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WLA 2023: A Weekend to Remember

Published onJul 30, 2023
WLA 2023: A Weekend to Remember

The Drive to Wenatchee

Five Whatcom County library staff, one van, a four-hour drive. Our conversation started out all over the place but we soon fell into two camps: horror movie aficionados and folks who loved musical theater. Of course, this meant the one thing we had in common was our love for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Having settled that, we spent the rest of the trip arguing with the Google Maps navigational voice.

When we got to Wenatchee, the voice repeatedly ordered us to “continue straight on North Wenatchee Avenue” in a polite but firm voice until we felt like children being helicopter parented. At every single intersection, the voice reminded us: “continue straight on North Wenatchee Avenue” as if we couldn’t be trusted to drive in a straight line. Did we miss a turn? Yes, of course we did, but that’s not the point. 

Meet & Greet

We met up with fellow conference-goers at the Wenatchee Library that evening and did some librarian-style mingling, by which I mean: finding an interesting book and a quiet place to read. I had talked my boss into bringing his ukulele, and I brought my own, and we conspired to have a little jam session. We were quickly joined by some singers and another uke player who taught us some ribald lyrics to What Shall We Do With A Drunken Sailor


The phone app that the WLA uses, Whova, game-ifies the conference in a way that appeals to my secretly competitive nature. You can rack up points by using the app to participate in conversations, answer polls, suggest meetups and submit photos. I started gathering points days before the conference by posting questions on the app and I became No. 1 on the leaderboard before the conference even started. But others took a more slow and steady approach, and I watched helplessly as several competitors with rising scores approached my leaderboard position and inevitably passed me. I ended up in 6th place and I tip my hat to my conquerors, Carol, Emily, Lauren, Alana and Lori. Your persistence is your strength!

Friday Morning

At breakfast, we attended  a panel on Washington Tribal Libraries and a keynote speech by Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest, a member of the Lummi Nation in Whatcom County. Rena had just completed her final project as Poet Laureate: editing an anthology of poems celebrating salmon and featuring poets from across Washington state. I had contributed a poem to the collection, and I brought the book with me so I could get her autograph. The anthology is We Sing the Salmon Home and if your library doesn’t have it, you should request it. It’s quite possible that some of the 150 poets in the book are from your area!

A pop-up session about making zines with the very energetic Sara Peté was next. Sara did a great job of getting a crowd pumped up about zines. None of us really understood what zines were but Sara was persistent and we were eventually convinced of their existence and converted into zine worshippers. The Washington State Library holds a zine competition every year. I’m definitely creating a zine this year and I’m throwing the gauntlet down to Carol, Emily, Lauren, Alana and Lori and all the rest of you!

Friday Afternoon

I was presenting a session on podcasting in the afternoon, but first I ended up jamming on the uke again with my new friend Anne who played with us Thursday at the Meet & Greet; she taught me the base line bassline to These Boots are Made for Walking. (She was also the one who knew the dirty lyrics to Drunken Sailor.) It was exactly the calm I needed before my session. But as I approached the room where I would present, I heard the Bookmobile Guy knocking ‘em dead in his session. I mean, folks were laughing and rolling in the aisles. He was telling stories and giving away gifts. I really hoped none of his audience was going to stay for my session because no way was I going to top that. You can’t compete with the Bookmobile Guy.

Finally, it was time for my session on podcasting. I’d done this presentation for patrons at three of our libraries. Attendance was sparse at those programs and I was expecting the same here, but instead, 45 people showed up. In a crowd like that, I’d have expected there to be at least one person trying to knock me down a peg with an “Actually,…”, but everyone seemed engaged and laughed politely at my weak attempts at humor. I’m no Bookmobile Guy, but I know a joke or two.

After the session, I met up with our crew and we wandered the streets of Wenatchee in search of the Pybus Public Market, a large steel warehouse on the waterfront, built in 1946 by Elias Thomas (E.T.) Pybus. I believe I had a tasty chicken pot pie but it was all a blur. Live music, kids running around, a lot going on. It was the place to be on a Friday night in Wenatchee.

Saturday Morning

Saturday we had another fascinating breakfast keynote with young adult author Aiden Thomas. Afterward, the conference was abuzz with the news of a winter storm warning on the pass. Our team opted to head home early and so missed the “Library Lessons from the Movies of Patrick Swayze” session which, seriously, I was really looking forward to.

The drive back was not the blizzard we were expecting and nobody in the van asked me to play ukulele so I sat quietly, scheming to see if I could get back on the Whova leaderboard even after the conference had ended.  

I’d never been to Wenatchee before. It’s a charming little town with a nice riverwalk and a walking bridge over the train tracks. If you asked me if I would return someday, I’d say, “Wenatchurally!”

Top that, Bookmobile Guy!

A black-and-white headshot of a person with shoulder-lenth, curly hair, mustache, and beard who is wearing glasses and a hoodie.


Neil McKay (he/him) works for the Whatcom County Library System as Online Experience Coordinator. He is host of the podcast “WCLS in Whatcom County Presents: Library Stories” ( and serves on the Whatcom READS steering committee ( He has written for several magazines and newspapers, some of which no longer exist, and he has performed at poetry readings across Washington state. Most recently, his poem “The Salmyn” was included in Washington State Poet Laureate (2021-2023) Rena Priest’s anthology I Sing the Salmon Home.
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