When it comes to designing an annual event that meets the varied needs of book fanatics and librarians across Texas, the Texas Library Association has it covered. Each year brings a new chapter, so we spoke with TLA president, Susan Mann, and Director of Communications, Gloria Meraz, about creating personalized event experiences for more than 7,000 attendees.
Q: Tell us about the purpose of the Texas Library Association and a little about your members.
GM: The Texas Library Association is the largest state organization involved with advocacy and promotion of libraries and librarians.
SM: Our members come from public libraries, school libraries, university libraries, and special divisions, such as medical, corporate, and government libraries.
GM: We also have a large number of lay members — people who support libraries and educators.
Q: When planning your annual conference, how do you meet the needs of such a varied audience?
GM: Our conference experience is rich and densely packed, so it’s incredibly important to offer diversity. Librarians, educators, authors, illustrators, and vendors all come together to talk about ideas. We want to build community, so we strategically plan programming that speaks to librarians and educators of all types. With 400-plus programs and over 100 networking events, we offer both personalized and broad training.
SM: We have everything from entertainment (what librarians call entertainment, which is authors!) to continuing education and professional development. That covers cutting-edge technology and how you present your library — from architecture and furniture, to what does a library actually look like today.
GM: They go from learning in a classroom to a luncheon where they listen to great authors, to an evening event where they talk with colleagues. That’s what it’s about—providing enough diversity and richness of experience over four days to carry them through the whole year.
Q: You mentioned technology. How does its evolving role apply to the library industry?
SM: Technology has changed the face of what libraries look like. Today’s library is not what it was ten or even five years ago.
GM: Of course, we still have books, but we also have e-books, audio books, databases, and online programs. Libraries are true tech centers and hubs for the community. This audience demands we be on top of it, so how we deliver information and content technologically is our value.In today’s technologically-driven society, we find that people want to connect. They want to connect with people who have similar interests, love reading, and learning — the library takes on that role to advance learning.
Q: The TLA created a lot of swipe-right connections with this year’s “speed dating” activity. Walk us through the program.
GM: One of our key roles is providing a forum for learning exchanges to happen. With the Texas Bluebonnet Award speed dating program, we brought together authors, illustrators, and librarians to discuss their latest books and interact with audiences. It’s a very tight and vast marketplace out there — and librarians need to know what quality material is available and authors need to promote their books. This is where the rubber meets the road. Librarians learn directly from the authors and illustrators who are producing those books. It’s a win-win situation.
Q: When the expo opened, there was a mad rush of people clamoring to enter. We heard members lovingly say it’s “Black Friday for Librarians.”
GM: Yes, they get tons of books and goodies to take back to their districts. It’s one of the big selling points for librarians because they’re able to bring new books to their students. They tell their administrators, “I’ll come back with a lot more than I put in!” It’s wonderful.
Q: As fellow librarians and book enthusiasts, you must learn from and inspire each other.
SM: Oh, certainly. You would be surprised what different librarians can teach one another.
GM: There’s something very important about talking to colleagues who do the same kind of work you do as well as colleagues who do something very different.
SM: It’s wonderful to network with so many different kinds of libraries, people from all walks of life, from places across the state of Texas — from very small to very large.
Q: Do you have a favorite conference moment?
GM: I like the end of the general session. I see the audience come out energized — they’re looking forward to what they can’t get anywhere else. I see it in their faces. I’m with my people, my fellow librarians.