Interview: Nebraska Library Commission

Rodney G. Wagner, Director, Nebraska Library Commission

Rodney G. Wagner, Director, Nebraska Library Commission

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 Director Rod Wagner. Read more about the Nebraska Library Commission’s priorities in IMLS’ state profile for Nebraska.


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

Rod: With the economic downturn, those of us in the library community know that people look to libraries for their personal needs, as well as for career information. With the increased use of technology in all forms, libraries have really been challenged to keep up to date and be helpful—providing everything from public access computers to assistance with e-readers. A significant change in the last two years is the interest in digital content, which seems to be accelerating, and we’ve had an increasing number of libraries provide downloadable book services. We have made Grants to States funding available to libraries for subgrants, and they have used them to obtain new technology in their libraries, and for continuing education based on emerging trends and issues, such as digital literacy. In sum, it’s providing technology in libraries for public use, e-books and digital content, and also training. One of the challenges we’ve faced in the last several years is higher turnover in library leadership and other staff, so we’ve increased our training activities and have been pretty successful.


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

Rod: The surveys that we sent out had a really good response, and they confirmed that things we were doing were effective and that library respondents wanted us to continue. This includes the online databases that we offer, which are in part supported by the Grants to States funding. People want us to continue to provide the ones we are supplying, and of course they want some additional things too. One rather prominent need is databases that address the elementary and middle school levels. We’re pretty good on the upper end, for high school, college, and adult users. But we’re not really addressing the younger ages, particularly the middle school level. We’re requesting state funds in order to add some new databases in the coming year. Training opportunities and the availability of grant support through subgrants were also affirmed through the survey responses. The issues that people brought up as most important are the ones we incorporated into our new five-year plan.


Michele: What were the three most important community needs you plan to address through your library program in the next five years?

Rod: Digital literacy, which includes working with people to make use of technology for their personal and work-related needs; working with our state Department of Labor to provide employment information and assistance; and supplying access to federal, state, and local government information, because so many of those agencies are requiring people to obtain and submit information online. We highlight federal publications that we think are especially important, as well as Nebraska state government services and resources. We also have a continuing emphasis on early childhood education, including working with children, young adults, and preschool-aged children and encouraging them to develop reading skills. The children and young adult services librarian on our staff works with librarians across the state to help them with youth programming and the selection of books and other content. She does a lot of training and workshops and works with our six regional library system administrators for their youth programming targeted to school and public librarians. LSTA funds also help support author programs at schools and libraries. We have an active summertime program that many libraries devote a lot of time and attention to, and that results in involvement from many children across the state.

We’re eager to put into place things that we took a hard look at as part of our five-year evaluation and our new five year plan, and we’ll engage our state advisory council on libraries for discussion and input. LSTA is a great program, and we enjoy being part of it.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Early Learning, Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational, Workforce Development/Job Assistance | Comments Off

IMLS Celebrates Summer Learning Day

By Susan H. Hildreth
IMLS Director

Today is Summer Learning Day, and I’d like to salute the tremendous efforts of libraries and museums across the country that provide opportunities for children to continue to read and learn during the summer months. The National Summer Learning Association, the Afterschool Alliance, America’s Promise Alliance, New America Foundation and the Urban Libraries Council work hard each year for this national advocacy day on June 20 to spread awareness about the importance of summer learning for our nation’s youth in helping close the achievement gap and support healthy development in communities all across the country.

Summer Learning Day logo

As we know from our partners at the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, the summer slide phenomenon is a devastating problem. Children lose ground over the summer months. Without access to the enriching activities, children—especially those from low-income families—lose as much as three months of reading comprehension skills over the summer.

Fortunately, reading programs, enriching camps, and other offerings have been longstanding staples at libraries and museums. In fact, the State Library Administrative Agency Survey for Fiscal Year 2012 released earlier this month showed that IMLS Grants to State funding is used in all 50 states to support summer reading at public libraries, and in 2011 federal funding for summer reading totaled $2.34 million.

