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Interview: Tennessee State Library and Archives

January 13, 2014

For more than 50 years, funding authorized by the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) has served as the backbone of federal support for libraries in America. IMLS distributes the majority of LSTA funding through a population-based formula to each state library through the Grants to States program. Each state creates a five-year plan for its programs to strengthen the efficiency, reach, and effectiveness of library services with Grants to States funds. IMLS staff interviewed state librarians to discuss how their new five-year plans (2013-2017) differ from their past plans (2008-2012) and how they see the needs of library users in their states changing and evolving. Today we begin a series of blog posts, starting with IMLS Senior Library Program Officer Timothy Owens’ talk with Tennessee’s State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill and Director of Regional Libraries Lynette Sloan. Read more about the Tennessee State Library and Archives' priorities in the state profile for Tennessee.  

Question: What are some examples of library services provided with LSTA funds?

Chuck: We provide the Tennessee Electronic Library [TEL] five network services consultants, the statewide catalog, interlibrary loan courier, the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, READS [Regional eBook and Audio Download System], and 50 percent matching for local technology purchases of hardware and software. LSTA also funds an annual training session for the network services consultants, our roving technology experts who assist public libraries.  

Question: What will be different in the next five years?

Lynette: We really are focusing more on looking at and improving the skills of the library staff, in both support of the technology as well as teaching their community about how to use technology.

Chuck: Because they have to be able to use it before they can teach it to people in the community. The Continuing Education Summit we had at the beginning of the 2008 plan was very important to us in laying the groundwork for the remaining four years. [Tennessee State Library and Archives convened 42 librarians and library advocates representing public, academic, regional, school and special libraries in February 2008 to discuss the present and future state of continuing education in Tennessee; report available at:] We need to resharpen our focus on continuing education, so we’re planning another summit for next year.

Lynette: Most of the public library staff in Tennessee is paraprofessional, so we’ve got to address their needs more specifically. We plan to do that with a second summit and with staff development. Gone are the days when all they had to do was check out books.

Chuck: We can’t have libraries where only the director knows how to use the computer and knows how to search and find things. Everybody on staff has to have those skills. It’s a core competency now.

Question: What are specific examples of how Tennessee uses Grants to State Funds?

Chuck: In terms of how the funds address specific needs, look no further than the salaries of the network service consultants, for instance. The computer goes out, or a wireless system goes down, or a network goes down in a public library; those LSTA funds enable us to make sure that a service technician gets to that library and gets them up and running. Where there are people in the community who need to use those computers for whatever—applying for a job or filing for some service or benefit—when those computers are down, they’re not being served. By getting our network service consultant there, by getting those computers back up, we’re providing a direct service, a direct benefit. Also looking at the circulation of our READS [Audio and e-book] materials, the rapid increase in the number of checkouts of those materials shows that there’s a need from voracious readers for more and more material in that format. They’re checking it out in volume. The same could be said of the Tennessee Electronic Library. When we added the World Book to the Tennessee Electronic Library and paired that with training in schools, teachers became aware of that particular resource, and use of that database became very high. In turn, that has been driving better use of our other databases. World Book is a kind of gateway database for students and teachers. On another level, offering World Book helped us to make inroads with the Department of Education. They’re beginning to really perk up their ears and want to partner with us on various things.

Lynette: The Dept. of Education began looking at some of the other resources on TEL. Common Core came along and our TEL Coordinator started talking about all the resources and materials that are already in the TEL that are relevant to these new curriculum standards. It really has provided us an opportunity to start working with the state’s education agency; we have been trying to get their attention for years.

Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies