In November 2004, the Library of Virginia issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for assistance in conducting a comprehensive study of public library services in the Commonwealth. The charge to prospective consultants was extensive. The RFP stated that, "The results of this study will assist the Library of Virginia in assuring that the Commonwealth’s public libraries are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century as valued community resources responsive to the rapid change in technology and society."
In carrying out the charge, the Himmel & Wilson team made a concerted effort to learn as much as possible about Virginia’s public libraries. Between March and July 2005, the consultants visited more than sixty libraries in every region of the State. Included in the site visits were large urban libraries and small rural facilities, branch libraries and main libraries, brand new suburban facilities and facilities that have served as libraries for many decades in well established communities. In most instances, the consultants were able to interview the director or branch manager. Library staff members were also interviewed or, in some cases, participated in group sessions.
In addition, twelve focus groups were held with library directors and thirteen sessions were held with library trustees and representatives of "Friends" organizations. These sessions were held in thirteen different locations throughout the State ranging from Arlington to Lebanon and from Roanoke and Chatham to Hampton and Chesapeake. A total of 159 people participated in these sessions.
The consultants met with library directors at the meeting of the Virginia Public Library Director’s Association in Graves Mountain in April 2005. Several web-based surveys were used to solicit ideas and opinions from the Virginia library community. One survey that targeted directors and project Steering Committee members explored the current and future roles of the Library of Virginia in library development activities. There were 124 responses to this survey. Another series of surveys sought opinions from reference librarians, children’s service librarians, technology staff, and general library staff in addition to directors. These surveys garnered a total of 536 responses.
Personal interviews were conducted with a total of 26 individuals (in addition to interviews with directors and branch managers during site visits). Among those interviewed were members of the Virginia House of Delegates; representatives of the Library of Virginia, including the Librarian of Virginia; representatives of the Virginia Library Association (VLA), including the President, Past President, Executive Director, and the legislative advocate; representatives of organizations representing cities and counties in the Commonwealth; and staff of the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Community College System.
The consultants also reviewed a significant amount of background information and analyzed statistical information related to the public library services offered to the people Virginia. Comparisons were made both between the performance of Virginia’s public libraries and those in other states, and among Virginia’s public libraries.
Finally, the consultants were privileged to work with a Steering Committee composed of talented individuals committed to quality public library services and with the staff of the Library of Virginia’s Library Development and Networking Division. The consultants met with the Steering Committee and with staff on several occasions during the project to gain insight into the challenges facing Virginia’s public libraries and to gauge reactions to emerging findings and recommendations. The consultants also held sessions in Arlington, Charlottesville, Newport News, Henrico County, Halifax and Pulaski to share preliminary findings with the library community. A total of 45 people attended these sessions.s