Designed by library directors for library directors.

Being the director or dean of a library or cooperative, regardless of size or type, is a unique job with unique needs that often only another person in that position can fully comprehend or appreciate. Designed to meet the unique professional development needs of Michigan library directors, Think Space will showcase innovations in key areas of library management, leadership, and technology via compelling and cutting-edge sessions presented by well-respected experts, all while giving attendees the opportunity to build deep, lasting relationships with a cohort of library leaders throughout Michigan.

Each cohort group will spend four days dissecting and understanding one primary issue of critical importance to today’s libraries. Past topics have included:

2021-2022: Equity, Diversity, and Accessibility
2022-2022: Holding True to Our Values and Staying Strong

Think Space 2023-2024 is now full! Thank you for your interest, and we look forward to having you in next year's cohort.


Think Space 2023-2024: Future-Ready Libraries

Future-ready librarians peer beyond basic service to pursue innovation and iterative design.  They honor the legacy of classic librarianship while embracing a contemporary vision. Fiscally responsible and infinitely responsive, future proof libraries do not rest on their hands or their laurels. They stake a claim on the shifting landscape of relevance and solve the right problems for their patrons.

Topics covered will include:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Deconstructing barriers to access
  • Building future focused spaces
  • Fostering resilient workplaces
  • Questioning the why behind our policies
  • Reimagining the library of the future

In addition to group led discussions and activities, the schedule will include:

Libraries in the Age of AI: Landscape and Future
The rapid rise of chatbots, text-to-image generators, and other iterations of artificial intelligence (AI) has sparked a range of reactions in libraries. These include fear, excitement, and a large dose of confusion! We will address the current state of the technology in libraries, future developments likely to impact our organizations, and the decisions we’ll need to make as we navigate the age of AI.

Inclusive Outreach: Bridging the Gap to Library Access
This thought-provoking and interactive session will address the pressing issue of inclusivity in library services. Join us as we explore innovative strategies and best practices for reaching underserved and underrepresented communities, ultimately breaking down the barriers that hinder access to the wealth of resources libraries have to offer. Together, we'll work towards a future where library access truly knows no boundaries.

Connect, Engage, Succeed: The Future of Library Marketing and Evolving Social Media
In this session, we'll explore innovative strategies that libraries can use to connect with their communities, engage patrons effectively, and ultimately succeed in their mission of knowledge dissemination and community enrichment. As social media platforms continue to evolve and shape the way information is shared and consumed, it's crucial for libraries to adapt and harness the power of these tools.

Tech Transformation at the Library: Developing Staff & Guiding Our Communities through Disruption
For years, library staff have fulfilled the role of technology instructors within our communities. However, in an era of swift transformations, this responsibility comes with its fair share of challenges. What skills are necessary to thrive in this environment? How do we overcome staff resistance as we integrate emerging technologies into our programs and services? Our speaker will explore strategies for effectively (and efficiently) training staff, securing the support of library stakeholders, and building tech-forward organizations.

Strategic Succession Planning: Empowering the Next Generation of Library Leaders
In an ever-evolving landscape of libraries, ensuring a seamless transition of leadership is crucial to sustain the mission, vision, and impact of these institutions. This dynamic session is designed to equip library directors and stakeholders with the essential knowledge and strategies to cultivate future leaders effectively. Discover how to nurture the next generation of library leaders who will carry your institution's legacy forward.

Library Spaces Reimagined: A Look into Future-Ready Designs
In this session, we explore how libraries are evolving into dynamic, future-ready spaces that cater to the changing needs of our communities. As technology, learning methods, and community expectations continue to evolve, libraries must adapt and innovate. This session will showcase innovative designs and concepts that reimagine the traditional library space. We'll delve into transformative approaches that foster creativity, inclusivity, and sustainability within libraries.

Think Space is an all-inclusive educational and networking experience including four full days of learning, two overnight hotel stays, meals, fun special events, and the opportunity to build deeper, lasting relationships with other directors and deans of libraries throughout Michigan. Join your colleagues for time to THINK deeply in a safe SPACE.


