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Interview: New York State Library

January 30, 2014

IMLS staff interviewed state librarians to discuss how their new five-year plans for 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 blog is part of a series and features IMLS Senior Library Program Officer Timothy Owens interviewing New York State Librarian and Assistant Commissioner for Libraries Bernard Margolis, LSTA Coordinator Mary Linda Todd, and Coordinator of Statewide Library Services/Director of the Division of Library Development Carol Ann Desch. The New York State Library is a unit of the Office of Cultural Education in the New York State Education Department and is located in Albany, New York. Read more about the New York State Library's priorities in the state profile for New York.

Timothy: What community needs did your state library address with help from the Grants to States funds?

Bernie: IMLS funds gave us a chance to support New York’s 7,000 libraries of all types as they strive to provide their communities reliable and equitable access to library services and materials. For example, NOVELNY [New York Online Virtual Electronic Library], with more than 56 million searches annually, provides access to high quality e-resources for all New Yorkers. Without Grants to States funds, NOVELNY would not exist today. Lifelong learning and literacy services for all ages are also high priorities. Summer Reading at New York Libraries, with over 1,000 library outlets participating, is one of our blockbuster literacy programs that depends on IMLS funds; 1.74 million children were impacted in Summer 2012. A third area of critical need is building local capacity for innovation and excellence.  IMLS funds have played a key role through our LSTA Service Improvement Grants, through statewide technology support and digital literacy training, and by enabling us to provide timely statistics and reliable data for decision making.

Linda: Without LSTA, Gates Foundation Grants, and BTOP funding, we wouldn't have been able to expand broadband in our libraries, which is essential for many of the other initiatives. Through our work with the state’s Broadband Program Office, 14 percent of them now have over 10 megabytes per second. This is a continued high-priority focus in the new five-year plan.

Timothy: How did the evaluation of the 2008-2012 programs and initiatives affect your state’s plans for 2013-2017 five-year cycle?

Bernie: For the past two years, New York has engaged in a Vision 2020 planning initiative. Thousands of people—library staff, educators, policymakers and the general public—shared their visions for the future of library services, and as a result we have a document called Creating the Future, which was used to shape key priorities in the new five-year plan.

Carol: We are in the process of identifying resources to act on the 60 recommendations in Creating the Future. Grants to States funding will be critical to our success, and New York is strongly committed to using outcomes-based evaluation.

Timothy: What are the three most important community needs you plan to address through library services in the next five years.

Bernie: Creating the Future and the LSTA five-year plan are our current blueprints for action. Our focus will still be on three major areas: improving access, enhancing literacy, and building local capacity for all types of libraries. Expanded, seamless access to e-resources for all New Yorkers is a high priority, and NOVELNY will continue to grow. Other opportunities range from participation in national digitization projects to more effective delivery of print materials. Our public libraries alone move over 16 million items a year through interlibrary loan. Having people who are highly skilled on the ground is a critical element of success in delivering needed library services.

Carol:  The new five-year plan puts much greater emphasis on libraries as community learning spaces. For example, there is a strong emphasis on statewide early learning as well as robust programs at the local level. Bernie:  This is consistent with national trends in public education—the movement from full-day kindergarten to full-day Pre-K, for instance. Because public libraries serve the whole family—parents and caregivers included—we can take a focused approach to early literacy. We want to be sure every young child in New York has access to critically important library programs and services.

Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies