Visionary Evaluation for a Sustainable, Equitable Future

By Matthew Birnbaum
Senior Evaluation Officer, IMLS

I had the privilege of participating in the 28th annual conference of the American Evaluation Association (AEA) in Denver, October 15-18. Attracting thousands of domestic and international evaluators from education, government, nonprofit organizations and private firms, the meeting is the world’s premiere evaluation conference. The four-day program covered a range of issues, from statistical methods to processes for making evaluation research more useful for program staff and policymakers.

During the conference, I learned how evaluators are applying their talents in different settings to build relationships with those gaining experience with program evaluation. For instance, Paola Babos of UNICEF talked about the care and effort that her organization devotes in helping national and local governments in grief-stricken places in Western and Central Africa improve the delivery of essential humanitarian services. Tom Chapel from the Centers for Disease Control discussed tools that his evaluation office uses to help scientists describe and measure important outcomes from their research grants.

While the conference had relatively few participants from museums and libraries, those in attendance provided valuable lessons. As one example, I listened to a group of evaluators who work with libraries in Hennepin County, Minnesota, discuss a variety of tools that libraries there are using to collect and analyze data from patrons. These included “ticket stations” (a creative survey tool that enables quick and easy participation) as well as “video booths” for youth to be interviewed about the benefits they receive from participating in targeted library programs.

The AEA conference enabled museum and library evaluators to gain critical skills to build community and foster goodwill. We all benefit when more of us from our field are in one room, talking together. We learn even more when we cross-pollinate with evaluators in other fields. The wisdom for improving evaluation practices is universal.

Posted in Global Awareness, Research | Leave a comment

Interview: Vermont Department of Libraries

Martha Reid, State Librarian, Vermont Department of Libraries

Martha Reid, State Librarian, Vermont Department of Libraries

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 State Librarian Martha Reid and then-Assistant State Librarian Christine Friese. Read more about the Vermont Department of Libraries’ priorities in IMLS’ state profile for Vermont.


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

Marty: The first was that citizens have access to library materials, resources, and programs to support educational achievement, lifelong learning, personal enrichment, and economic wellbeing. This speaks to providing electronic resources and statewide databases and also supporting resource sharing and expanded electronic linkages. We offer our databases to libraries statewide through the Vermont Online Library, and we’ve added some great products in the last couple of years that focus on lifelong learning and workforce development. Access to resources also means interlibrary loan, where our Vermont Automated Library System (VALS) is key.

The second was that citizens have access to public libraries with knowledgeable and well-trained staff, and the third was that Vermont children, persons with disabilities, and special populations have access to quality library materials and services.


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

Marty: The evaluators did a very good job of getting input from the library community and from some of our partners and end-users. The evaluation process included a statewide survey of libraries, focus groups, and telephone interviews, and the information collected was all valuable for us. In some ways, it validated what we’re doing, but it also told us where we need to make some changes. One thing we know from the evaluation is is that we need to work harder to move away from the “top-down parental” model of library services and foster more collaborative work. We also know that we don’t have a good history of reporting on project outcomes, so we’ll be implementing better procedures for collecting and reporting on the impact of our services in the next five years.


Michele: As you look to your 2013-2017 plan, what are the three most important community needs you plan to address?

Marty: As you will see, our goals remain much the same, but our methods and programs will see some change. The first need is for improved citizen access to resources and better electronic linkages; this is the highest priority for us. We will continue to support the development of shared library catalogs with the goal of (eventually) having a single shared library catalog in Vermont. Our work will include automating those remaining small libraries that still use a card catalog and replacing the Vermont Automated Library System (VALS) with a more robust statewide resource sharing system. Vermont does not have a statewide delivery/courier system for interlibrary loan, and our libraries are interested in exploring the possibilities for such a service.

Christine: Our evaluation pointed out that a well-trained library workforce is very much appreciated and necessary, so we’re trying to reassess the training that we’ve been doing for public library employees. Beyond our Librarian Certification Program, we want to offer more advanced training opportunities for library directors and continue our grant program to send librarians to national conferences (e.g., Association for Rural and Small Libraries.)

