Michael York, State Librarian, New Hampshire 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 New Hampshire State Librarian Michael York and LSTA Coordinator Janet Eklund. Read more about the New Hampshire State Library’s priorities in IMLS’ state profile for New Hampshire.
Timothy: What were the three most important community needs you sought to address in the prior five year plan?
Michael: Library development, partnerships, and access to information. In terms of library development we have a wide spectrum of libraries, as most states do. We try and make sure that the services at very small libraries are as close as we can get them to our large urban libraries. That’s clearly a challenge, but it’s what we see as our role. It means that we have to offer things like the union catalog, the statewide databases, and setting up interlibrary loan.
As a partnership example, we worked with the schools, which are contributing funds towards the purchase of the statewide databases. The state library did all of the negotiating with the vendors and got very favorable rates. We found that if the individual institutions had negotiated these contracts on their own, they wouldn’t have had the advantage that they did by joining together with us.
We also formed strong partnerships with public libraries and schools around The Big Read program (which gives communities the opportunity to read and discuss a single book). The library community wants these programs to take place, but they’re turning to the state library to be the lead because they simply don’t have the resources to do it.
With access to information, we’ve been offering the statewide databases to libraries for more than 15 years, and it’s still a very strong program. Our goal is that every citizen in the state has access to a suite of databases that provides for their needs, including health, business, and general interest publications.
Timothy: How did the evaluation affect your plans for the next cycle?
Janet: The most valued services identified by our consultant report came from librarians and patrons, and those are specifically addressed in our new plan. I’ll also mention COSLINE (Council of State Library Agencies in the Northeast), which is a regional group of 13 state libraries. Eleven of them agreed to work with the same consultant, with the expectation that those evaluations would help identify regional similarities and ultimately benefit state library services.
Timothy: In terms of your new plan, what do you see as the three most important community needs?
Michael: One of the things that we’re working on constantly is improving access to information, and that includes access to digital information about vital records. New England is a place where many are involved in genealogy, and we’re working with people who are enthusiastic about creating their own digital archives at the local level. It doesn’t all have to come out of the state library or state archives; there are lots of other places that have valuable records. At the same time, we’re assisting libraries that want to take advantage of the new approaches to digitizing. The third need is for our consulting services, which help libraries serve their patrons better. We have a lot of small underfunded libraries, and we can help them by expanding these services.
We are working to help libraries now get into the open source arena, and the key component to that is having records that are in good shape. We have been doing that now for 30 years by establishing strong standards and developing a union catalog. The goal is for every library to have good MARC records for all of their holdings through the New Hampshire Union Catalog, and that’s a key component in moving to the next level. We’re really looking at open source offerings as part of the next electronic automation project that will help our libraries, especially the smaller ones.
We have often used LSTA funds as a way to decide whether something is worthwhile. Almost 12 years ago, we purchased a lot of digital devices so that people could experiment with e-books. At that time the technology was still pretty primitive, and most libraries found that it wasn’t something that they wanted to do. But it saved them the money of investing in that.