iPAC Releases Study of State Library Agencies

Thursday, May 14, 2015

State Library Agencies (SLAs) offer a range of services, fill varying roles, and have varying statutory mandates. In addition, SLAs are enacted differently, sometimes as independent and autonomous agencies or commissions, other times embedded within larger state agencies (e.g., Department of Education, Department of State). Given the diversity of SLAs, this study sought to provide a description of organizational structure and location within the state government for state library agencies across the country; identify selected key mandates and functions of state library agencies across the country; provide an overview of services provided by state library agencies across the country; explore the relationships between state library agencies and core state information functions (e.g., archives, preservation, records management); explore the coordinating mechanisms between differing aspects of information services (e.g., archives, state libraries with collections, libraries for the blind) if not all under the auspices of a state library agency; and identify staffing – in terms of numbers of staff, administrative staff, development staff, and other staff.

The report details a number of findings regarding SLAs, and also focuses on the characteristics of a successful SLA:

  • The ability to reach out to policymakers directly. The ability to develop strategy, messaging, and advocacy tools and engage those initiatives directly; the ability to make direct proposals to the governor (or key staff), appear at and participate in legislative or other hearings; and the ability to be involved in statewide campaigns and initiatives.
  • The ability to control the agency (or division, depending on organizational structure) budget. Being involved in the entire budget cycle – from request to allocation – was seen as a key need by SLA staff. A critical mass/being “right-sized.” Several SLA staff indicated, “there is such a thing as being too small.” That is, to be effective, an SLA needs the staffing, capacity, and infrastructure to be effective and to be taken seriously as a state government entity, but also to function properly.
  • An appropriate location in state government. Where the SLA is positioned within state government is a complex topic that often involves a range of histories, goals, intent, and economies of scale. SLA staff and leaders indicated the desire to be, in order of preference,
    • Independent. This offered the fullest ability to navigate state government as well as work with and for libraries in the state.
    • Autonomous in a larger agency. Though often a division within a larger agency, this enabled the SLA to leverage resources of the larger agency – while essentially operating as an independent agency.
    • Division in a larger agency. This scenario was the most complex and highly contextualized. The assessment of success in this scenario depended highly on the extent to which there were synergies with the larger agency, the ability to act reasonably autonomous, and operational issues.
  • The ability to work with agency/state leadership. It was critical for SLA leadership to have strong working relationships with agency leadership (Secretary, or other designation as appropriate) if the SLA was part of a larger agency. If independent, SLA leadership indicated the criticality of having access to and a working relationship with state government officials, particularly in the governor’s office and legislature.
  • The ability to work with other units of larger agency. If part of a larger agency (Administration, State, Education, etc.), those interviewed indicated that it was paramount to have a strong working relationship with not just with central agency administration and leadership, but also with other division/unit heads.
  • An engaged leadership. SLA leadership needs to be proactive, engaged, and constantly “in front of” policymakers—seeking meetings and discussion opportunities, presenting at hearings and other policymaking events, and other activities that placed libraries – and how libraries can help – in the conversation and policymaking process.
  • An articulated vision for libraries and library services. There is a need to articulate clearly a vision for libraries, with a strategic tie in to state initiatives championed by policymakers. More often than not, state leadership did not grasp the value of libraries in resolving the challenges, and as a result, libraries were not always included in key policy discussions or initiatives. A key function of the SLAs is to help state government leaders “get” libraries and to articulate how libraries can help the state achieve its policy goals.
  • An aspirational agency. SLA staff indicated that there is a need to constantly think about trends and needs that are 3-5 years out and work towards those (e.g., STE(A)M, open government, smart government, growth in diversity, aging populations, the “Internet of things,” broadband). The job of the SLA was to continually assess how these changes would impact the information environments and how libraries and their resources could assume leadership roles in communities and at the state level to embrace impact of these trends.
  • The ability to deliver demonstrated results. Hand in hand with articulating a vision for libraries and the ability of libraries to facilitate state policy goal and objective attainment is the ability to demonstrate results. SLA staff indicated the criticality of implementing measures of impact that libraries bring to the areas of education, workforce, health, and other key areas.
  • The ability to leverage. The challenges and opportunities libraries, governments, and communities face are substantial, and no one agency – even if mandated – has all the resources to fully meet the need. A role articulated for success by SLA leadership was the ability to show how the combination of SLA and library resources in the state could enhance initiatives in other key challenge areas such as pre-K and early literacy; K-12; higher education; workforce development; small business development; and more.

The report was funded by the Maryland Advisory Council on Libraries and the Division of Library Development and Services, Maryland State Department of Education.

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