Meet the Public Library Data Alliance: Larra Clark

Larra Clark serves as Deputy Director for both the Public Library Association (PLA) and the American Library Association’s (ALA) Public Policy and Advocacy Office. Her portfolio includes broadband access and adoption, public library data and research, strategic communications, and national initiatives and partnerships. Her career spans 20 years managing library communications, policy, and research, following a decade in non-profit public affairs, government relations, and print journalism. She received her library master’s degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Clark serves as the Public Library Data Alliance’s liaison to PLA and ALA.

Measures that Matter is the original framer of the PLDA initiative, and I’ve been involved with that work since the beginning on behalf of PLA and ALA. Public library data and its collection is important to the work we do at both of my jobs, and I look forward to being on the alliance with my passionate and talented colleagues.

My role on the PLDA board is to serve as the representative for PLA an ALA, and I bring a knowledge and understanding of activities that should be shared across the ecosystem, as well as perspectives from those associations’ members at a national level.

Going back to the beginning of my career, I’ve been a power user of library data and research. People would ask me why we need libraries now that we have the internet and, 20 years later, we’re sometimes still answering that question. I worked to show how libraries are a bridge to digital inclusion and equity. Data has helped us understand the field internally, but it’s also been critical in including libraries in broadband plans and demonstrating the role they play to members of Congress and the media. I’m committed to having the best data to inform policy, serve the association, and bring back to libraries to use at local and state levels.

At ALA and PLA, we’ve done a lot of work in this space and collaborated with other library organizations, IMLS, state libraries, academic researchers, and others, but it’s been mostly project based. Everyone is interested in an ongoing collaboration to improve coordination on what data we collect and then connect it with community-level data to create greater value and insight. We have a lot of data but don’t know if we’re wringing every drop of knowledge out of it.

I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation on library impacts and outcomes. PLA’s Project Outcome is the only national tool to measure immediate patron outcomes in several key areas — digital learning, job skills, summer reading — but we need to continue expanding and connecting resources like these. We also need to increase skills in the field to identify gaps and improvements libraries can make. I’ve seen a lot of progress in these areas and I think we have a nice foundation to build from, so I’m looking forward to continuing that forward momentum. People would like to better measure the contributions and change libraries are able to create in their communities. I’m proud that ALA and PLA have been a part of that work so far, and I’m looking forward to taking the next steps with other users and contributors to library data.