IMLS CARES Act State Library Spotlight: Devices, PPE, and Virtual Programming in Colorado

Colorado’s Assistant Commissioner and State Librarian Nicolle Davies
Nicolle Davies, Colorado Assistant Commissioner and State Librarian

Editor’s Note: IMLS staff interviewed chief officers of State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs) to discuss their response to the coronavirus, including the use of IMLS CARES Act funds to the states. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Because of the infrastructure of the Grants to States program and the agility of SLAAs, $30 million was rapidly rolled out to benefit libraries and their patrons across the country, and in some cases, museums, and tribes. This post is part of a series and features IMLS Senior Library Program Officer Michele Farrell interviewing Colorado’s Assistant Commissioner and State Librarian Nicolle Davies. Read more about the Colorado State Library’s priorities in the state profile for Colorado.

Michele: What approach have you taken with the CARES Act stimulus funds, including mechanisms you have used to distribute them?

Nicolle: We determined which of the 113 library jurisdictions in Colorado had the greatest needs based on the IMLS funding priorities. We looked at poverty rates, SNAP information, unemployment statistics and broadband availability. Based on this data we invited those targeted library jurisdictions to apply for up to $10,000. We went through three rounds of grant applications and we distributed almost $493,000 to 55 library jurisdictions in 41 counties.

Libraries will utilize the funds for projects that lend devices such as hotspots, Chromebooks, tablets, and e-readers to patrons. Materials for virtual and low touch passive programs including a lot of take-and-make crafts were also purchased. Those have been wildly popular with our communities, especially throughout the summer. We also acquired online tools or publications, eBooks, and audiobooks. The remaining dollars will be spent on PPE like masks, shields, gloves, hand sanitizer, and disinfecting wipes to distribute to libraries on an as-needed basis.

Michele: Tell us about your experiences in working with new or existing partners during this time.

Nicolle: We are housed in the Department of Education, so automatically we had a pipeline to school district superintendents and teachers to get in front of them quickly and position our resources. The state library has done an amazing job in supporting the school library community throughout the pandemic. We started hosting weekly best practice sharing opportunities which turned into support groups because of how hard it was, but it was awesome to be able to position the school librarians as 21st century learning and tech experts in a school district. They were instructing teachers how to use this technology and sometimes they were distributing Wi Fi hotspots that went home with students.

Early on it was very unclear when libraries could reopen, or if we could do curbside service. Did we fall into the same category as essential services or retail? We spent the summer working with the Governor's Office, the Department of Education, and our Colorado Department of Public Health to create health guidance for public libraries so that, if and when we move into other phases, we don't have to pause everything and wait for guidance from the Governor's Office. The guidelines were approved and sanctioned by those entities at the end of August. I am so glad we got that done because we are starting again to see more spikes in Colorado.

I should mention one other partnership with the Colorado State Parks that we have further enhanced. They gave us more Checkout Colorado State Parks passes which we got into the hands of our libraries. That was something we had been working on pre-pandemic. The timing was fantastic because the demand is even greater than normal for park passes.

Michele: How have you seen the libraries in your state shift to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and how have you shifted to support them?

Nicolle: I have seen some of the best and most amazing creativity come out of our public libraries. The way everyone shifted from recorded online story times to live online story times is one example – the demand was so great for them. Other examples include STEM-based programming with kits that people could get curbside and ramping up homework or reference assistance through phone calls and chat. Another thing we did to help with summer reading was launch an online calendar for the entire state. It was an opportunity for librarians to be able to list their programming. Patrons could go to the online literacy calendar and see all sorts of programming. They could attend a yoga program offered by a Vail library while they are sitting in Douglas County two hours away. It is a fun resource, and it has been so popular that we are going to maintain it. We see patrons using it not only in Colorado, but elsewhere. The library director in Aurora got a letter from a couple in Wisconsin. They had discovered the Aurora Public Library programming over the summer and tuned in so regularly, they sent a $250 donation to the library thanking them for helping fill in the gaps of their life as two seniors who are stuck at home in another state. Stories like that epitomize what librarians can do.

At the Colorado Association for Libraries (CAL) Conference in September they gave a one-time, Special Recognition of Leadership During a Pandemic Award to Crystal Schimpf, our staff person who facilitates the twice-weekly calls for library directors around the state. She was the first one to reach out to the public library community and say, how can we help you? Also, the Colorado State Library won the Colorado Association of Libraries’ President's Award for our work during the pandemic. And it is a testament to how amazing my extraordinary staff has been stepping up to support the libraries.

There has been an opportunity to shine a light on the value of libraries and raise awareness with people we had lost along the way. Suddenly, they are turning to libraries in a way that they would not have under normal circumstances, and they are getting really excited about the resources that are out there. The pandemic has helped to really promote and place libraries back on the forefront, and that has been an awesome unexpected opportunity.

IMLS CARES Act Grants for Museums and Libraries