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 Maine’s State Librarian Linda Lord and Director of Library Development and LSTA Coordinator Janet McKenney. Read more about the Maine State Library’s priorities in IMLS’ state profile for Maine.
James: Could you talk about the three most important community needs that you were trying to address in the previous plan, 2008 to 2012?
Janet: One was services to individuals with disabilities and the underserved, given the nature of Maine’s geographic challenges and the fact that we have many communities that do not have libraries. One of our core values is to make sure that those people aren’t forgotten. We also have three library consultants serving three different geographic areas in the state. Libraries in the south are much closer together, collaborate in different ways, and meet face-to-face more often, whereas in the northern part of the state the consultants have a lot of travel and telephone contact, and the libraries don’t necessarily have the same connections. We use federal funds to support that kind of communication and education.
Linda: Because 71 percent of our libraries are run by non-professionals, having the consultants to move them ahead is so critical. I’d also note that so much of the previous five-year plan talked about partnerships, which strengthened during that plan and continue to strengthen during the new plan. Maine’s a small state, and we figured out a long time ago that we all have to work together and support each other. I think people realize more and more that if they have a wonderful service or project, the public libraries are a conduit to the people of Maine.
James: How did the evaluation process for the previous five years inform your new plan?
Janet: Having somebody outside the organization look at it was very helpful in terms of asking why and how you do things and what to emphasize going forward. We’ve basically held on to the core state services, while other projects have fallen by the wayside, and some of the things we did with other cultural agencies still continue. The Networkmaine partnership has been great for our libraries because of the technical expertise at the university. At the beginning of the last plan, all of our libraries had 1.5 to 3 megabit connections, and now the minimum for all is 10 megabit connections.
Linda: Our evaluators commented that they normally didn’t support LSTA funding for statewide projects, because they like to see grants given out to libraries to expand their capabilities. However, in our case they thought we were handling the money very appropriately given the needs and budget of our state.
James: How have the three most important community needs for the new plan changed from the previous plan?
Janet: The Maine InfoNet partnership with the university has been really vital and will probably expand, because it started with circulation and cataloging, then grew into databases, and then evolved into downloads, audio and e-books. They’re the technology arm of what’s done in libraries in Maine. The consultants also are working with partners like Cornerstones of Science, an organization that brings STEM into public libraries for all age groups.
Linda: We also work with the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, and we’ve all met so that the partners know we’re heading in the same direction and not competing for libraries’ attention or duplicating potential services. Then there’s the Access to Justice Program with the Maine legal system authority.
Janet: That program has an overall goal of access to free legal help and information. We partnered with the Volunteer Lawyers Project in Portland, which offers free legal services for people who qualify, but they were also struggling with geography and how to provide services. Now they’re using videoconferencing equipment in Maine libraries for presentations and consultations. Another component we’re focusing on is digital literacy. We’ve been holding regional meetings all over the state, and we’re going use the input for a digital literacy plan. As we look at our five-year plan, we’re really concentrating on literacies, so we’ve got early literacy, digital literacy, and science literacy.