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Interview: West Virginia Library Commission

September 3, 2014


Karen Goff Karen Goff, Director/State Librarian, West Virginia Library Commission



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 Timothy Owens interviewing Secretary Karen Goff and then-Director of Library Development Services John Paul Myrick. Read more about the West Virginia Library Commission’s priorities in IMLS’ state profile for West Virginia.


Timothy:  Looking back at the prior five‑year plan, what did you see as the three most important community needs that you wanted to address with library services?

Karen: The community needs that we were trying to address related to lifelong learning. We used funds to enhance the capacity of the library to meet those needs through connectivity and development of the statewide library network. This involved establishing automation consortia, which ultimately met about 90 percent of the needs through shared materials. The consortia, the database subscription, and the library network consume over 80 percent of our LSTA allotment, but on a statewide level we see that we can have the most effect there. Our training has been focused on library staff, and without a library school in the state, we need to take a leadership role in providing continuing education. Another thing that we’ve done toward meeting the lifelong learning goal is the development of our Book Discussion Group collections, which are basically adult programs in a box.

John Paul:  It has taken off and grown phenomenally. People want to get together with others in the community and talk about ideas, and it’s also opened venues for other types of public discourse programs. The public is starting to recognize that libraries are the place where the community comes together.

Karen:  The other big community issue in West Virginia is health. Heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease are all high, and we think libraries have a key role to play in disseminating information about healthy lifestyles.


Timothy:  The second question is, looking at the evaluation, how did that affect the development of your new plan?

Karen: The insistence on an outside evaluator was a very good thing. There weren’t any big revelations from it, but the evaluator had a chance to hear from library directors without us standing there. It reinforced our perceptions of the high impact programs including the consortia support, the network support, and the databases.

John Paul:  The evaluation was a good guidance tool for developing the new plan. We addressed the things mentioned in the evaluation, such as competencies for library workers and training for trustees. As a result, there is so much emphasis on continuing education in the new document.


Timothy: The final question is, looking ahead at your new plan, what do you see as the three most important community needs?

John Paul:  Supporting the network consortia going forward, as well as job and career development, community economic development, and health education. The continued education component will also be important over the next five years.

Karen: Basically, it’s continuing what we have done and emphasizing that libraries have a key role to play in addressing community issues. We have a real responsibility to support the library directors and their staff. A lot of them do amazing things in 1,400 square foot libraries with one person. Others struggle. And I think that’s a big role that we have to play; we have to be the cheerleader and the educator to give them the capability.

John Paul: Collaborating with other states is another priority. We’re learning to quit reinventing the wheel, particularly among the Continuing Education coordinators. We’re working very hard to share programs and training opportunities among one another, and we’ve even jointly come together to provide training for state library workers.

Karen:  IMLS is to us like we are to the local library. With IMLS, I can say, “They’re really doing this well. We do that too. How could we gear it up a little bit and do it as well as IMLS?”

Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies