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 James Lonergan interviewing Connecticut’s State Librarian Kendall Wiggin, Division of Library Development Director Dawn La Valle, and then-LSTA Coordinator Doug Lord. Read more about the Connecticut State Library’s priorities in IMLS’ state profile for Connecticut.
James: What were the three most important community needs that you sought to address through library services between 2008 and 2012?
Doug: The first was using our statewide services to help libraries leverage what they do at the local level. The two biggest programs in that area are iCONN, a portal for databases and information, and Connecticar (Ccar), a delivery service to support resource sharing. Both represent tremendous savings for local libraries, because if they had to pay for them individually, it would have been upwards of $150 million over five years.
Next, we had a huge focus on services to underserved populations. Most of that funding went to the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH), but we also had subgrants that hit all of the underserved populations named in the legislation. The last focus was contributing to a public access computing environment that would remain stable and robust.
Ken: iCONN is really the only content being delivered across the Connecticut Education Network, and content is becoming a big issue for the Commission on Educational Technology. We’re trying to figure out how to add even more content, because it reaches schools, as well as all of our libraries. Providing that piece from a combination of state and federal funds has made us a viable partner in the network conversation.
James: How did the evaluation of programs and initiatives for the 2008-2012 plan affect your new plan?
Doug: The evaluation reaffirmed what we already knew, but what was surprising was the lack of awareness for something like LBPH. Libraries need to do a better job of PR at every level, and our level is no exception. One thing we brought out of the evaluation was moving from larger program grants in the $20,000-$35,000 range to much smaller, directed subgrants. The evaluation also cemented the importance of our statewide services. We knew that iCONN and Ccar were important, but people were incredibly passionate about these services.
Ken: One thing that came through the process for me was a validation that we don’t have to address all of the LSTA priorities; so moving forward, we’re doing more focusing. The other thing it drove home to us was that we could move away from having a large competitive grant program and not upset everybody. We saw repeatedly that our statewide programs get a lot of favorable review, while most of the competitive grants go to the same libraries because they’re really good at writing grants.
Dawn: Since the evaluation revealed that a lot of the libraries were not aware of our services, we’re in the process of implementing a marketing plan to leverage our visibility through social media. We want to keep libraries aware of what we provide and make it a constant relationship, but we’re also going to expand outreach beyond our traditional target audience and make communities aware of all the services that are available.
James: In terms of the new five-year plan, did the community needs change substantially from the previous plan?
Doug: We’re still going to be addressing all of the LSTA things that we did before, but probably in slightly different formats. We’re also going to be addressing 21st century skills, including the five literacies: basic information, civic, social, health, and financial. We’ll hit most of that through Continuing Education (CE).
Dawn: With the five literacies, we want to explore a statewide initiative that brings in other state agencies and possibly corporations that have an obvious stake in these various literacies. That will give them even more emphasis and allow us to offer expanded programming.
Ken: We’re moving back toward consulting and beefing up CE as more of a statewide approach. One of the things that staff did on their visits this summer is introduce the new digital players from LBPH and leave one for every library. LBPH did a great job of reaching out to their community, but we realized through the evaluation that libraries do a better job of reaching their community than we do.