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 Michele Farrell interviewing the Oklahoma Department of Libraries Director Susan McVey and LSTA Coordinator Judy Tirey. Read more about the Oklahoma Department of Libraries’ priorities in IMLS’ state profile for Oklahoma.
Michele: What were the three most important community needs you sought to address through library services between 2008 and 2012?
Susan: As a state, a couple of things have been identified by our governor and others as priorities. One is to increase the number of Oklahoma students who graduate with a college degree because we’re below the national average. We have a statewide database for all types of libraries, with pre-K through college materials, which is paid for by LSTA funds. College students are responsible for 80% of the usage of the statewide licenses. The statewide licenses are also important to our school libraries. If it hadn’t been for these statewide library licenses when the recession hit Oklahoma, many schools would have had no new library materials because many school districts only have $1,000 for purchase of all library materials and schools have gotten waivers for three years to eliminate even those funds if needed. These databases are the only electronic content for school libraries that is provided at no cost to the schools. The state department of education does not license content for school districts.
Another need is to improve the connectivity in libraries for e-government, education, employment, and health outcomes. We used funds to provide videoconferencing equipment for training opportunities as well as tutoring and job coaching resources. We also increased access for customers with disabilities.
Judy: Each of our 44 BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program) libraries received a computer table purchased through LSTA funds that could be moved up and down for handicapped patrons as well as a computer with accessible software programs, such as text-to-speech.
Susan: The third need is to support access to services such as e-books in our smaller communities. As one funding example, we provided a grant to a consortium of public libraries that licensed e-books and audiobooks for patrons.
Michele: How did the evaluation of programs and initiatives that you had under the 2008-2012 cycle affect your state plans for the 2013-2017 cycle?
Judy: It helped reaffirm that the continuing projects were still very important and were meeting the needs of Oklahoma libraries. We were also able to prioritize some of the most needed programs. We identified some areas of interest in new projects, and based on feedback, the mix of statewide databases might be reconfigured as well.
Michele: What are the three most important community needs you plan to address through the Grants to States program in the next five years?
Susan: The top one is probably promoting the use of technology to facilitate education, health, and workforce development and to preserve community heritage. To do that, we’re going to look at public access technology, increasing broadband speed, and adding videoconferencing capability to more non-metropolitan libraries.
We’re looking at improving basic information and literacy skills, which includes programs for seniors and elderly populations, summer reading programs for children and teens, and special needs populations, including incarcerated individuals.
Finally, we want to ensure that all Oklahomans have a library with staff capable of delivering high-priority training and teaching 21st century skills. Our BTOP libraries now have good technology plans and equipment in place, and we might look at reaching out to other libraries through LSTA funds to help get them to the same level.
Judy: Our literacy department has been very active in partnering with the health department, which has trainings for dealing with chronic illness that we’ll be setting up in different libraries with videoconferencing. The interest there is growing, because literacy and health work so closely together. We‘re reaching out to professionals in the health field to make sure that people understand the way that medicine is labeled and the way directions are given.
Susan: We’re also looking at helping libraries make their spaces more user-friendly and inviting, and we’ll work on increasing staff productivity, too.
Judy: A lot of the librarians in smaller places are not confident in terms of completing online applications or finding government program information, and I think the Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) can get them involved with partnerships and help them learn how to do that.
Susan: Ultimately, we want customers and librarians to emphasize the role of ODL and IMLS in assisting communities with attaining effective resources.