansion and especially when the Lehigh/Carbon library district implements SPARK including policies on patron behavior and meeting rooms. 

Re-Imaging Public Libraries: What Library Stories Can Tell Us
Presented by Mina Edmondson, District Consultant, York/ Adams District and Dr. Deborah Eicher-Catt, Professor, Communication Arts & Sciences, Penn State, York

Edmondson and Eicher-Catt made it clear how important it is to measure and evaluate the library stories that library staff share to better improve community engagement by sharing their findings from the data collected from a study done in York county. How the library is perceived by both staff and patrons needs to be taken into consideration when making decisions for the library including staff retention and better customer service.  Library stories can be shared in surveys, staff reviews, and informal interactions with patrons and staff.  The information can then be gathered for strategic planning. When measuring and evaluating the gathered information library administration must think “pie in the sky” at first and then realistically set goals of how to implement real change in the library.  Library administration should reflect on increased funding, increased space, increased technology, and how to communicate these goals to stakeholders and potential donors to build community partnerships. All of these stories must be evaluated to make sure the goals are in line with the library’s mission statement to implement a library of the future.  At the Lower Macungie Library, we are using the library stories from staff and patrons to implement an expansion that will begin in 2017.

Aspen Institute’s Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Pennsylvania’s Public Libraries
Presented by Dawn La Valle, Director, Division of Library Development, Connecticut State Library and Siobhan Reardon, President & Director, Free Library of Philadelphia and Amy Garmer, Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries

Rising to the Challenge: Re-Envisioning Public Libraries was developed by the Aspen Institute and will be used as a framework to measure and evaluate community engagement and then use this information for strategic planning.  The key aspects of the report are people, place, and platform.  Twenty-first century libraries are transforming, which means that all libraries need to strive to keep up with twenty-first century demands to be successful.  As always, libraries should be supporting learning and economic development which, if they follow this report’s framework, they will be doing that and more.  Community engagement is more than just learning and entertaining, it is to provide a variety of programs and services to improve the overall person.  The idea is to reach and go beyond who we are reaching, how we are reaching, and where we are reaching people.  The library provides services both at the library and where the people are, but it also means that the library can be a hub of civic engagement or a family room of community and collaborating. Connections with community agencies along with demonstrating the value and assets of libraries is important to keep libraries for the future.  Fifteen action steps for library leaders were provided.  As part of the team for our library’s expansion we have worked with community leaders to promote the library’s value to the community.

Pop Culture Programming @ Your Library
Presented by Emily Vinci, Fiction Librarian, Schaumburg Township District Library (IL) and Katie LaMantia, Teen Librarian, Schaumburg Township District Library (IL)

Pop culture has exploded into everything.  To be relevant to all ages, especially the younger generations, libraries must offer a variety of pop culture programming.  Vinci and LaMantia presented successful pop culture programming that they implemented. Programs that were successful for both teens and adults include Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, 80’s or 90’s Halloween party, Frozen sing-a-long, and Comic Con. These programs engage the community through entertainment instead of a lecture program.  Nostalgia plays a big part with programming so almost anything retro draws a crowd. It is important to be relevant and present programming when anniversaries and reboots occur.  Programming that might be geared towards teens can be tweaked and presented to young adults and adults.  Fandom especially fanfiction can be incorporated into programming. Having different members on staff assist with programming who are passionate about different pop culture will develop an engaged staff. New ways of marketing and community partnership must be utilized as well, such as using memes and promoting programming at coffee shops and bars. Passive programming and displays that patrons can interact with can work as well. Staff should be up to date with social media and platforms such as Buzzfeed to know what the current trends are. Patron driven programming is essential too. Programs can be geared towards any budget. In January our library will be having a Gilmore Girls night full of trivia using kahoot, crafting, and of course food and coffee.

The Amazing Library Race
Presented by Rebecca Smiley, Children’s Services Manager, Citizens Library

Smiley shared her game, The Amazing Library Race, which is based off the reality TV show The Amazing Race.  Her game uses all of the Dewey Decimal categories as ten challenge stations that players must complete to win the game. Each station had two challenges that the team has to decide which one to work on together or individually to earn the most points.  During the workshop, attendees were able to work as teams to compete in the Amazing Library Race. This game may be played with families, children, or teens.  Even though the game featured all Dewey Decimal categories I believe it could be featured as a STEM/STEAM program. In 2017, our library will have an Amazing Library Race for children using our Teen Advisory Board as helpers and then have a TAB version of the game as well.

Creating Great Programs for Millennials
Presented by Emily Vinci, Fiction Librarian, Schaumburg Township District Library (IL) and Katie LaMantia, Teen Librarian, Schaumburg Township District Library (IL)

Traditional programming does not always work for millennials so Vinci and LaMantia presented some original and unique programs geared towards engaging this group.  This programming can be targeted to millennials and other adults can attend.  Community engagement is key, which means that library programs need to reach all audiences.  Marketing and branding to millennials can be a challenge so social media should be predominately used.  Successful programs that worked for their library included bar trivia nights, pop culture programming, young adult book clubs in restaurants, comedy nights, bring your own game system, Un-valentines Day, DIY terrarium, and wine tours. Nostalgia works too such as having an Are You Afraid of the Dark campfire night or a Salute Your Shorts camp program. Personal development programming is important to millennials so offer programming on self-defense, cooking, and first time home buyers. It is important to plan programming six months ahead because some of the programming takes time to implement since the staff are leading the programs instead of having paid speakers. Marketing should only be done a few weeks out due to millennials being more spontaneous. Try to have programming when the library is closed and offer times that suit millennials’ lives better such as weekends and nights.  By providing great millennial programming it will help your teens engage and transition to adult programming. Check out Vinci and LaMantia’s book: A Year of Programs for Millennials and More. In 2017, our library will be hosting a Mercy Street themed program featuring a speaker acting as Clara Barton.  We are also working on a canvas painting night as well.

Curiosity Creates: PA Winners of the ALSC/Disney Curiosity Creates Awards Present Their Programs
Presented by Jean Ann Barsotti, Director, Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls and Christine Kroger, Children’s Librarian, Carnegie Library of Beaver Falls and Sarah Winchowky, Maker Jawn Project Manager, Free Library of Philadelphia and Nicole Henline, Director, Monroeville Public Library and Pamela Bodziok, Assistant Director, Monroeville Public Library and Bronwen Gamble, Acting Director, Reading Public Library

Some of the recipients of the Curiosity Creates grant presented their youth services programs that emphasized creativity and imagination.  The programs were geared to both children and teens.  Many of the programs focused on STEM/ STEAM elements.  Children had to explore and create solutions in teams, which then built their confidence.  To implement the programming, many libraries created community partnerships.  Programming included poetry and puppetry, famous artists and their artwork, biking and bike repair, upcycled architecture, making a cookbook and cooking show, DIY storytelling, and a futuristic fashion show and magazine.  Some of the STEM/STEAM programming ideas that focused on building and architecture will be utilized during our library’s summer reading program. 

Proactive Collection Development for Today’s Public Library
Presented by Wendy Bartlett, Collection Development/Acquisitions Manager and Fiction Buyer, Cuyahoga County Library (OH)

Bartlett is very knowledgeable about collection development.  She gave pointers about ordering, weeding, core collections, patron demand, standing orders, and collection integrity.  The information about buying books one year in advance was useful.  Also, her ideas on satisfying patron demand without hurting collection integrity was excellent as well. She spoke about the idea of marking the 590 field core collection so it is easier to run reports.  Her strategies of how to deal with local self-published authors was helpful.  As a staff member who is in charge of adult fiction collection development I have started to implement her collection development recommendations by evaluating and measuring the adult fiction section of the library.

Storytime CPR: Breathing New Life Into Your Reading Programs
Presented by Rachee Fagg, Head of Children Services, Lansdowne Public Library and Jeff Bullard, Library Coordinator, Northwest Area Clusters/Free Library of Philadelphia

Fagg and Bullard focused on book pairings and new ways to use older children’s literature.  Most of the storytime themes were for younger children, but lengthier picture books and themes were presented as well that can be used with tweens and teens.  Most of the anchor books were core collection books while the bridge books were some unknown titles.  In addition to the presentation, they started a blog where the presenters and attendees could share storytime ideas.  The presenters shared about Jumpstart’s Read for the Record.  At our library, we have discussed the idea of having “book buddies” with the children and teens using some of the ideas from this workshop. 

