Mary Chute, State Librarian, New Jersey 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 Mary Chute and Deputy State Librarian for Lifelong Learning Kathi Moeller-Peiffer. Read more about the New Jersey State Library priorities in IMLS’ state profile for New Jersey.
Timothy: What were the three most important community needs you were addressing through library services during the period of the prior plan?
Kathi: They were statewide Internet access, statewide database access to a wide variety of disciplines, and our statewide Talking Book and Braille Center. Our Jersey Connect program enabled libraries to connect to the Internet at higher speeds than they would have been able to otherwise. It gave them a much better infrastructure by setting up redundant structures for the Internet, adding different co-location facilities, and providing switches to other hardware that they didn’t have. The reliability of Internet access to the community was what we were striving for.
For the statewide database access, we were aiming to make reliable information on a variety of topics accessible to not just the K-12 community, but also the business community, the college community, and others.
Mary: The strategy of providing statewide databases to assure that everyone has access to high quality information was a very worthwhile state library goal. It provides a consistency of access to information within the database realm that wouldn’t necessarily have been there, had it been left to the individual library’s purchase.
Kathi: Our Talking Book and Braille Center serves the community of people who have visual or physical problems and can’t hold a traditional book, as well as the veterans who are coming back with a variety of disabilities. This is their public library for the entire state, and without these funds, it would not exist.
Mary: In addition to our three core investments, we held a couple of conferences to target services for specific population groups through a train-the-trainer format. There was a conference held to target library services to boomers and a hip-hop conference, which received especially nice accolades. It introduced young adult librarians to the culture, music, and language of hip-hop so that they could do more robust outreach to young adults. This is, admittedly, for many librarians, a truly foreign territory.
Timothy: The second question is, looking at the recent five-year evaluation, how did that affect the new five-year plan?
Mary: There were changes that had to be made during the earlier five-year cycle because of what happened with the New Jersey State Library budget during that time period. The state budget was cut by over 42 percent. As you may imagine, there were some initiatives that could not be continued due to the necessity of adjusting overall plans of service.
Kathi: I would say we were overly ambitious in what we put into the 2008-2012 five-year plan, because it was based upon at least keeping the same number of state dollars—though not necessarily an increase. The huge budget cuts that we suffered in 2010 caused us to be much more conservative for this next five-year cycle. It’s a little more general in nature, so that should we suffer any more reversals of financial fortune, we don’t find ourselves falling far below what we’re expected to accomplish.
Timothy: Looking ahead to the next five-year plan, what are the three most important community needs that you plan to address?
Kathi: The statewide Internet access is still vital, and we haven’t made large changes in our direction for the database access and the Talking Book and Braille Center.
Mary: We conduct site visits, and one of the first questions that we ask has to do with what services provided by the state library are most valuable. I have been on three or four of these, and in at least three of them, the provision of databases has come up as first or second choice. The explanation being that this service allows libraries to focus on the unique services for their communities because the state library pays for some things that don’t have to be funded at the local level.
In addition to the site visit commentary, we are currently in the process of a statewide plan for library service. We are doing a convening of people from different types of libraries, and we are trying to generate real value in this strategic planning. We want to create some common language around what we are doing and be better able to brand what New Jersey library service means.