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.
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.
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.