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Written by Amber Sheerin   

Opening speaker Shola Richards began the event by introducing the audience to the ancient African concept of Ubuntu – I am what I am because of who we all are. We exist to help support each other. Libraries exemplify this ideal in a limitless number of ways, perhaps none more importantly than providing their community members with the information they need to succeed. This also echoes MLA’s vision to be a partner and advocate for Michigan libraries. 

Shola told the audience to remember the proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” These words were highlighted again in the panel session, Black Men in Public Libraries. Black men make up less than 1% of MLIS graduates nationwide, a fact felt deeply by the five panelists who shared their personal struggles to find their place in an industry where mentors were hard to find. One panelist shared that when they tried to find a mentor, there was only one other black male library director in their heavily populated state. Libraries are champions of equity, but they have a long way to go in expanding opportunities in the field. MLA members who are interested in mentorship and increasing access to marginalized populations are encouraged to donate or apply for our Future Pathways Grants and read more about our Mentor Program

In a fun and creative session, Clare Membiela from the Library of Michigan and Kristin Fontichiaro from the University of Michigan spoke about what challenges library workers might expect to encounter in the next few years, especially how social media will evolve and impact libraries. If you are a library worker unsure how to manage online communications or incidents, please consider reading MLA’s crisis communication plan and related advocacy resources. And in a thought-provoking session on pivoting to meet new censorship topics, Lisa Varga of the Virginia Library Association spoke of censorship attempts in libraries as acts of privilege. Those with means will still be able to buy access, but those without are the ones who are at greatest risk, and often have the greatest need. Protecting the right to read is truly equity work. There are no other organizations that do the work libraries do, and community members look to library workers for leadership in often unexpected ways. Upholding the values of librarianship has ripple effects that impact our communities in a multitude of ways and every single person working towards that goal should be commended and celebrated for not giving up on those who need them most. Michigan’s Mi Right to Read initiative was brought up in several different sessions and is a great place to support the cause within our state if you want to learn more. 

Additional sessions explored how library programs like “Take Your Child to the Library Day” can be used as an advocacy tool to introduce community members to the wonders a library can provide, and how libraries supporting trans staff and patrons will help support staff and patrons of all identities because when we go together, we go farther. 

In front of the Columbus Convention Center, there is a larger-than-life statue of actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (Columbus was the location of the 1970 Mr. World competition where a 23-year-old Schwarzenegger defeated the reigning world champion bodybuilder to earn that title for the first time). While Arnie’s muscles may have been unmatched, from April 3-5, 2024, he was among some of the strongest people in the country when library workers gathered to state without fear or hesitation: FREE PEOPLE READ FREELY. Let’s make sure freedom rings in libraries across Michigan. 


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