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Interview: Florida Division of Library and Information Services

May 28, 2014
Judith A. Ring, Division Director, Division of Library and Information Services


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 Florida’s State Librarian Judith Ring and Chief of Library Development Amy Johnson. Read more about the Florida Division of Library and Information Services’ priorities in the state profile for Florida.  

Michele: What were the three most important community needs you sought to address through library services between 2008 and 2012?

Amy: The three community needs were broadband assessment, workforce recovery, and e-government services. We carried out broadband assessments in the state for the public library outlets and implemented some suggested changes to make the libraries more broadband-ready. With workforce recovery, there have been local grants to help people get back to work, whether it was résume classes or job interview skills. In the e-government area, the two major statewide projects were Get Help Florida, which is an e-government portal, and The Right Service at the Right Time, which is a website that has county-by-county information for citizens to connect to social services. There is clearly, across the country and certainly here in Florida, some bleeding or blending of workforce recovery and e-government.  

Michele: How did the evaluation of programs and initiatives developed over the previous five years affect your state plans for the new 2013-2017 cycle?

Amy: There are two specific areas. In the Florida Electronic Library (FEL) we have taken the information gleaned from the five-year evaluation and we're changing the way the portal looks and the way the databases will be grouped and presented. We’re also providing additional training. Secondly, we heard loudly and clearly that people wanted the division to give, for any individual LSTA grant year, some priorities for funding. For the first year under the new plan we identified workforce and e-government as priorities. These may change every year, but we have given applicants some direction about the emphasis.

Judith: We started very early on coordinating and highlighting e-government services, around 2008-2009, when our Department of Children and Families went to a totally online application. We were probably the first state to do that, and that really propelled us along on e-government. Then came Immigration Services; if you wanted an appointment, you could only make it online. Now there are more and more of those services that you have to apply for online, like unemployment. The recession hit Florida very hard, and our governor’s main emphasis right now is workforce recovery and bringing new businesses to Florida. Those are still the demands that are being placed on libraries across the state.  

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

Amy: They echo prior needs: workforce recovery, e-government, and something we're broadly calling electronic resources. With the workforce recovery, one example is outreach to veterans who are returning home and getting them back to work. In the e-government area we will continue to provide support for Get Help Florida and The Right Service at the Right Time, because we're continuing to incorporate new counties to have representation across the whole state. The third need is electronic resources. For example, we're developing some guidelines for the state around a digitization project. Digital literacy sort of sits in both workforce recovery and electronic resources, because you have to have the skills to be able to use the resources we've got.

Judith: The members of the community need assistance in getting jobs, and through the resources that we provide, libraries help members of the community find jobs. If you go to The Right Service at the Right Time it even points to the nearest shelter that I could go to. Where could I find food in my county? It gets down to that basic level. We're really dependent on our LSTA funding to keep programs like the ones we've talked about going. Our state budgets are very flat or going down, and without the federal funding we wouldn't be able to keep the programs that make such an impact.

Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies