IMLS staff interviewed state librarians to discuss how their new five-year plans for LSTA 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 post is part of a series and features IMLS Senior Library Program Officer Timothy Owens interviewing Louisiana’s State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton and Deputy State Librarian Diane Brown. Read more about the State Library of Louisiana’s priorities in the state profile for Louisiana.
Timothy: Looking back at the prior five-year plan, what did you see as the three most important community needs that you were trying to address with library services?
Rebecca: We always try to address the needs of our special populations, and one example of that is our Talking Books and Braille Library. The program serves almost 7,000 patrons and really is the only place in Louisiana for those citizens to get books.
Technology is always an issue in many different ways. We have an in-house, computer services group that goes as far as it can to provide tech support, both in-house and in the field when we can afford to do it. So we provide a service that public libraries would normally hire a local computer company to handle for them. Most of them just can’t afford it. Then, with our interlibrary loan program and the databases that we provide at a statewide level for the public libraries, it’s like a ten-to-one cost savings for them.
Continuing Education (CE) is an important need for public library staff, so we try to keep our CE programs very relevant and easy for them to attend. We hold an administrative conference every year for the library directors and administrators; we hold an annual staff day, focusing primarily on paraprofessional staff; and we offer the support staff certification program from the American Library Association (ALA). As much as we are able to with the funding we have, we try to keep the CE program really packed.
Timothy: Then, looking at the recent evaluation, how did that affect the development of your new plan?
Diane: We use LSTA funding for statewide initiatives, and most of those initiatives have continued. We did deemphasize some things like early literacy, simply because we no longer had the specialist on staff. There are also other people out there doing early literacy – ALA has put together some materials – so we are taking what others have done and repackaging it. We also reemphasized some things here and there, but the evaluation basically confirmed our existing activities.
Timothy: That segues us into the question of the three most important community needs you see in the new plan.
Rebecca: One is building a culture of literacy in Louisiana for the libraries, because until we have that culture of literacy we won’t ever really be successful. The second one would be to expand the use of technology. We still have a very high number of people in Louisiana who do not have Internet connections – around 38 percent. Those people are either going to go without or go to their local library, and if libraries don’t stay on the front end of technology changes, those citizens are going to be left behind. The third would be 21st-century skills for library staff, which Diane and I both see as extremely important. We periodically take turns teaching the public libraries course at Louisiana State University’s School of Library and Information Science, and we infuse 21st-century skills throughout that class. We also try to do that with some of our CE programs.
If I had to pick one thing that Louisiana’s public libraries do really well, with 100 percent commitment and participation, it’s our Summer Reading Program. We are really proud of the fact that it has a high participation rate, but of course we would love to see every child in the state participating in some kind of reading enrichment program, just to be school-ready at all times.
The only other thing I could add is that I’ve got the most amazing staff that has stuck through all of the terrible things that we have had to deal with budget-wise and politically. They are taking these programs as far as they can take them with all of the resources and the energy that they’ve got.