IMLS supports this work though a number of our grant programs, resulting in outstanding programs for students:

  • The Food for Thought project of Upland Public Library, CA, was supported with $28,053 from Grants to States funding in 2012. Through the project, library staff distributed free books, offered craft activities, and publicized the Reading is so Delicious summer reading program and other library services at weekly free summer lunch programs offered by the school district in a local park. More than 1,000 children participated over the course of 5 weeks, and 1,165 new books were distributed to participating children.
  • With $147,424 from a 2013 Museums for America grant, the Boston Children’s Museum is partnering the public schools and other groups on a Summer Club for immigrant families and children to prevent summer learning loss. The program will inform parents about the importance of summer learning and includes a five-week Friday night family summer camp with museum-based learning activities. Teen Ambassadors trained by the museum will assist with the club, and bilingual Parent Ambassador Hosts and guest speakers will facilitate parent learning and sharing.
  • A yearlong planning project of the University of Illinois-Champaign and the Douglass Branch Library will explore the benefits of summer reading programs supported by the use of tablet-based apps and e-books. With $46,678 from a 2013 National Leadership Grant, the partners will collect information about current practices, identify future partners, and design a multi-site project plan with recommendations on how to best support a summer reading program through technology.
  • The Monterey Bay Aquarium will use a 2013 Museums for America grant for a leadership program for teens that that exposes them to STEM career pathways. The program’s intensive summer training will provide teens with team building; natural history and ocean literacy content; customer service, interpretation, and communication training; and an introduction to the aquarium and its educational programs. Trained teens will provide at least 75 service-learning hours per year at the aquarium and will gain valuable leadership skills and hands-on work experience.
  • With IMLS Grants to State funds administered by the Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records, the Maricopa County Library District recently created The Great Reading Adventure.  The web-based, open source software program is designed to manage summer reading programs. It is completely free and available for any library system to download and use.

What is your library or museum doing this summer to address summer slide?  If you are offering an innovative program or service, you can share it using #SummerSuccess. Please let us know about it.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Afterschool/Out-of-School, Early Learning, Education Support, Health, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) | Comments Off

Interview: Maine State Library

Linda Lord, State Librarian, Maine State Library

Linda Lord, State Librarian, Maine 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 James Lonergan interviewing Maine’s State Librarian Linda Lord and Director of Library Development and LSTA Coordinator Janet McKenney. Read more about the Maine State Library’s priorities in IMLS’ state profile for Maine.


James: Could you talk about the three most important community needs that you were trying to address in the previous plan, 2008 to 2012?

Janet: One was services to individuals with disabilities and the underserved, given the nature of Maine’s geographic challenges and the fact that we have many communities that do not have libraries. One of our core values is to make sure that those people aren’t forgotten. We also have three library consultants serving three different geographic areas in the state. Libraries in the south are much closer together, collaborate in different ways, and meet face-to-face more often, whereas in the northern part of the state the consultants have a lot of travel and telephone contact, and the libraries don’t necessarily have the same connections. We use federal funds to support that kind of communication and education.

Linda: Because 71 percent of our libraries are run by non-professionals, having the consultants to move them ahead is so critical. I’d also note that so much of the previous five-year plan talked about partnerships, which strengthened during that plan and continue to strengthen during the new plan. Maine’s a small state, and we figured out a long time ago that we all have to work together and support each other. I think people realize more and more that if they have a wonderful service or project, the public libraries are a conduit to the people of Maine.


James: How did the evaluation process for the previous five years inform your new plan?

Janet: Having somebody outside the organization look at it was very helpful in terms of asking why and how you do things and what to emphasize going forward. We’ve basically held on to the core state services, while other projects have fallen by the wayside, and some of the things we did with other cultural agencies still continue. The Networkmaine partnership has been great for our libraries because of the technical expertise at the university. At the beginning of the last plan, all of our libraries had 1.5 to 3 megabit connections, and now the minimum for all is 10 megabit connections.

Linda: Our evaluators commented that they normally didn’t support LSTA funding for statewide projects, because they like to see grants given out to libraries to expand their capabilities. However, in our case they thought we were handling the money very appropriately given the needs and budget of our state.


James: How have the three most important community needs for the new plan changed from the previous plan?

Janet: The Maine InfoNet partnership with the university has been really vital and will probably expand, because it started with circulation and cataloging, then grew into databases, and then evolved into downloads, audio and e-books. They’re the technology arm of what’s done in libraries in Maine. The consultants also are working with partners like Cornerstones of Science, an organization that brings STEM into public libraries for all age groups.

Linda: We also work with the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, and we’ve all met so that the partners know we’re heading in the same direction and not competing for libraries’ attention or duplicating potential services. Then there’s the Access to Justice Program with the Maine legal system authority.

