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 Idaho State Librarian Ann Joslin and Associate State Librarian Marj Hooper. Read more about the Idaho Commission for Libraries’ priorities in IMLS’ state profile for Idaho.
Timothy: Looking back at the prior five-year plan, what do you see as the three most important community needs?
Ann: The priorities that we identified were: helping libraries to be a central place in a learning society, helping libraries to deal with the changing digital environment, and literacy with an emphasis on early childhood and family literacy.
For the central place in learning priority, we focus a lot on outreach training in the Read to Me early literacy program, and during the 2008-2012 period we started addressing the needs through our Talking Book Service. We also focused on helping people in the library community appreciate the role they play in informal learning.
Recognizing the change in the digital environment reinforced the BTOP [Broadband Technology Opportunities Program] work that we were doing the last couple of years. We continue to fund a teens and technology training that helps librarians incorporate popular technologies into the services they offer. We also funded a team to keep an eye out for new trends that libraries can incorporate into the way they deliver their services.
For early literacy, Summer Reading continues with a growing number of kids every year. We continue to evaluate elements of the Read to Me program, and a lot of that revolves around change in parent behavior in terms of supporting their kids’ early literacy development.
Woven in throughout all of these priorities are the continuing education grants that we provide to the library community. While they are very small, they go a long way in helping develop skills.
Timothy: The second question is looking at the evaluation itself and what effect that had as you developed your new plan.
Ann: It told us that we were doing a good job in many areas, and our evaluation process for continuing education and training was called out as being particularly good. The evaluation also identified priorities that coincided with feedback from our focus groups and SWOT exercises to help develop the new plan. There was a recommendation to no longer do subgrants unless we really redesigned the way in which we offered them.
Marj: The recommendation was for us to use the money statewide, because the evaluators saw the bang that we got for the buck there.
Timothy: That leads us to the third question, which is looking ahead to your new plan. What needs have you identified there?
Ann: We are now looking at advancing libraries as community anchor institutions, helping libraries promote and offer digital proficiency and working towards digitally inclusive communities. Early childhood literacy is a priority for us again, and we are tying that to being college and career ready.
The State Board of Education and its partners are trying to increase the percentage of Idaho students who graduate from high school and go on to college. The critical importance of learning to read at grade level relates to students’ chances of finishing high school and being successful in college and their career. Our Read to Me coordinators and others will be working with partners focused on college and career readiness, so that we can advocate for the important role that early literacy has in that particular continuum.
Part of promoting local libraries as community anchor institutions is promoting partnerships. The need for people in the library to get outside of the building and be active in the community is another important strategy. In terms of digital proficiency and inclusion, Marj and others have been identifying what we are going to continue to support and build on from the BTOP project. Digital literacy training is certainly a big part of that.
Marj: We are running pilot makerspaces with a STEM emphasis in five libraries, which takes in the digital literacy, the community anchor, and the college and career ready piece. It is all three.
Ann: The other thing I would mention is how encouraging it is to see IMLS at the federal level interacting with different agencies. It is helpful to us at the state level, because it increases the visibility of what libraries can be doing and how they can help other agencies reach their clientele more effectively.