Expert Speakers

Nick Tanzi headshotNick Tanzi, the Digital Librarian, Assistant Director of the South Huntington Public Library (NY)
Nick Tanzi is a nationally recognized library technology consultant, and author of the books Making the Most of Digital Collections Through Training and Outreach (2016) and Best Technologies for Public Libraries: Policies, Programs, and Services (2020). Tanzi is a past column editor for Public Library Magazine’s “The Wired Library”. His work has also been featured in publications including Computers in Libraries, Library Journal, and Marketing Library Services.

Kelvin Watson headshotKelvin Watson, Director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District (NV)
As executive director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, Kelvin Watson oversees 25 branches spanning 8,000 square miles in Southern Nevada. Regarded as one of the most highly respected thought leaders in the library industry, Kelvin has been credited with expanding his customer base through outreach efforts to underserved and diverse populations and brought transformative change through ambitious and groundbreaking initiatives. Examples include the multi-award-winning partnership with the RTC of Southern Nevada, which enables instant digital library access to bus riders; a cell phone lending program, which provides low-income and homeless residents with the lifeline that smart phones deliver; and a program that enables more than 50,000 households in Southern Nevada access free personal WiFi. His dedication to implementing new and innovative ways to meet new and existing customers “where they are” using non-traditional methods garnered Kelvin and his libraries numerous awards, including: ALA Library of the Future (2022 and 2023); ALA Medal of Excellence; Urban Libraries Council Innovation Award for Anti-Racism, Digital Equity & Inclusion; RUSA 2022 Best Emerging Technology Award; ALA Ernest A. DiMattia Award for Innovation and Service to Community & Profession.

Deborah Charbonneau headshotDeborah Charbonneau, Ph. D., Professor and Chair of the MLIS Program at Wayne State University
Dr. Deborah Charbonneau is a Professor in the School of Information Sciences. Prior to joining the faculty, she held positions at the Vera P. Shiffman Medical Library at Wayne State University and the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library at the University of Utah. She also served as Principal Investigator for the Urban Health Partners program, a public health outreach project funded by the National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health where she facilitated partnerships between the library and community agencies to address issues of health equity and health disparities. Her research has been funded by various government organizations and encompasses investigations into how information technologies can be effective in enhancing the skills of health providers serving historically underrepresented communities. Her recent peer-reviewed published journal articles focus on emerging library services during the COVID-19 pandemic and evidence syntheses to combat pandemic misinformation. Deborah was a visiting Research Fellow at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. in Fall 2018. She was selected as the 2015-2017 New Leader for the Association for Information Science and Technology (ASIS&T).

Jessamyn West headshotJessamyn West, Librarian and Technologist
Jessamyn West is a consultant, researcher and international public speaker on library science and digital divide issues. She is the author of a 2011 book Without a Net: Librarians Bridging the Digital Divide which explores the challenges of a society becoming stratified by computer skills as well as race and income inequality. Jessamyn speaks to local, regional, and national libraries and library associations and is a regular Computers in Libraries columnist writing on these and other issues relating to the status and roles of libraries in the modern changing world. She has put her skills to good use for fifteen years teaching basic technology classes at Randolph Technical Career Center's adult education program. In addition to being a community technologist and writer, she has taught Community Engagement at University of Hawai'i at Manoa's Library & Information Science Program, and is the technology coordinator for the Vermont Library Association (VLA). She created the "Passport to Vermont Libraries" program and was the recipient of VLA's Library Advocate of the Year Award in 2016, and was recently a Fellow at Harvard's Library Innovation Lab. She holds a BA from Hampshire College and an MLib. from the University of Washington.

Margaret Sullivan headshotMargaret Sullivan, Margaret Sullivan Studio
Margaret Sullivan is a national thought leader in assisting public libraries envision their preferred future. Margaret leads Margaret Sullivan Studio, a full-service strategy and design firm, collaborating with innovative library systems internationally. Since the firm’s founding in 2014, MSS has become the industry leader in re-envisioning the 21st century library for diverse and complex contemporary communities, with a focus on social justice and racial equity. Margaret has assisted over thirty public library systems, including Grand Rapids Public Library, New York Public Library, DC Public Library, Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, Richland Library, New Haven Free Public Library, Salt Lake City Public Library, Public Library, Chicago Public Library, Los Angeles Public Library and Memphis Public Library define their version of what a 21st century library can be through strategic planning, facilities master planning, visioning, programming, and interior design. Prior to establishing her own firm, Margaret worked for prestigious architecture firms including H3 Hardy Collaboration Architecture as Director of Interior Design. In 2017, Margaret was named one of Interior Design Magazine’s Rising Stars.

Karla Alvarez headshotKarla Alvarez, Equity and Inclusion Services Manager at the San José Public Library
Karla Alvarez (pronouns: she/ella) is the Equity and Inclusion Services Manager for San José Public Library, steering projects to better serve San José’s historically underrepresented and underserved communities. Prior to joining the Library, she was a seasoned nonprofit executive, with more than fifteen years of experience leading national and international projects to strengthen youth leadership, gender equity, immigrant justice and human rights. She served as Executive Director of Mixteca Organization in Brooklyn, New York and other leadership positions for projects in Mexico, Guatemala and other countries. Committed to giving back to her community, she serves as the Vice Chair of the Latino Leadership Alliance and board director for Grail Family Services. Alvarez received her Master's degree in International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame and Bachelor's degree in International Relations from the University of San Diego. She was named a 2023 Library Journal Mover & Shaker Innovator for her equity work. 

Kathi Inman Berens headshotKathi Inman Berens, Associate Professor of Book Publishing and Digital Humanities at Portland State University
Dr. Kathi Inman Berens is a U.S. Fulbright Scholar of digital culture, former Annenberg Innovation Lab Fellow, prize-winning author, and Associate Professor of Book Publishing and Digital Humanities at Portland State University. She is co-author of two reports for the American Library Association about Gen Z and millennial public library use and the digital public library ecosystem. Her latest project is about the bookish behaviors of people who identify as “non-readers.”


Rachel Noorda headshotRachel Noorda, Director and Associate Professor of Publishing at Portland State University
Dr. Rachel Noorda is Director and Associate Professor of Publishing at Portland State University. She is an internationally recognized scholar of book culture and consumption. She has co-written three reports on library use with Dr. Kathi Inman Berens, published through the American Library Association and Panorama Project.


Mary Brown headshotMary Brown, EdD, MAOL Senior Consultant, DEI Center of Expertise, Steelcase Inc; Adjunct Faculty, Grand Rapids Community College Psychology and Business Departments
Mary stands at the crossroads of technology adoption and human-centric organizational change. With over a decade of experience empowering leaders and organizations to bolster their workforce capacity, she is evolving into a trusted consultant for integrating emerging technologies into workplace cultures. Passionate about the ethical and practical adoption of AI and other innovations, Mary advocates for solutions, prioritizing people at their core ensuring technology is an enabler rather than a disruptor. At Steelcase, Mary works as a Culture Consultant and collaborates with colleagues across the organization to ensure that people are at the heart of every strategic decision.


Cathryn Copper headshotCathryn Copper, Zeidler Library at the University of Toronto
Cathryn works at the intersection of libraries and architecture. As the head of the Eberhard Zeidler Library at the University of Toronto, her current research explores technology and experimentation in libraries. She has spoken on the topic of experimentation at several national and international conferences including the Association of College & Research Libraries and SXSW EDU. Her talk on the use of artificial intelligence and augmented reality in libraries at SXSW EDU was featured as one of the “biggest and most pressing ideas”. She is the author of The Experimental Library: A Guide to Taking Risks, Failing Forward, and Creating Change.


