If there ever was a braintrust of library leadership in the United States – this was it! The participants included 20 state librarians, 16 deputy/assistant state librarians, and library directors from American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and PERL (Pacific Resources for Education and Learning based in Honolulu, HI), about 150 total participants. I was among the remaining group of staff who help their state library agency administer the LSTA Grant program.
The occasion was the Institute of Museum and Library Services hosted “Grants to States Conference 2011” to discuss how libraries may spend the $161.3M in federal funds “distributed to the states, the District of Columbia, [and] U.S. territories”.
For two and a half days in mid-March, IMLS has hosted, at their expense, a conference of state library administrative agency (SLAA) representatives to solicit their assistance. IMLS’ mission is “to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas” and it is “the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries”.
This was the largest combination of library brainpower, talent and influence it has ever been my privilege to be among, and it included the recent Presidential appointee IMLS Director Susan Hildreth, former Seattle Public Library director, former California State Librarian. That goes for the rest of the IMLS staff who are equally amazing! More than any federal agency I ever encountered – IMLS ROCKS!
From the very opening remarks by Director Hildreth, it was evident that IMLS considered the states’ librarians to be their partners in this new era of federal funding to libraries. As if that wasn’t revolutionary enough, they solicited our expertise and opinions on some pretty weighty issues. Congress has given IMLS new direction regarding areas upon which libraries should focus these federal resources, and IMLS seriously solicited librarians’ input on issues regarding “Barriers” to and “Opportunities” for achieving library program objectives in all states and territories.
For two days we broke into smaller working groups to consider issues such as;
• Building/Sustaining Information Resources
• Targeting Library and Information Services
• Strengthening the Library Workforce
• Integrating Services
Working groups brainstormed and strategized about these topics to provide IMLS with valuable information upon which they will base their new system for reporting our successes with IMLS funds. They are sincerely interested in telling a cohesive “library story” at the national level that will substantiate the value of local libraries, as well as provide accountability and transparency to this invaluable program.
IMHO, this was THE MOST PRODUCTIVE librarian event in which I have ever participated, it was for THE MOST WORTHWHILE GOALS I have ever imagined in connection with helping libraries grow, and it was conducted by THE MOST LIBRARY SUPPORTIVE national organization I have ever experienced.
This and following IMLS events will help guarantee a national perspective on library accomplishments that can subsequently be presented to library funders at all levels. Stay tuned for more detailed information on this hallmark event for libraries.
NOTE: For anyone not familiar with the LSTA Grant program:
For more than 50 years the LSTA [Library Services and Technology Act] Grants to States Program and its predecessors have supported the delivery of library services in the United States. Few public sector agencies in the country have been as responsive as libraries to the extreme shifts brought on by the information age. Rapid changes in information technology resulted in significant reorganization of library work and major changes to library service in public, academic, school, and research settings. Over this period libraries expanded their traditional mission of collecting and circulating physical holdings to one that also provides access to computers, software, and a host of new services, including an ever-increasing pool of digital information services.
The Grants to States Program is the largest grant program run by IMLS; it provides funds to State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAA) using a population-based formula. SLAAs may use federal funds to support statewide initiatives and services; they also may distribute the funds through subgrant competitions or cooperative agreements to public, academic, research, school, and special libraries in their state. The program has the benefit of building the capacity of states to develop statewide plans for library services and to evaluate those services every five years.
The overall purposes of the Library Services and Technology Act are to
promote improvement in library services in all types of libraries in order to better serve the people of the United States,
facilitate access to resources in all types of libraries for the purpose of cultivating an educated and informed citizenry, and
encourage resource sharing among all types of libraries for the purpose of achieving economical and efficient delivery of library services to the public.