From Spokane to Shreveport: Recognizing and Reflecting on Belonging in State Library Chapter Conferences

Illustration of three individuals talking at a conference, representing belonging.
Banner for the 2024 WLA Conference

Last month, I attended the state library chapter conferences for Washington and Louisiana. The common theme for both was “belonging.” In Spokane, this year’s Washington Library Association (WLA) conference theme was “We All Belong.” In Shreveport, this year’s Louisiana Library Association (LLA) conference theme was “Everything for Everyone.” Building on the topic of belonging from my previous TIE post, I wanted to highlight what our colleagues were sharing in these spaces. 

Image of a man and woman speaking at a conference on a stage while seated in armchairs.
Left to Right: Travis Baldree and Robin Bradford.

WLA’s opening keynote conversation brought together award-winning librarian and author Robin Bradford and award-winning author and audiobook narrator Travis Baldree for a discussion about being a fantasy author in an era of artificial intelligence, engaging with reluctant readers, and addressing book challenges. This thoughtful conversation centered on the author-librarian partnership and how reading books that affirm or challenge our experiences can offer a sense of belonging to readers living in a fast-paced world.

In a workshop called “Building Equity-Based Summers (BEBS),” led by public librarians Maria Shackles and Jennifer Sullivan, participants learned how to design and implement summer services with community voices in mind. This included ensuring that community members from rural to urban settings would be able to participate and partner with the library, and how the library can integrate and celebrate the interests and assets of systematically marginalized community members. Award-winning author Christine Day, a citizen of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, presented during the Author Breakfast session on her current reading lists of Indigenous stories, spanning fiction and nonfiction. Day shared various experiences from Indigenous stories and how she collaborates with her community of authors to advocate for libraries and intellectual freedom so everyone can read these books.

Image of three women speaking on a stage while seated in armchairs.
from Left to Right: Kiantha Duncan, Denise Neujahr, and Justina Chen

The closing conversation featured award-winning author Justina Chen; critical conversationalist, columnist, and author Kiantha Duncan; and librarian Denise Neujahr, recipient of the 2023 Lemony Snicket Prize for Librarians Faced with Adversity. This last session highlighted how the definition of belonging evolves and changes from generation to generation. To exemplify this, Duncan pointed out two responses from an early career librarian and a seasoned librarian. Neujahr described her experiences creating a safe and brave space for LGBTQ+ youths and the challenges she endured in doing so. Chen commented on the tendency to “call out” people and encouraged attendees to instead “call in” people so that they feel heard and seen. This framing may better help to create conversations that address needed changes.

Image of a Black woman presenting a slideshow at a conference.
Shannan Hicks presenting called “Tango v. Foxtrot-In Which Trustees and Directors Can Leave the Whiskey at Home.”

At LLA there were many important sessions covering topics such as engaging with the community on civics, led by law librarians, and collaborating with library trustees and learning how they work together to support the community. In the LLA President Program, distinguished educator and scholar Dr. Michael Ramon Hicks led a conversation with attendees identifying areas for libraries to better foster inclusivity. Dr. Hicks warned of the ongoing challenges to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives and stressed the need to continue building on these values in day-to-day library work.

Image of a Black man standing on stage while making a presentation.
Dr. Michael Ramon Hicks presenting at the LLA President’s Program.

Sonnet Ireland, an award-winning public library leader, and I co-presented on creating a library advocacy strategy for library workers regarding issues that impact them and their libraries. We explored resources from the Unite Against Book Bans campaign and the Library Freedom Project to support advocacy burnout and to address concurrent issues such as censorship or surveillance. In addition, Amanda Jones, an award-winning school librarian and author, and Nicollette Davis, an award-winning academic librarian, joined our session through short video recordings and shared how we must advocate for each other and create partnerships with community groups regarding the issues we face. All of us wanted attendees to feel inspired knowing that there are tools readily available and that they are not alone in facing these issues.

I also co-presented with Jack Van Antwerp, a photojournalist, on how libraries and journalists must partner with each other to verify and identify deep fakes on social media such as teaching patrons how to use fact checking tools from Content Authenticity Initiative or Snopes. Interestingly, this presentation coincided with the saga of Kate Middleton’s photoshop controversy. Deep fakes not only encompass manipulated images and videos but misleading captions too. As Jack emphasized, libraries are trusted community institutions where people feel they belong and patrons trust library workers to help them with information needs, especially in this time of disinformation.

Attending these conferences was not only informative but empowering, as I saw two school library workers leading their state chapter associations: WLA President Sarah Logan and LLA President Kenya Iverson. Their presence highlighted the advocacy of, critical need for, and awareness of school library workers in this country. The focus on belonging continues to be a critical part of our library work. Making space for everyone, especially those who feel isolated and unsure where to go, is difficult but necessary work, and we do this work by leading by example, which is what I witnessed within WLA and LLA.

Headshot of Ray Pun

About the author:

Ray Pun (he/him) is the academic and research librarian at the Alder Graduate School of Education, a teacher’s residency program in California.

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.