Dennis Jensen headshotDennis Jensen, C2AE
Dennis Jensen, AIA, ALA, MLA, is a 43-year veteran of the design industry. A trained architect, Dennis has dedicated thousands of hours developing designs for over 30 public libraries. He develops creative solutions to client-specific needs by actively listening and transforming ideas into real designs using concept sketches. He plans within budget to design attractive, lasting environments that promote their intended use.


Chloë Aalsburg headshotChloë Aalsburg, C2AE



The Value of Think Space

As a new library director, Think Space was instrumental in my professional development. Encouraged by our library's cooperative, I explored MLA’s learning and networking offerings, a decision that proved invaluable. The knowledge and insight I acquired by attending Think Space found practical application in benefitting our library. I shared what I learned with staff and Library Board Trustees, sparking conversations that led to needed policy revisions. Following my participation at Think Space [2022-2023], we eagerly addressed the limitations of our collection development policy. Our collection development policy lacked proper attention, consisting of a half-page, called buying and selecting, that hadn't been updated since 2010. The significance of a robust Collection Development Policy, underscored in Think Space’s second session, was evident.

Jack Buck, Director, Richland Community Library

I am a big believer in continuing education and try to do as much as I can.  Think Space was by far the most beneficial conference that I’ve been part of.  The group of other directors from all over Michigan was full of insights and questions and suggestions that made me shift my perspective on some things and also feel a lot of solidarity and support.  The speakers were impressive and new to me.  The information covered was incredibly valuable for what we face as library directors.  The staff at MLA does a great job of putting this together and reminding us that we and our experiences are a priority to the organization.

Claire Meeker, Director, Romeo District Library

Taking a deep dive into a specific topic with other library directors provided an avenue for me to really understand tough issues. It gave me the space and time to figure out how to (better) handle issues like challenged materials in my own library. I really value the time spent with other directors and solidifying a network of peers. Think Space is an invaluable cohort and one of the best conference activities I have participated in.

Val Meyerson, Director, Petoskey District Library



Registration is now open!

The Think Space cohort will meet in person this December for the first two-day gathering, followed by a virtual check-in session in February, the second gathering in May, and concluding with a breakfast reception during the MLA 2024 Annual Conference that is exclusively for members of the Think Space cohort.

Registration includes all educational sessions, breakfasts, lunches, receptions, special events, parking, ferry ticket, and overnight accommodations in Grand Rapids and Mackinac Island. The deadline to register with overnight accommodations for the December session is Wednesday, November 8.


Registration Rates

Member: $1,695
Non-member: $3,390

Financial assistance is available! We want to bring together library directors and deans from libraries of all types and sizes throughout Michigan to share their experiences and learn from one another. If you would like to attend Think Space, but need financial assistance, please apply for a Library Continuing Education Stipend and/or an MLA Scholarship.

Continuing education stipends are available through the Library of Michigan's Library Continuing Education Program. View complete program details, eligibility and criteria, and apply.

If you are an MLA member and would like to attend but need financial assistance, please submit a scholarship application to MLA as soon as possible. The form is quick and easy to submit. Learn more and apply for an MLA Educational Fund Scholarship. Applications are due Friday, November 3, 2023.


Schedule at a Glance

Amway Grand Plaza, Grand Rapids

Thursday, December 7, 2023
12:00 – 5:00 Think Space Sessions
6:00 – 9:00 Evening Group Activity
Friday, December 8, 2023
8:00 – 3:00 Think Space Sessions

Virtual Session

Tuesday, February 20, 2024
11:00 - 12:30 PM via Zoom

Mission Point Resort, Mackinac Island

Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Optional early arrivals welcome on Mackinac Island
Add an extra night and parking for $250
Thursday, May 23, 2024
12:00 – 5:00 Think Space Sessions
6:00 – 10:00 Reception on the Porch
Friday, May 24, 2024
8:00 – 4:00 Think Space Sessions

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

Thursday, October 17, 2024
8:00 – 9:00 Think Space Breakfast


Uniting the Michigan Library Community

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

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