Brand New Books Will Serve Kids in Need

By Kyle Zimmer,
President and CEO, First Book

Libraries and museums have always been important centers of our communities, but their role is even more critical  today.   As we saw in Ferguson, and as we see in inner cities, rural communities and suburban areas around the country, our libraries and museums have become a town square that unifies and heals a community. These institutions have expanded beyond their traditional roles to provide quality community programs supporting everything from early learning to job retraining to continuing education.  Heroic libraries and museums are shouldering these community needs in the face of shrinking or already stretched budgets.

Kyle with little girl.READ sticker

Kyle Zimmer and a young student at Martha’s Table, the DC organization that inspired Zimmer to found First Book.

That’s why I’m thrilled that First Book, the nonprofit social enterprise that I lead, is providing assistance to support museums and libraries that serve children from low-income families. First Book provides free and low-cost brand new books and educational resources for kids in need from birth through age 18. The books can be used to add to a library or museum’s collection, to support literacy tutors, to augment cultural programming, to give to children to take home and keep – or for any other activity that helps libraries and museums connect with families in need and gets children excited to read.  Anyone working with kids in need can sign up here, for access to books through:

The First Book National Book Bank: The nation’s only clearinghouse for large-scale book donations from publishers. These brand-new books are available free of charge (plus a shipping & handling fee), in carton quantities, and are perfect for educators or program leaders who want to help children start home libraries of their own.

The First Book Marketplace, which offers over 5,000 popular and award-winning titles at unprecedented prices, available exclusively to educators and programs serving kids in need.  In addition to a full range of books, from Caldecott and Newbery winners, classics and popular titles, to STEM, books for reluctant readers, empowering stories for girls, books promoting peace, college prep and more, the First Book Marketplace also carries other resources requested by those working with kids in need – from nonperishable food to winter coats.  The First Book Marketplace also carries a growing collection under the Stories for All Project, First Book’s industry-wide initiative to increase the diversity in children’s books.

In addition, First Book offers a Virtual Book Drive to help raise funds to bring books to your community.

First Book already works with libraries and museums all over the country.  Just ask library branch manager Suzi Worthen, who used the First Book Marketplace to stock her library shelves with new books and invited the town to a reading party to celebrate.  We know that programs in low income communities have unique needs compared to those in more resourced neighborhoods. If your library serves a low income community, follow Suzi’s lead by registering with First Book and adding your voice to our network. We hope you’ll tell your community partners about First Book and get your entire neighborhood connected to the ongoing free and low cost resources we have available.

All of us at First Book are grateful for the heroic and vital work of our libraries and museums.  Together, we can help ensure that every child has the support and resources they need to read, learn and succeed.

Posted in Early Learning, Economic/Community Development, Education Support | Leave a comment

Wrapping Up a Year of State Library Interviews

By Teri DeVoe
Program Officer, IMLS

Over the past year, the UpNext Blog has featured dozens of interviews with state librarians on priorities for their IMLS Grants to States funds. These annual population-based grants reflect the broad legislative purposes of the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), but also the specific goals of each state’s five-year plan. IMLS staff conducted these interviews during the transition from one five-year plan (2008-2012) to another (2013-2017), and although the blog series showcased just half of the states, it pointed to some overarching trends.


In reflecting on 2008-2012 community needs, for example, state librarians often mentioned access—a term that surfaces multiple times in the language of LSTA. They made reference to grant-funded resource sharing systems, such as statewide catalogs and interlibrary loan delivery services. They also discussed their work at the state library level to improve Internet connectivity and implement broadband, which was facilitated during that cycle by BTOP (Broadband Technology Opportunities Program).


Statewide summer reading programs, a mainstay of Grants to States funding, were more commonly included in the previous five-year cycle than in the newer cycle. In the ways they can be adapted as vehicles for literacy-related programming or governors’ initiatives, however, so, it’s clear they’ll continue to have a place in future funding priorities.


A librarian sits at the front of a program teaching children.

The Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped not only provides alternative library materials to patrons who need them, but also provides programs to enrich their educational and cultural lives.

There were several types of projects that appeared frequently in both five-year cycle plans. These reflect issues that state libraries are committed to for the long-term, and include  the purchase of statewide databases and e-books; services for special populations, such as the state-designated Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; and early literacy programs. Many of these initiatives ultimately respond to the need for access, as well. Several state librarians mentioned the significant cost savings achieved through database licensing at the statewide level, as well as community segments that might otherwise lose access to electronic content, including schools. They made a compelling case that Grants to States funds help them to increase equity for statewide access to information.

Another frequently mentioned priority was training to help library staff remain responsive to shifting community needs and stay current on emerging technologies. Many state libraries use grant funds to help address training needs for librarians across the state, whether through mini-grants to attend conferences, webinar technology, or consultant-based approaches.

Librarians sitting in a classroom raising their hands.

Like many states, Illinois uses grant funds to support continuing education. Pictured here are attendees of the
Small Public Library Management Institute, a six-day training event hosted by the University of Illinois.

And what were the emerging topics of conversation around the 2013-2017 plans? Based on the economic downturn, more state librarians had workforce development projects on their list of current priorities. Digital literacy, a related topic for adults retooling their skills, also saw an increase in mentions. The emergence of the phrase “21st century skills” in the more recent plans may correspond to an IMLS focus on this topic in recent years. Indeed, several state librarians commented that they look to the agency’s partnerships and priorities to help them establish their own.

These interviews paint a current picture of Grants to States funding, which has served as the backbone of federal support for libraries in America for more than 50 years. It is the agency’s largest grant program, but due to its unique character, it sometimes lacks visibility. Through the 2014 state librarian interview blog series, we were able to bring some of this program’s impact to the fore, while highlighting the varied approaches that characterize LSTA grant making in each state.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Accessibility, Afterschool/Out-of-School, Economic/Community Development, Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational, Workforce Development/Job Assistance | 1 Comment

StoryCorps Interview: Mystic Aquarium

Each year, select museums and libraries with outstanding records of community service receive the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries. Beginning with the 2009 awardees, personal stories demonstrating the ongoing impact of these award-winning institutions are being documented through a cooperative agreement between IMLS and StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs.

2014 National Medal Winner Mystic Aquarium

Meranda and Long

I wanted to work here but being a docent just seemed absolutely terrifying..”

At the Mystic Aquarium, Madeline Meranda, 18, talks to her former supervisor, Jeanne Long, about the summer of 2011 when Madeline worked as a volunteer docent.  Madeline share memories of her father, who encouraged her to work at the aquarium.

Listen to their story here:

Download Transcript

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, National Medal for Museum and Library Service, StoryCorps, Workforce Development/Job Assistance | 1 Comment

Interview: Arkansas State Library

Carolyn Ashcraft, State Librarian, Arkansas State Library

Carolyn Ashcraft, State Librarian, Arkansas State Library

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 State Librarian Carolyn Ashcraft and Manager of Grants and Special Projects Debbie Hall. Read more about the Arkansas State Library priorities in IMLS’ state profile for Arkansas.


Timothy: What do you see as the three most important community needs that you were seeking to address through library services in the prior five-year plan?

Carolyn: One that we really focused on was resource sharing and consortia building, which included an emphasis on our statewide database project. The second was around our targeted audiences, in terms of our BPH [blind and physically handicapped] services. We looked at what we do, who we serve, and how we reach out to them. The third was our educational resources, including the need for access to them and the need for workshops that we would take out across the state to the libraries.

Every March the state library holds a Children’s Services Workshop for public and school librarians and staff, with an emphasis on providing tools libraries can use for the summer reading program.

Every March the state library holds a Children’s Services Workshop for public and school librarians and staff, with an emphasis on providing tools libraries can use for the summer reading program.

Debbie: In terms of specific project examples, the consortia and resource sharing focus includes our Traveler statewide database, which offers magazines, books, encyclopedias, and other resources to the entire state. That area also includes our Arkansas union catalog, which all participating libraries support through local funding, with some support from us as well. With the targeted audiences and blind and physically handicapped services, we do fund staff in that area. The BPH work also includes exhibits, publications, and general promotion of the services.


Timothy: The second question is looking at the five-year evaluation and how that affected your plans for the next cycle?

Debbie: I didn’t find the formal evaluation of the five-year plan as helpful as our needs assessment that we paid for the previous year. It was interesting to see that we had more input from the library community in our needs assessment than we did in the evaluation.

Carolyn: That needs assessment was very thorough, with site visits, one-on-one conversations with librarians, and phone follow-up with them. It really reached out to the library community and our library users, including state officials and state employees. We had so much buy-in from the people that we serve, and they were excited to be asked their opinions. We utilized the final needs assessment report more than anything in driving our new LSTA plan.


Timothy: The third question is, what do you see as the three most important community needs looking forward, which may or may not be the same as from the prior plan?

Carolyn:  We are shifting focus slightly. One thing that will continue is the program for targeted audiences. It’s a role we serve that public libraries typically don’t serve, so whether it be BPH or summer reading or book clubs, we need to provide that support.

A Library for the Blind staff member (left) and volunteer.

A Library for the Blind staff member (left) and volunteer.

We’re also putting a focus on continuing education (CE) and providing opportunities for the libraries, their trustees, and their staff. We have so many rural libraries that are run by one or two people who typically don’t have a master’s degree. They have very limited resources to get any kind of training that would help them do their job better, so our staff is really focusing on that.

The final focus in our top three would be technology support. With Gates Foundation funds, we were able to add an E-Rate coordinator and a technology coordinator, and we can see that these positions are necessary. From this point forward, they will be permanent on our payroll, and we’ll be using our federal funds to help support them. We are already seeing an increase in the number of E-Rate applications that are coming forward and recouping some money that hadn’t been claimed. Our tech person can also go out to the libraries for any kind of technical assistance or troubleshoot remotely.

One of the things from the needs assessment that we needed to start stressing is collaboration. Who can we partner with? How can we partner? That has been the focus over the last two or three years, but it is certainly going to be a focus for the next decade. We have been in a good position with our state government, and the governor’s office, in particular, has made certain that the state library is represented on numerous boards and commissions, which has been a tremendous help.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Accessibility, Broadband, Education Support, Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies | Leave a comment