By Teresa DeVoe
Program Specialist, IMLS
For many U.S.-based librarians, the warmest months of the year are known for summer reading programs, professional association conferences, and student workers. Here at IMLS State Programs, we know summer as the high season for site visits. As a key part of our monitoring work, site visits help us review the administration of Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funding. They also give us a deeper look at projects that have benefitted from these funds.
With a goal of visiting every state during our five-year funding cycle, we plan for approximately ten visits each summer, divided among three program officers. In 2013 that encompassed Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, North Dakota, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Wisconsin. I hail from the last of these states and had the chance to accompany Program Officer Timothy Owens to Madison in mid-June. Like any good Wisconsinite, I made him try our best-known culinary offerings: brats, fried cheese curds, fish fry, and ice cream from the UW campus dairy. Rich as these were, they were but a prelude to the visit’s main course, in which our hosts from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction introduced us to the state’s many flavors of library programming.
We drove through the rolling hills of southern Wisconsin to learn about seniors “aging in place” near Dodgeville, the seat of an agricultural county. As one of eleven participants in a Southwest Wisconsin Library System project, the Dodgeville Public Library brought technology classes to seniors and gave them a new understanding of the word “mouse.”
In Janesville, we marveled at Hedberg Public Library’s interactive early learning space, flanked by color-coded books for young readers. Down the road we learned about a reading lounges project implemented by the Milwaukee Public Library, where summer readers are known as “Super Readers.”
We saw a demo of the Milwaukee County Federated Library System’s new service for mobile devices that allows users to download e-books, stay informed of library events, and even scan ISBN codes to see if the library owns a particular title. No wonder this app garnered coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for its “killer” features.
We’re all familiar with the anti-war movement of the 1960s and 70s, but what about similar sentiments from the first half of the twentieth century? As part of a digitization project, the Mount Horeb Public Library captured perspectives from local veterans, including an anecdote about conscientious objectors to WWII from Red Cross worker, Pat Hitchcock. Capturing oral histories like hers brings additional dimensions to our historical record, and libraries can provide an important path to these perspectives.
Then there was our unforgettable tour of Madison Public Library’s under-construction Central Library, where workforce development projects will soon mix with local artwork and a maker space called “the Bubbler.” We’re sure their opening event this fall will rival the success of Bookless, their 2012 last days’ tribute.
These diverse projects represent just a few of the ways that Wisconsin has used LSTA funds to make an impact throughout the state. With millions of federal dollars distributed to states annually through this program, we make it a priority to see firsthand how these funds enhance library services. Because site visits also give us a turn at immersive learning, they always make for an experience worth savoring.