April 29, 2021
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 Dennis Nangle interviewing Annie Norman, Delaware’s State Librarian. Read more about the Delaware Division of Libraries’ priorities in the state profile for Delaware.
Dennis: What approach have you taken with the CARES Act stimulus funds, including mechanisms that you have used to distribute them?
Annie: With the IMLS CARES funds, we acted as a pass-through. We divided the funds by the number of public libraries in the state and gave it out to them because it was important that they have emergency money to do what they needed to do. A lot are using it for PPE. We also supplemented that with state resources; sending them masks, hand sanitizer, and keyboard covers. We did ask that they involve partners with these funds, and some could do that more than others, but they’re all working with partners at some level.
Dennis: Tell us about your experiences in working with new or existing partners during this time.
Annie: Even before COVID, our top priority for over a year has been partners. The social workers from Delaware Health and Social Services and the employment specialists from the Department of Labor were onsite prior to COVID, and now make virtual appointments using our online appointment calendar. We have Springshare, where people can set up appointments, and it also works through the Ask a Librarian Delaware chat service.
We had just launched Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library (DPIL), which provides books in the home, as a pilot in January and February of 2020. We hadn't even done a kickoff event because we were planning to do one with the Governor, but due to the pandemic we never had a chance to formally announce it. However, by just putting up a website, we got a total of about 4,000 registrations in a few months. The Secretary of State decided it was important enough to go statewide and the Governor announced it in August. Now we're up to almost 11,000 registrants, and it has been a significant opportunity, as far as partnerships, to connect with the early learning community. We were able to communicate to Delawareans that the library may be closed but the DPIL books are being delivered to your home. It’s also been really powerful to communicate that this is the public library’s contribution, and please use it! The Imagination Library has gotten libraries more attention than anything else that I have seen ever.
We’re working with a contractor to create a dashboard that’ll look at the continuum of literacy from birth through adults. One of my goals is to set up data the libraries have (such as the Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sign-ups, the baby library card registrations, etc.), with circulation and more. When we have that as a foundation, we could add other partners’ data to that so we can get a glimpse of the collective impact: what is everyone's contribution to literacy, and where are we moving the needle? I think that will help.
We also signed on to the national Communities of Excellence, a Baldrige-based approach to community leadership development. It’s a three-year learning cohort, and we’re in the first year. The advantage of COVID for participating in this is that it's all virtual, so we made this opportunity available not only to Delaware libraries, but also existing and prospective partners. We’re looking forward to this being a learning opportunity with our partners to help strengthen partnerships and hopefully help us with some of these new questions that we have about maintaining a continuum of service, the social infrastructure, and what needs to happen next during and after the pandemic.
Dennis: How have you seen the libraries in your state shift to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, and how have you shifted to support them?
Annie: One of the first things libraries did was shift to online programming, which was amazing. My IT staff worked with the IT staff in the counties, and we installed parking lot wireless. We already had wireless in the buildings, and some of those signals were bleeding out a little bit, but now it's deliberately accessible outdoors and there’s additional equipment installed at every library. As we go forward, we've hired a consultant to work with some libraries on making recommendations regarding their outdoor space, just like restaurants are doing. The Delaware Council on Libraries approved a request to receive approximately $2 million from the state to set aside for libraries to develop outdoor spaces. Our libraries have adapted quickly to curbside check out and book bundles. They’re doing things like outdoor displays of new books that people can either see through the windows, or even outside.
We've also ordered 200 Chromebooks and MiFis to experiment with loaning them out. Everything is on back order because all the schools and libraries in the nation are in a similar situation, but we want to experiment with that as soon as they come in. We have them in the catalog and will make them available for the public to request.
I think the fact that Delaware is small is an advantage. I think that we can show this microcosm of how partners can work together, which could pave the way and make it easier to learn from our experience. It is developmental, so we still have more to learn and more to do.