Janet: That program has an overall goal of access to free legal help and information. We partnered with the Volunteer Lawyers Project in Portland, which offers free legal services for people who qualify, but they were also struggling with geography and how to provide services. Now they’re using videoconferencing equipment in Maine libraries for presentations and consultations. Another component we’re focusing on is digital literacy. We’ve been holding regional meetings all over the state, and we’re going use the input for a digital literacy plan. As we look at our five-year plan, we’re really concentrating on literacies, so we’ve got early literacy, digital literacy, and science literacy.

Posted in Accessibility, Early Learning, Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) | 1 Comment

The African American Theater History Project: Bringing Together African American Theater and Cultural History from Libraries Around the Country

By Cecily Marcus
Curator, Givens Collection of African American Literature
University of Minnesota Libraries
Archives and Special Collections

Over 300 years of African American theater history, from its earliest influences to its current artists and leaders, is too often inaccessible and inadequately represented. The political and cultural histories to which this culturally specific art refers are not well known; they are not taught systematically in our schools and universities. The history that is documented is too often written and then revised by people who are not African American. As a result, many of the choices made by theaters and seen by audiences—from play selection to direction to casting to design—take place without the benefit of deep and informed historical context, resulting in ill-informed and disrespectful depictions and representations that perpetuate stereotypes, misinformation, and racism.

Actors on stage for the Penumbra Theatre production photo of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Penumbra Theatre production photo of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

African American theaters themselves, both historically and in our own time, face precarious futures. Many do not have archives, their legacies dispersed and sometimes lost without record. Of the 200 theaters born of the Black Arts Movement in the 1970s, only ten still exist.

At the same time, there is a significant amount of archival material created by and about African American individuals and cultural/political/social movements and organizations that is housed within our libraries, museums, and historical societies. This historical documentation helps to provide the needed context for theater and art generally.

One of the ten remaining Black Arts Movement theaters is the country’s largest, Penumbra Theatre, of St. Paul, Minnesota. Penumbra and the University of Minnesota Libraries, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, are leading the African American Theater History Project, which addresses the challenge of inadequate access to the primary materials that document African American theater and cultural history, as collected in libraries and museums across the country and displayed online.

To do this, we are

  1. working with leading African American theaters and repositories to identify and make accessible a national collection of digital archival material that documents African American cultural history, including theater;
  2. creating a freely available online search tool that can live on any website and that makes African American historical documentation more easily discoverable; and
  3. promoting awareness and use of this resource by theater professionals, scholars, students, educators, and the general public.

The materials gathered and presented digitally through an online search box are not just books and articles. They are the primary documentation and rich cultural context out of which African American theater and performing arts rise. These materials may be the video and playbills from Penumbra Theatre Company, letters by writer Langston Hughes to photographer Carl Van Vechten, photographs of a traveling African American theater troupe in 1910 Mississippi, original scripts and set designs by Zora Neale Hurston, newsreel film footage, and much more.

Penumbra Theatre production poster for August Wilson’s Two Trains Running (2003).

Penumbra Theatre production poster for August Wilson’s Two Trains Running (2003).

This means, for example, that upon searching for materials related to August Wilson’s Two Trains Running with the search tool, one might find the play’s production history as documented through digital copies of Wilson’s script, directors’ notes, set designs, and other production materials; as well as the historical context out of which the play grew, documented by historical pictures of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, digital copies of the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service, and other dramaturgical resources.

For the past several months, we have been analyzing digital content and collections from libraries and repositories across the country to develop the best resource possible. But we are seeking the widest possible representation of African American theater and cultural history. So we invite the participation of the theater community, regardless of cultural background or focus, to help us develop the best resource.

We invite you to take this short survey to evaluate content quality, search preferences, and other questions. Please share this survey with anyone who might be interested in providing feedback!


Organizations committed to this project include theaters from around the country, as well as the Digital Public Library of America, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institute, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the New York Public Library Schomburg Research Center and Library for the Performing Arts, the Theatre Library Association, Columbia University, Tulane University, the Dance Heritage Coalition, Theatre Communications Group, and more.

Click to read more about the African American Theater History Project. You can also like us on Facebook atArchie Givens, Sr. Collection of African American Literature, and follow us on Twitter@DigitalGivens.

Posted in Collections Care/Preservation, Cultural Heritage/Sustainability, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), National Leadership Grants | Comments Off