January 24, 2022
IMLS staff interviewed chief officers of State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs) to discuss their response to the pandemic, including the use of IMLS American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) 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, $178 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 Eli Guinee, the New Mexico State Librarian. Read more about the New Mexico State Library’s priorities in the state profile for New Mexico.
Dennis: What approach have you taken with the American Rescue Plan Act stimulus funds, including mechanisms you have used to distribute them?
Eli: We approached ARPA funds in the same way we handled the CARES funds: almost all of it was passed through to the libraries themselves, to let them make local decisions on how to use that funding. The only difference between CARES and ARPA was that we introduced an emergency amendment to our special grants administrative code. We had a rule that limited the amount of federal funding we could pass on to our libraries (a percentage cap), so we changed that rule on an emergency basis to allow for almost all the ARPA funds to be passed through. Otherwise, we would have been limited to only passing through 25 percent of the funds.
We’ve also worked on improving eligibility of entities who can receive these stimulus funds. We are in the process of developing 49 new Tribal libraries on the Navajo Nation or with other Tribal branches across New Mexico and Arizona. The Governor wanted to make sure that the Navajo Nation could get ARPA funds to establish those libraries, which are seen as key to getting infrastructure like broadband and information resources to the Navajo Nation. Accomplishing this required another administrative code change to give us more flexibility on who could be eligible for that funding. This is the first time that we’ve made administrative code changes in recent memory.
Dennis: Tell us about your experiences in working with new or existing partners during this time.
Eli: When the pandemic hit, we quickly led collaboration efforts within our sister divisions at the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), which include museums, historic sites, archaeology, historic preservation, etc. By facilitating conversations, especially with educators at each of those institutions, we developed “Invite a DCA Educator,” a new system from the State Library that makes it easy for teachers to request educators to present in their online classes. This has been tremendously successful, expanded our department’s geographic reach, and gets educators into parts of the state that would have otherwise been unreachable.
Something I’m especially excited about is our Community Information Gathering Group, which aims to collaborate with groups of people that we don’t know as well. We’re currently focusing on trying to understand young people who are either in the upper grades or recent high school graduates. By talking to people who serve that group (school counselors, teachers, artists) and, of course, young people themselves, we hope to gain new insights into how libraries and museums can serve them. Maybe they were library or museum users when they were younger, but how do we engage them in a co-creation process? How can we be relevant to their lives?
Dennis: How have you seen the libraries in your state shift to respond to the pandemic, and how have you shifted to support them?
Eli: Librarians, especially in small towns, know a large percentage of people and they often know a lot about them. When the pandemic hit, and the libraries were closed, they were thinking about all the regulars that would usually be there and started calling people to check in. If someone couldn’t get a prescription filled, then they would call the pharmacy and work with people in town to meet those basic needs.
The formalization of homebound delivery has been really cool to see. I was involved in the Rural Libraries and Social Wellbeing project, where we did site visits at eight different communities and interviewed over 200 people. When we asked the librarians about services to the homebound, almost all of them said that it was on their to-do list but it was hard to find time to identify people who are homebound, make those connections, get them a library card, and figure out what kind of books they wanted. In New Mexico, since the pandemic, these services have been formalized. I think because so many of us became homebound, it really raised this awareness of people who have always lived like this. We’re developing new ways of serving people who are stuck in their homes, and it needs to become more of a permanent part of what we do.
I want to call out libraries that are working to support local businesses. Having local businesses is so key to many communities, especially rural and small-town areas - those local businesses are precious. In Belen, the director Kathleen Pickering is the chair of the local Main Street Program and organizes art walks to support local businesses.
The Director of the Santa Fe Public Library System has partnered with several organizations to bring support for Spanish-speaking residents, which was a real need of the community. They've done a lot with vaccinations, which has greatly assisted all residents, including those who don't speak English or don't have access to the online vaccination software portal. One day I drove by when they had a vaccination clinic going and the line was around the block. I've never seen anything like it for a vaccination clinic. Libraries like these that are engaged on this level can make the sort of deep impacts we’re seeing in emerging social wellbeing studies.