Interview: Georgia Public Library Service

IMLS staff interviewed state librarians to discuss how their new five-year plans for Grants to States funds (2013-2017) differ from their past plans (2008-2012) and how they see the needs of library users in their states changing and evolving. This blog post is part of a series and features IMLS Senior Library Program Officer Michele Farrell interviewing Georgia State Librarian Lamar Veatch, Deputy State Librarian Julie Walker, and then-Assistant State Librarian for Library Development Alan Harkness. Read more about the Georgia Public Library Service’s priorities in the state profile for Georgia.

Michele: What were the three most important community needs you sought to address through library services between 2008 and 2012?

Julie: We like projects that involve resource sharing, such as our Galileo databases that each individual library couldn’t afford on their own. We also stress our electronic linkages and adequate bandwidth for IT services in every corner of the state. One of the big projects that we use IMLS funds for is our PINES [Public Information Network for Electronic Services] program, which is our integrated library system. About 300 of our 400 libraries participate in PINES and have a shared catalog. Any cardholder in the system can place holds on items and the program’s courier service will deliver them to their home library for pick up. We also put funds into children and family literacy services projects – our Prime Time program, our summer reading – things that we can initiate here centrally and then push out to all our libraries.

Alan: Prime Time allows us to focus on preschool-aged children and families with the greatest need, and the measured outcomes have been significant. We also participate in the cooperative summer reading program nationally, and we purchase materials for every library system statewide. About 300,000 children throughout the state participated in summer reading club last year.

Michele: How did the evaluation of programs and initiatives developed over the 2008-2012 cycle affect your state plans for the 2013-2017 cycle? 

Julie: The surveys gave us some good feedback from our constituents on what programs they value and appreciate. We found it extremely valuable in looking at programs they felt were best handled at a state level compared to the things that they feel they do best individually. Ultimately there is fundamental support in Georgia for using the funds the way we do, which is on behalf of all the libraries as opposed to just handing out small individual grants.

Michele: What are the three most important community needs you plan to address through the grant funds in the next five years?

Lamar: We’re really beginning to focus on approaches to getting adequate bandwidth. The landscape has changed so much with bandwidth access that our focus now will be on assisting the individual library systems in contracting at a local level, where we see that the cost is significantly less than a statewide contract. The focus on early, pre-literacy skills is also going to be a big part of our next five-year program. We’re calling it B4 – birth to 4 – or before they go to kindergarten, before they fall behind.

Alan: We’re looking at a number of areas for early literacy. Right now we’re working on pushing the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program out to the library systems. We’re looking at models that would allow us to provide some kind of learning partnership with the childcare providers statewide: Head Start, the daycares, and the Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL).

Lamar: We want to address this part of the education spectrum where we think public libraries are uniquely qualified and positioned. We can’t play in the K-12 pool very well – we’re a small fish in that big pool—but we think we can be a big fish in the pre-K area.

Julie: One of the newer things is our Continuing Education efforts. There’s a lot of demand, and we have wonderful expertise here on our staff. In terms of our services to persons with disabilities, we’re going to make some tactical changes to the way we provide that service in the next five years, looking at the most efficient and effective way to serve persons with disabilities through our Talking Books program.

Lamar: We’re trying to be in a position to be nimble when the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped makes changes, and it looks like they’re making significant changes. We want to be in a position to react and to work along with them.

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