Marty: Our third area of focus is on services for children, teens, and special populations. We use LSTA money to support our Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped and have started a pilot program for recording Vermont books that are not available through the National Library Service. We also work closely with the Vermont Center for the Book and have partnered to create the Vermont Early Literacy Initiative, a training program for librarians to incorporate pre-reading and math concepts into storytime programs and to teach these concepts to parents and local childcare workers.

Christine: By statute, we serve certain institutions in the state, such as the state psychiatric hospital, the veterans’ home, and institutions for troubled teens. These represent a number of underserved or enclosed populations.

Marty: We recognize that these residential institutions have no access to traditional library service, and residents value the books and periodicals we purchase for their use. Demographics tell us that we will need to focus on our aging populations. I think Vermont is now the second or third oldest state in terms of population, and the projections are that we’re going to continue to be in the top five. With seniors as a greater percentage of our population, we will need to think carefully about the direction of local library services. How best will we meet their needs for special materials, digital literacy, health information, and lifelong learning?

There’s also a flip side to these demographics. At least part of the reason that our population is aging is that we’re losing the young population. It’s a great concern that many of our college graduates are leaving the state because they can’t find jobs here. So, we must also be thinking about how to support library services that include career awareness for young children, maker spaces, and workforce development. I think the business community is interested in the local library’s role in these areas. They  know that the future workforce and job creation depend upon education and learning, starting at the youngest age.

Posted in Accessibility, Education Support, Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies, Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational, Workforce Development/Job Assistance | Leave a comment

Museums and Libraries: Be a Part of our Brain Building Journey

By Ellen Galinsky
President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute

We are starting an exciting new endeavor, and want you to join us!

In our studies at Families and Work Institute (FWI), we often ask people to come up with a word that describes life today. Again and again, the words that people select reflect feelings of too much to do and not enough time—words like “busy,” “overwhelmed,” “complex,” and “rushed.” Even in our studies of children, we find that almost one in two children feel rushed much of the time.

As the world continues to move faster, museums and libraries have taken on a new role that can best be described by the word “hub.” They are places where families come to be together and to do things with each other. They are sanctuaries—albeit ones that are filled with exciting things to do—that connect children and parents and community members from across neighborhoods. They are also hubs that translate research on “the science of learning” into practice in ways that bring joy and engagement to all involved, young and old.

The report, Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners captures many of the innovative approaches and programs currently in place. Now, libraries and museums are being recognized for the important roles they play, and they are part of an exciting new initiative that we are launching at the Families and Work Institute.

Following the publication of my book, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, we began building a network of experts in communities across the country to increase understanding of these Seven Life Skills, also called Executive Function (EF) skills, and the science of brain development that supports it. The book has served as a catalyst for bringing together professionals working across multiple child- and family-serving institutions who are now incorporating these skills into their daily work with families and children.

With this new project, we intend to tap the knowledge, expertise, and resources of libraries and museums. Our goal is to engage museums and libraries as key partners in the work to disseminate information and build capacity for children, families, and practitioners. An understanding of the science of brain development is something that parents and families are hungry for, and museums and libraries provide a unique opportunity to provide that information.

We believe many are already developing innovative approaches to increasing understanding of brain development and how to build life skills in children.  With support from School Readiness Consulting, we are now in the process of gathering information on best practices and innovative approaches being used in libraries and museums across the country. Results will be used to create a national report on how museums and libraries are engaged and contributing to the work.

The report will be released in early 2015 and will include examples and case studies of innovative and effective programs and approaches.

If you work in a museum or library, please visit our website ( to learn more about this initiative, and share information on work you are doing in this area by filling out a brief survey by November 28, 2014.

UPDATE: The survey deadline has been extended to December 22, 2014

Ellen GalinskyEllen Galinsky, President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute, helped establish the field of work and family life at Bank Street College of Education, where she was on the faculty for twenty-five years. Her more than forty books and reports include Ask The Children, the now-classic The Six Stages of Parenthood, and the bestselling Mind in the Making, published by HarperStudio in April 2010.

Posted in Early Learning, Education Support | Leave a comment