A Conversation on the State of Our Libraries

Monday, May 13, 2019 4:30 PM | Anonymous


(Photo Credit Sarah Bouvier, CPL Library Communications Manager)

On April 1, Cranston Public Library’s (CPL’s) Central branch was the gathering place for over 50 library colleagues and special guests for a “Conversation on the State of Our Libraries,” with U.S. Senator Jack Reed and Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), as featured speakers. CPL Director Ed Garcia warmly welcomed guests and turned the podium over to Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who gratefully acknowledged that Senator Reed has long been a champion of libraries.


Senator Reed focused his remarks on the “new and improved” Museum and Library Services Act of 2018, which was signed into law on December 31, 2018. “All Americans are beneficiaries of libraries,” the Senator said. “We are not individual islands—this is a connected system.” Emphasizing the critical nature of these partnerships, he went on to extol the Act’s legislative highlights in making libraries hubs for community involvement and providing crucial support for digital, financial, and other literacies, as well as fostering lifelong learning. Senator Reed also expressed his “special duty” as successor to the late Senator Claiborne Pell to support the IMLS, which he recognized as an important part of the Pell legacy.


Dr. Matthew opened her talk by explaining why the Institute chose its “Transforming Communities” theme for its new Strategic Plan. Libraries must “turn inside out to connect with what your constituents feel is important,” she said, declaring that libraries should “work with the momentum of their communities—it’s not up to the IMLS to say what that is.” Therefore, she continued, that’s why the IMLS has a new mission to “advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development.”



Senator Reed, Dr. Matthew, CPL Director Ed Garcia, and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung

Senator Reed, Dr. Matthew, CPL Director Ed Garcia, and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung

(Photo Credit: Sarah Bouvier, CPL Library Communications Manager)


The enthusiastic crowd was especially appreciative of Dr. Matthew’s announcement that all small states will now benefit from a reconfigured IMLS funding formula, with Rhode Island receiving $1,086,913 in 2019. She offered tips for applying for IMLS grants, which include reviewing the Institute’s Strategic Plan, forming meaningful community collaborations and partnerships, understanding the impact of projects (including how to both pilot and evaluate them), anchoring work in what’s already been discovered, and using known data and practice to take risks to evolve. Dr. Matthew also pointed her audience to the IMLS “Biscuits vs. Granola” blog post of June 18, 2018 for practical advice on “how practitioners can scale up a new idea.”


In her conclusion, Dr. Matthew emphasized the need for efforts to “identify opportunities for further capacity- and skill-building” as an essential part of “understanding the social wellbeing impacts of the nation’s libraries and museums. ” A January 2017 “Community Catalyst” report is available online to help with this process.


In the next segment of the program, during which library staff from around the state spoke about new projects and initiatives, Rhode Island Chief of Library Services Karen Mellor kicked things off by recognizing that “We are one of the handful of states that enshrines the right to library services in its Constitution” and by acknowledging that an “extensive network allows Rhode Island to move forward with innovative projects and respond to the needs of all library types.”


Danielle Margarida of OLIS addresses the group

Danielle Margarida of OLIS addresses the group

(Photo Credit: Sarah Bouvier, CPL Library Communications Manager)


Select speakers then spoke for a few minutes each about resourceful, transformative library projects and services happening in Rhode Island. These include:

  • The Office of Library and Information Services’ (OLIS) participation in the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) pilot cohort of Transforming Teen Services: A Train the Trainer Approach. Through this project, Danielle Margarida, OLIS Youth Services Coordinator, and Rebecca Ott, Tiverton Public Library Teen Librarian, have been trained to transform teen services by training teen librarians to feel more comfortable integrating connected learning and computational thinking into teen programs and services. The project is being implemented by YALSA in partnership with the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies and is funded by the IMLS.

  • The My Woonsocket Life Studio Rhode project at Woonsocket Public Library, described by Library Director Leslie Page as a means to “get people in the community thinking about community identity” through short videos in which patrons talk about the past, present, and future of the city.

  • The EXCITE Transformation for Libraries “boot camp” training program, in which several RI libraries (including teams from Bryant University, CPL, and Westerly Public Library) were joined by other library teams from around the Northeast to learn how to “reverse engineer” programming and services to better meet the needs of patrons. Julie Holden (Assistant Director, CPL), Maura Keating (Research and Instruction Librarian, Douglas and Judith Krupp Library, Bryant University), and Bill Lancelotta (Assistant Director, Westerly Public Library) described how the training provided valuable tools for refining the design thinking process and enabling library staff to connect with communities in new and exciting ways. Funding for the training is made possible by IMLS grant # RE-95-17-0068-17 in the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program.

  • Using virtual reality to “bring” attractions to Providence Community Library (PCL) patrons, as discussed by Library Director Cheryl Space and IT Manager David Sok. Virtual Providence is a series of 360-degree video tours of cultural institutions in Providence created by local teens in the library.” PCL has also developed a Computer Builders program that teaches kids and teens how to build computers, which are then fitted with a plaque with their names and added to the computer lab. This is an ongoing program that began in 2017.

Written by Zach Berger, RILA Communications


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