MLA 2023 Annual Conference Connecting the Dots


MLA 2023 Annual Conference Featured Speakers

How Libraries Help Foster Authorship – Abra Berens

Chef and author, Abra Berens, will lead a conversation about how rural Michigan libraries helped further her career and made it possible to write her three, critically acclaimed cookbooks. This discussion will also delve into the process of cookbook writing. After the talk, Abra will be on hand to answer questions and sign copies of all three of her books; Ruffage, Grist, and Pulp.

Abra Berens Abra Berens is a chef, former farmer, and writer. She started cooking at the storied Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, MI. She then went on to train in the garden-focused kitchen at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, Ireland. In 2009 she co-founded Bare Knuckle Farm in Northport, MI, where she farmed and cooked for 8 years. After years of farming, she returned to the kitchen full time, opening and helming the café at Local Foods in Chicago, IL. In 2017, she left her Executive Chef position to return to the mitten state to join the team at Granor Farm in Three Oaks, MI, where she combines her love of farms and restaurants to create one-of-a-kind dinners on the farm celebrating the best of Southwest Michigan’s diverse agriculture.


Connecting the Dots Between Restorative Practices and Public Libraries – Stephen Jackson

Restorative Practices are a set of values, beliefs and guidelines that lay the framework for engaging with individuals both within and outside of the organization. They promote community and help to build trusting relationships that ultimately lessen the likelihood of causing harm to others. This discussion will share the importance and impact of utilizing restorative practices in public libraries to promote organizational well-being and shift the landscape of how we engage and learn with one another to create a shared experience that elevates individuals as well as the libraries they serve.

Stephen A. JacksonStephen A. Jackson is Oak Park (IL) Public Library’s Director of Equity and Anti-Racism. Joining a handful of public libraries with similar equity-based leadership positions, the library created this position to support and fulfill its anti-racism journey and its first Anti-Racism Strategic Plan. Jackson works to improve the library’s public service and staff relationships by ensuring policies and practices are equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist and helps to train library staff on topics such as anti-racism, equity, diversity, inclusion, and restorative practices.

Jackson was previously the library’s Manager of Teen Services. He earned his master’s of science in clinical mental health counseling and his bachelor’s of arts in behavioral sciences from National Louis University. 


Writing the Righteous Fight: Why "Controversial" Books Must Remain on Library Shelves – Ellen Hopkins

As one of the "most banned authors in the US," Ellen Hopkins has been fighting book removals at an exhausting pace. Her first YA novel, CRANK, sits near the top of book banning hitlists. The book was inspired by the personal story of her daughter's addiction and illustrates how quickly a teen with everything going for her can lose her dreams to substance abuse. Hopkins’ subsequent novels tackle issues young adults face every day. Hopkins's motives are often questioned, but she says she wants to arm kids with knowledge to help them make better choices and develop understanding and empathy. You'll hear how she has accomplished those goals and why she's determined to help keep controversial books on library bookshelves.

Ellen HopkinsEllen Hopkins is a poet, freelance writer, and the award-winning author of twenty nonfiction titles, three novels for adults, and thirteen NY Times Bestselling novels-in-verse. She has published hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from aviation to child abuse to winegrowing. Ellen is a regular speaker at schools, book festivals, and writers conferences across the US, and now throughout the world.


Uniting the Michigan Library Community

MLA is proud to partner with organizations serving the library community.

Friends of Michigan Libraries logo