June 23, 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 Madison Bolls interviewing Randy Riley, State Librarian of the Library of Michigan. Read more about the Library of Michigan’s priorities in the state profile for Michigan.
Madison: What approach have you taken with the CARES Act stimulus funds, including mechanisms, you've used to distribute them?
Randy: It is always great to get additional funding and Michigan got a little over $900,000 in IMLS CARES Act funds. Our approach was to act as quickly as possible to get that money into the hands of libraries across the state. We used our existing grant structure and set up a series of smaller grants, and the grants were divided into two types of requests. One was for personal protective equipment, which larger libraries have been scrambling for, and each location could get a $500 grant for PPE; for systems that had multiple branches, they could get $300 of PPE for each additional location.
The other grants did more with digital inclusion, which included equipment services and making sure information was getting out to citizens when they could not use the library or access K-12 education in a traditional way. The larger library systems could get up to $5,000, the smaller systems up to $1,000, and the in-between size libraries could get up to $3,000 in those grants.
We went through that process quickly, and Karren Reish, our LSTA grants coordinator, was able to do that kind of work with the libraries in Michigan. About 75 percent of the libraries in Michigan applied for these grants, and we were able to work with everybody that applied and make sure that they got some money. We did not want to have to tell people “no.”
Madison: How have you seen libraries in your state shift to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and how have you shifted to support them?
Randy: I think the biggest thing is the whole virtual way of communicating via Zoom or Teams. This has become a regular way of doing business. I think it has been challenging, but people have been very effective at adjusting. Michigan is a big state and we have a lot of remote areas and before, it was challenging to get people to want to do any kind of virtual meetings, even though we have had this technology for years. Now these places are adapting and seeing it is a great way to deliver information during this time. Moving forward, when we are out of the pandemic, we're going to be able to take even greater advantage of this technology because these platforms are more commonly accepted, and I think that's going to be a good thing.
The other thing is there has been a huge push to help with K-12 education and connectivity. In the library world, we’ve been talking about broadband challenges for the last 15-20 years, and this pandemic has highlighted that current digital divide. Getting hotspots can help, but it is not a permanent solution, and that permanent solution is really expensive.
Madison: What challenges and opportunities have you observed during this time?
Randy: We spent a lot of time in Michigan in the last few years talking about how libraries are not just book warehouses. Libraries are community centers where you can go to use databases, or take a class, or do outreach, and now during the pandemic, we're having to slam on the brakes and say, oh, no, you can't use the buildings. You cannot go there and gather anymore, so that messaging has been a little bit challenging and confusing sometimes to patrons. We have stepped up with curbside service, and some Michigan libraries are open to the public in almost similar ways that they were before the pandemic. Curbside pickup is now a popular service that most libraries will hopefully continue after this time.
Providing Internet access and having libraries being that anchor in the community continues to be important. In Menominee County Library up in the Upper Peninsula, they are working with the townships to make sure all their township offices have Wi-Fi access. People there can now park in the township office parking lot and get free access to the Wi-Fi. It is a creative way that the libraries are trying to find solutions to really challenging problems.
We are also looking at how we do our training programs. We used to do them throughout the state, but now we must deliver that same content in a different virtual way. We have to think about how we structure that and what it looks like in rural parts of the state, and we should be able to come up with some really good alternatives.