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Exploring What Drives the Wyoming State Librarian

October 4, 2016

By Michele Farrell
IMLS Senior Program Officer

Jamie Markus, Wyoming State Librarian at the National Book Festival
Jamie Markus, Wyoming State Librarian at the National Book Festival. Photo by Michele Farrel

New Wyoming State Librarian Jamie Markus is a passionate, personable leader, and I had the chance to see his special brand of leadership in action when I visited him last July. At the time of my visit to the Wyoming State Library, Jamie was serving as the Interim State Librarian and Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant Coordinator. Recently, however, Jamie was named State Librarian, and I had the chance to congratulate him in person at the National Book Festival. He was busy talking with many families who came by the Wyoming booth that was a part of the IMLS-funded Pavilion of the States.

We spoke at the festival and I learned that since taking on his new role, Jamie has reorganized the library, hired new staff, and rearranged the space.

The Wyoming State Library

State libraries have different responsibilities depending on the state statute. For example, the Wyoming statute authorizes the library to be the Office of the State Library, which is tasked with the distribution of federal funds to libraries within that state. It also authorized it to be the state publication depository, and the state agency for library development. As a result, the Wyoming State Library has a Federal Documents Librarian, Legislative and Research Librarian, and a State Publications Librarian who all have roles to support the Legislature and other branches with government information. There’s also a Database Instruction Librarian, School Library Consultant, Library E-Rate Coordinator, Access Services Manager, Digital Initiative Librarian, and LSTA Library Development Manager who all handle the goals and outreach needs of library development. In addition, a Business Manager, Marketing and Publications Manager, and Publications Specialist handle the budget and communication efforts.

Wind turbines near Laramie, Wyoming
Wind turbines near Laramie, Wyoming. Photo by Michele Farrell

Although Wyoming is a large state, it is one of the least populous, with a little more than half a million people. This means it receives one of the smaller (population-based) Grants to States awards, at $899,159.

Wyoming was the first state in the country to have a county public library system, started in Laramie in 1886. While in the state, I also visited the Albany County Public Library System, and found a heavily used library despite its small tax base. The state provides no direct funds to the libraries, but in 2008 it set up an endowment match program whereby a library receives one dollar for every dollar the county raises. Wyoming’s libraries seem to attract top talent to run them: of its 23 public library systems, 13 library directors have a Master’s Degree in library science (MLS) and 15 of the county libraries have at least one person with an MLS on staff.

A Tour of Wyoming’s Libraries

As I travelled across the state with Jamie during my visit, we passed 50 turbines near Laramie, reflecting the change in the energy industries. Many libraries in Wyoming have experienced additional financial pressure due to the economic downturn in the oil and gas industries. As we passed through Rawlins, we learned that the Carbon County Public Library was closed due to budgetary issues. Jamie spent some time there in recent months to assess and reconcile the issues. Thanks to his efforts, the library was able to open again, with a new director.

Training New Directors

When a new director is hired, they are invited to the state library for an orientation. This orientation is paid for with LSTA funds and provides a basis for understanding the programs run by the state library. Additionally, LSTA funds a day-and-a-half orientation meeting at which the state librarian discusses statewide planning and issues facing the library community. This work session is offered in the spring for all directors, not just new ones.

A State of Contrasts

Sublette County Library in Pinesdale.
Sublette County Library in Pinesdale. Photo by Michele Farrell

I met with Sid Stanfill, who for the last four years has been director of the Sublette County Library in Pinesdale. This library is doing well. It has a beautiful new addition that includes a large meeting space that’s available for rent. However, Sid said he had seen evidence that many librarians were feeling a budgetary squeeze. As president of the Wyoming Library Association, he had to cancel their annual meeting this year because many librarians didn’t have the funds to travel. Now instead of a traditional one-day conference, librarians will gather in at least 10 locations on October 27 to participate in virtual, pre-recorded and live conference presentations. Members are excited to try this new arrangement.

 As State Librarian, Jamie has to balance the needs of all the libraries by coordinating state library funding to assist public, school, and academic libraries so they can receive cost-effective access to electronic databases, staff training, and digitization planning. Wise use of the Grants to States funding is essential. Jamie Markus is passionate about libraries doing great work, even though they may have less funding. State librarians have to deal with many issues, but I’m sure this new state librarian will remain steadfast in leading the Wyoming libraries to provide excellent service to their communities.

Michele Farrell is a senior program officer within the Office of Library Services (OLS) at IMLS.

Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies