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

Supporting Literacy Tutors

Ed. Note: This blog was originally posted on the OCTAE Blog. To view the original post, click here.

This effort is part of the ongoing commitment to encourage collaboration between adult education and public libraries, as documented in the OCTAE-IMLS Dear Colleague Letter. 

Volunteer tutors are an important part of the adult literacy solution. Last year alone, ProLiteracy, a national member organization of volunteer literacy providers, reported 99,415 volunteer tutors serving 245,173 learners.

Volunteers work with youth and adult learners one-on-one and in small groups, providing the critical learning elements of personalization, extra practice and feedback, as well as motivational support and guidance.  From English conversation groups to algebra explanations to phonics practice, tutors fulfill a unique role in our nation’s efforts to boost adult literacy.

However, as volunteers, they may not have access to all the professional learning and support that they need or want. Additionally, when training is delivered before tutors and learners are matched, the training may not be contextualized to a learner’s particular strengths, interests, and challenges.

There is a new resource that offers online learning support for literacy tutors called Tutor Ready Learning PlansTutor Ready Four Quadrant

Tutor Ready puts tips and techniques into a just-in-time format organized around the four essential components of reading: alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Within each component, content is presented in a quick index of questions commonly asked by tutors such as, “How can I help my learner perceive the different sounds that make up a word?” Explanations and sample lessons are drawn from a robust body of research, including Teaching Adults to Read and Improving Adult Literacy Instruction. Tutors can jump to an immediately relevant question, or go through the content in a more linear and comprehensive fashion. The tips are enriched by a collection of over 60 video and audio clips of experienced tutors working with adult learners to demonstrate the techniques.

Tutor Ready is freely available and accessible so tutors can log in to their own learning plan anytime or anywhere, and the Plans can be used before, during, and after a tutoring session.

Literacy programs can use Tutor Ready in their pre- and in-service tutor training efforts and as supplemental support for their tutors to use on their own. The Tutor Ready Learning Plans complement freely available online courses that provide more in-depth coverage of the research and instructional practices and award certificates of completion.

Tutor Ready learning plans were created by LINCS’ Region 4 Professional Development Center with the support of the OCTAE, in partnership with the Literacy, Language and Technology Research group at Portland State University. Tutor Ready is built on the Learner Web platform that was created by Portland State University in part with the support of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Tutors and learners in the San Jose and Santa Clara City, CA and Boulder, CO public libraries pilot tested the materials, and the California programs provided videos of the techniques in action. Dissemination partners include the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the American Library Association Office for Literacy and Outreach Services, and ProLiteracy.

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Education Support, Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational | Leave a comment

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