Closing Luncheon
Presented by Siobhan Reardon, President and Director, Free Library of Philadelphia

Reardon presented in her presentation, “Building Inspiration: A 21st Century Library Initiative,” how the Free Library changed its operations because of budget restraints.  These changes involved rethinking and evolving the twenty-first century library by including technology, social environments, staffing, and programming.  Reardon’s presentation affected our library’s building expansion strategic planning and facilities management including how we saw the library as a living room and not just using traditional seating and shelving.

Poster Sessions

The 3D Printer Has Arrived! Now, What Do We Do?
Presented by Beverly Lawler, Henrietta Hankin Branch Library

Beverly presented how her library borrowed a 3D printer for programming. She shared the thought process behind the programming including policies, procedures, and print request forms.  Our library just acquired a 3D printer and are using her presentation and others for STEM/STEAM programming ideas with children, teens, and adults.

New Library (STEM) Programming for Pre-Teens in Your Library
Presented by Tracy Blair, Corry Public Library

Tracy shared how she financed her programming through community partnerships.  Some programs that she presented included a cooking class, science and crime solving, putting on plays, gaming, art, and music.  Our library currently offers STEM/STEAM programming for our younger children, but in the future we will offer it for tweens and teens on topics.

Reinventing Kids Book Clubs
Presented by Shannon Connor, Haverford Township Free Library

Connor shared techniques she uses at book clubs where she incorporates crafts, games, snacks, and reading a short excerpt. Some of the books included the Magic Tree House series, Who Was biography series, American Girl series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Percy Jackson series, Nancy Drew series, Star Wars Jedi Academy series, and Rainbow Magic series.  Also, Connor mentioned how boys did attend some of book clubs that seemed more gender specific to girls.  Currently our library offers book clubs like this but we are looking to use some of these series books.

Mad as a Hatter Tea Party!
Presented by Christie Himmelreich, Schuylkill Valley Community Library and Kelly Jacoby, Schuylkill Valley Community Library

This tea party program was held for children and mothers near Mother’s Day.  The program included a child friendly tea menu such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade.  Also, along with the tea, children could participate in games, crafts, and photo booth stations.  Games such as pin the tail on the Cheshire Cat were played along with a Mad Hatter hat craft.  The speakers mentioned that decorations are a huge part of the success of programs as well.  Our library has hosted a Downton Abbey tea for adults, but we would like to host a Mad Hatter tea fundraiser in the future. 

Star War Reads Day: May the Books Be With You
Presented by Elizabeth McGoran, Elkins Park Free Library

Star War Reads events are held in October.  Events could include dressing up as your favorite Star Wars character or host a few Storm Troopers.  Crafts could include finger puppets, make your own light saber, Yoda ears, Princess Leia hair, and play dough figures. Activities such as a writing contest and free Han Solo could be used.  Also, it is important to have the children reading Star Wars books.  In the past, our library has had passive programming featuring Star Wars, but I would like to implement a Star Wars Read event in the future and engage our community of every age.

 How to Become a Homeschooling Hub
Presented by Shannon Connor, Haverford Township Free Library and Yolaine Kaupas, Haverford Township Free Library

Libraries can provide programming, resources, and events that are geared to only homeschool families.  Community partnerships can keep program costs down and the community groups such as the local fire companies, Giant grocery stores, historical societies, and the PA Game Commission can provide the programs.  Communication is important, so libraries must reach out to different families and see what kind of resources the library can offer to help fill curriculum needs.  When events are specifically tailored to these families more will join in.  Curriculum exchanges, a back to homeschool social, or holding a standardized testing co-op are just a few ways to engage this community.  Our library has held programs that are geared to anyone in the community, but we have not hosted homeschooling specific programs. Our community’s homeschool students do attend our children’s programming and communication has begun with the families to see what the library can offer just for homeschooling students.