IMLS staff interviewed state librarians to discuss how their new five-year plans for LSTA Grants to States funds (2013-2017) differ from their past plans (2008-2012), and how they see the needs of library users in their states changing and evolving. This post is part of a series and features IMLS Senior Library Program Officer Michele Farrell interviewing Wyoming’s State Librarian Lesley Boughton. Read more about the Wyoming State Library’s priorities in IMLS’ state profile for Wyoming.
Michele: What were the three most important community needs you sought to address through library services between 2008 and 2012?
Lesley: First, building capacity in Wyoming libraries—because when we say community, we think of our academic, special, public and school libraries as a larger community. Although the state library has no legal responsibility for schools, we do provide a great deal to them in library-based service. Second—within Wyoming, ensuring that all residents have access to information resources, that there aren’t terrific differences because of mineral revenue in some of our large counties, or lack thereof in some of our smaller agricultural counties. The third goal is that the state library will be the leadership agency that supports and facilitates all of the services that are targeted to meet the first two goals. I think one of the primary ways we have done that is by licensing electronic resources, which are of value in all of our constituent libraries. The other example is all of the webinars that we produce, which deal with issues of digital literacy, reference, and making our library directors aware of federal programs that could be of benefit to them. It can be hard for librarians to stay on top of new developments, so we try to keep abreast of them and then provide webinars that are archived for convenience. We have one face-to-face meeting with directors of all types of libraries, because they basically serve as our LSTA Advisory Board. It’s not formalized, but we do pay for a three-day retreat, talk about library issues in Wyoming, and allow them time to develop peer relationships.
Michele: How did the evaluation of programs and initiatives developed over the 2008-2012 cycle affect your state’s plan for the 2013-2017 cycle?
Lesley: We’re lucky because we have such a small library community (by numbers), we almost don’t have to do sampling. We had focus groups around the Wyoming Library Association meetings, not only with directors, but with library staff in all kinds of specialties within the library. We developed a handout that showed how we spent all of our LSTA money and asked them specifically how this improved or advanced the work that they were doing. Then we took that back and tweaked our plan as needed. In terms of spending, the licensing of resources is their number one priority, because that frees up money on the local level to do things that are probably unique to their environment. One of the things we’ve been able to accomplish for the first time in 2012 is that no LSTA money is spent on personnel at all. The state stepped up because they see how important it is for that LSTA money to be put directly into programs in the field. Our five-year evaluation was somewhat persuasive in that.
Michele: What are the three most important community needs that you plan to address through the Grants to States program in the next five years?
Lesley: First, improving equity in service to our residents. Many of them live long distances from physical library facilities, and we bridge the great distances with lots of electronic resources. In terms of digital literacy, we’re seeing that it isn’t just about computers and keyboards and how to use a mouse; it’s more about helping people access information in meaningful ways. Second, identifying underserved populations. LSTA funds allow us to provide small stipends to each of the state’s institutions – from the boys’ and girls’ schools to the Pioneer Home for retirees. The residents in these facilities are our most underserved population. We bought e-readers to put in each of these institutions and worked with the activity staff in each location so that they could show their residents how to use them. Third, timely and effective training for staff and trustees. We continue to assess training needs for library staff, including trustees. Only 11 of our 23 public library directors hold a professional library degree and it is difficult to recruit professionals to serve in our small libraries. If public libraries are to fulfill their mission to serve as community centers for information services, it is really important for us to know the staff and trustees and to work closely together.