Board Talk


Getting the word out: What can the library do for you?

by Daria Bossman, State Librarian

It is hard to get an image or an idea out of a person's mind most especially one that has been in the minds of Americans for generations. Libraries are the place where we store a bunch of mutually shared books … right? Wrong! Public libraries … even the smallest of public libraries these days are so much more than a room full of books. Changing that perception takes time. The IMLS, Institute Museum and Library Services, is our federal agency which lobbies on behalf of all 9,000 local U.S. public libraries. It is also the agency with which we report our statistics and with whom we consult and look to for advice and assistance. IMLS, like the State Library, has an advocacy function/mission. We are always looking for ways to "promote our local libraries" and to share information with the public about the library's expanding role as well as the specific services offered.

With so many folks now a days purchasing smart phones or iPads or Googling, it is important to remember that the local public library is one community space where everyone can go to have Internet access or get their questions answered. Librarians (people specifically trained in the art of finding information) are still the best "search engines" around! Your local librarian also has a network of hundreds of other librarians who equally love the job of sleuthing for information and resources others can't seem to find … and they have us at the State Library as well, if they are in a pinch!

One of your jobs as a Board member is to constantly "tell the story" of the library (its resources, services and staff) to your community. In fact, everyone should know you are on the Library Board! Here is one story that needs telling and retelling. (In fact, you have my permission to take the following two paragraphs as your own and publish in your local papers!)

Libraries are public spaces paid for by local citizen taxes! Today in South Dakota as in the nation, 98% of all our public libraries have computers for public use with Internet access. Public libraries also by and large are open extended hours beyond the work day. Public libraries want their community to know that these resources belong to them and are available for them. It is especially important for folks to know this if they do not own or have access to a personal computer or to the Internet. So many forms and applications today require online processing whether it is preparing our taxes, signing up for social security, managing insurance benefits, or applying for a job. It might be easy to think that "everyone" has a computer and Internet access. The truth is that regardless of demographics about half of any community does not have access to a personal computer or to the Internet. Librarians know this because they see daily the crowd line up for the privilege of using the public library computers, even in the smallest of communities. Last year nearly 1.2 million South Dakota citizens used the 979 public access computers available in our 112 public libraries (at 30 minute increments)! This is in a state with less than a million in total population!

Librarians are always ready to help find helpful resources. If asked, suggestions can be made about title or author based on readers' preferences without making judgments about their requests for information. Advisement is not given on political or personal issues, as there should not be. Librarians are good at finding information and finding it quickly! Consequently, librarians should constantly hone their skills to be able to find their patrons the most helpful and up-to-date resources, many times far beyond the patron's expectations. They've handed out tax forms for decades and shown citizens where to go to sign-up for social security, Medicare or food stamps ... or whatever the information need is at the moment. Librarians can get people to that information they requested whether it is a website, a database, a specific person or agency or information in a manual or book. This "art" honed over time also involves a strong development of your librarian's critical thinking skills. Public librarians and modern technology are available for the entire community and not just for a few well informed, educated or aware citizens.

Your task as a board member: Do what you can to reach out to the disenfranchised in your community. How can you advertise and market your public library's services? Remember, some just aren't thinking about all the other resources readily available to them. Others don't think of the public library as a good resource for their needs. The public library belongs to them as well.

Thank your librarian for her/his skills. Invest in their training and professional development. This will benefit your entire community. And when you have a question and can't seem to find the answer, give us a call! Our capable staff and senior librarian/consultants are here for our state's librarians. Our phone number: 1-800-423-6665.

PS. And speaking of resources: We here at the SDSL hope two new databases, Chilton's Auto Repair and Mango Languages, are available by the time you read this article. We are excited to be able to offer both statewide using our federal grant funds. Chilton's has been popular for decades in multivolume softcover book format. Now it is available online and most importantly, updated regularly. It is sure to be a hit with our public, school and technical school libraries and their patrons whether professional mechanics, lay folks or those acquiring auto repair skills. Also, explore the resources in Mango which is a database for learning other languages. Some of our college and school librarians have been requesting Mango for several years. We know these will be popular and used once local libraries get the word out - and people - See what the library of today can do for you!






board, community, IMLS

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