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.