May 27, 2021
Editor’s Note: IMLS staff interviewed chief officers of State Library Administrative Agencies (SLAAs) to discuss their response to the coronavirus, including the use of IMLS CARES Act funds to the states. These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Because of the infrastructure of the Grants to States program and the agility of SLAAs, $30 million was rapidly rolled out to benefit libraries and their patrons across the country, and in some cases, museums and tribes. This post is part of a series and features IMLS Senior Library Program Officer Dennis Nangle interviewing Stephanie Bailey-White, Idaho’s State Librarian. Read more about the Idaho Commission for Libraries’ priorities in the state profile for Idaho.
Dennis: What approach have you taken with the CARES Act stimulus funds, including mechanisms that you've used to distribute them?
Stephanie: The CARES funding through IMLS came at just the right time for Idaho libraries. I believe we were one of the first states to get the funds out to public libraries statewide to help with the reopening efforts, support increased access to Wi-Fi, and help cover PPE and other safety expenses. Half of our CARES allotment went directly to public libraries who applied for small grants, and the other half is being used to support statewide access to e-books, which has been in our strategic plan for many years. COVID really highlighted some inequities that we have with library services and access, and this is one of the things that we can do to address that.
Dennis: What kinds of resources have you been able to tap into because of partnerships?
Stephanie: During the pandemic, we quickly focused on how libraries can help “keep students learning and adults earning,” as our friends at the Nevada State Library like to say. Amid some state budget cutbacks, we really needed to look at how we can best focus our energies and funds during this time.
One of the results of being more focused with our efforts was to partner with the Idaho State Board of Education and the Lumina Foundation to utilize rural libraries as connectors for adult learners, particularly veterans. Library directors in these areas are connecting adult learners with community resources to help them advance their skills to be able to stay in their communities, connect with college opportunities, and access other state and local resources. When the unemployment rate increased, people were looking for options, and they trust their local library. It was really nice to be able to offer those services through this partnership.
Dennis: How have you seen the libraries in your state shift to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and how have you shifted to support them?
Stephanie: One of the first things that the Commission for Libraries staff did when COVID became a reality here in the state was to immediately begin disseminating information on our website and hosting weekly meetings for library staff. That gave them the opportunity to talk informally, share ideas, express concerns, and do it in a setting where they felt comfortable and supported. Both of those efforts continued through the pandemic. We’ve hosted Zoom meetings for library boards who didn't have that technology in place and couldn't meet face-to-face. So, we stepped in and facilitated some of those meetings. We also moved all our professional development and other meetings online and still worked hard to maintain relationships with the library community, so they could do their job and provide as many resources to their communities as possible.
We are also figuring out how to best address digital equity in our state. Much of our energy right now is being spent on this area, and we recently did some restructuring at the Commission to shift some positions. We now have an E-Services Program Supervisor, who is leading a team that provides leadership statewide in the areas of broadband, devices, continuing education, and e-content (databases and our new e-book program). We’re looking at the big picture of how we can best meet the needs of the state through libraries because we have an important role to play in that.
I think Idaho libraries have really risen to the challenge in lots of creative and fun ways. The Meridian Library District (a 2019 National Medal winner) shifted not only to curbside service, but dove right in and started delivering materials to people's homes. We've seen some really creative kits and take-home materials that have been delivered at school lunch pickups and during the summer. It gives students access to fun resources and recreational reading in addition to their homework packets they were picking up with their food. I'm always inspired by the creative library staff that are out there and the way that they're responding to all of this.