What follows are recommendations that are designed to provide an outline for actions that would result in improved public library services for all Virginians. If implemented, the consultants believe that they would ensure 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." If the recommendations are ignored, it is our opinion that the gap between the high performing and the marginal libraries in the State will grow and that an increasing number of Virginians will be deprived of a valuable resource that can help them succeed in school, on the job, and in their daily lives.
The recommendations, like the findings, are organized into four major topics. They are:
• QUALITY OF PUBLIC LIBRARY SERVICES
• EQUITY OF ACCESS TO QUALITY PUBLIC LIBRARY SERVICES
• ADVOCACY/PUBLIC AWARENESS
While the recommendations are not presented in a priority order, we believe that it is important to point out that the four categories are highly interrelated. It is unlikely that libraries will receive additional funding unless there is greater and more effective advocacy for public libraries. Libraries are unlikely to be able to address the issue of equitable access to quality library services without increased funding. Finally, universal access to quality public library services will not be a reality in Virginia until the equity issue is confronted.
Quality of Public Library Services
Recommendation # 1
Review, revise, and strengthen public library standards.
The publication entitled Planning for Library Excellence, last revised in the year 2000, serves as Virginia’s standards for public libraries. The document, which reflects a great deal of work over a considerable number of years by the Library of Virginia’s Library Development and Networking Division, by members of the Virginia Public Library Directors’ Association (VPLDA), by the Virginia Library Association, and by individuals in the State’s public library community, is comprehensive and well organized.
However, much has changed in public libraries in the last five years and the consultants believe that the time has come to review. revise, and strengthen the document. While every section should be revisited, the technology chapter is particularly out of date. It is also recommended that the revised standards should include new content related to collaboration and partnerships.
Whatever group is asked to spearhead the effort (the consultants believe that VPLDA may be the best choice if they are willing to assume the task), part of the charge should be to attempt to enhance the "user friendliness" of the standards. Consideration should be given to organizing the basic standards in a checklist format that can be used by library directors with their library boards to foster a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the library.
In carrying out the revision, those working on the task should recognize that they are, in effect, defining quality library service. An effort should be made to identify how meeting the standards will improve services to the end user and to offer examples of how achieving the standards will benefit the communities being served by the library.
Recommendation # 2
Review and seek the strengthening of Code of Virginia and administrative rules regarding the certification of public library directors.
It is truly unfortunate that Virginia has been losing rather than gaining ground in terms of public library certification requirements. The increase in the service population that triggers the certification requirement followed by the reinterpretation of Code language leaves Virginia with a certification requirement that has little or no teeth. The fact that these changes have taken place at a time when public libraries are becoming more complex and more technical makes the erosion of the certification requirements even more regrettable.
It is the consultants’ opinion that a master’s degree in library science (MLS) from a program accredited by the American Library Association should be the minimum requirement for ALL public libraries in Virginia that receive State aid. A population base below which certification is not required does nothing more than underscore the idea that small communities don’t need library services on a par with larger communities. It also provides a convenient mechanism for avoiding participation in regional systems that have proven to be cost effective and responsive to their regions. While the consultants do not wish to disparage library workers who do not hold the MLS, and while there are undoubtedly capable individuals with considerable experience who do not hold the degree, a weakening of the certification requirements, taken to their logical end, will result in a larger number of inadequate libraries.
Recommendation # 3
Develop a comprehensive curriculum for all library workers based on recognized skills and competencies and implement a coordinated program of continuing education.
As Virginia has been weakening its certification requirements, some other states are expanding their efforts to ensure that all library workers possess the skills and competencies needed to offer quality services in 21st Century public libraries. Significant work is being done by state library agencies, state library associations, and library schools to identify and develop extensive programs aimed at equipping library staff with the skills they need to provide modern library and information services. An excellent web site that provides an overview of such efforts as well as links to providers of continuing education can be found at:
Virginia lacks a significant continuing education provider that is available in many states in that there is no American Library Association master’s program in the State. This places a greater burden on the Library of Virginia, the Virginia Library Association, and on individual libraries to develop and implement the types of educational experiences that will ensure library workers have the tools they need to do their jobs well.
The consultants believe that the Library of Virginia is best suited to coordinate continuing education for library workers in the commonwealth. However, to do so, the agency will require at least one additional professional position and clerical support. The role of this staff member would be to work with all libraries and all providers of continuing education to develop a curriculum for library workers. Virginia can build on the work of others. A number of eastern seaboard states have been working together on leadership initiatives and several states have well developed library assistant programs. The Western Council of State Libraries has done an impressive amount of work identifying basic skills and competencies. If Virginia’s libraries are going to be exceptional, then Virginia’s library workers need exceptional skills.
Recommendation # 4
Encourage the Virginia Library Association to develop an annual awards program to recognize libraries that meet or exceed standards.
Standards are often seen as rules to be enforced rather than as being the right thing to do. Virginia needs to encourage public libraries to meet standards by offering incentives as well as by enforcing penalties. The consultants believe that the Virginia Library Association can play an important role in offering such incentives.
Retail establishments often display certificates that proclaim that they were voted "the best delicatessen" or "the best florist" in an online or newspaper readers’ poll. The consultants occasionally encounter libraries that fly banners proclaiming that they are among the top ten libraries in Hennen’s American Public Library Ratings (the HAPLR index). This type of recognition is often used as a source of pride AND as a mechanism to motivate staff and to increase public support.
An annual awards program organized and carried out by the Virginia Library Association would provide positive reinforcement to libraries that are striving to meet or exceed a full range of standards. The consultants envision Board members coming to their directors asking why a nearby community was recognized and why their library was not. This would offer an opportunity to point out the areas which need to be improved to qualify for the award in subsequent years.
The Virginia Public Library Directors’ Association already has an awards program. VPLDA and VLA could possibly work together to develop award criteria and to review library performance on selected standards each year.
Equity of Access to Quality Public Library Services
Recommendation # 5
Support and pursue legislative action on a slightly modified version of the recommendations of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s (JLARC) recommendations.
The JLARC Review of State Aid to Public Libraries that was conducted in the year 2000 provides an excellent road map for library improvement. The consultants concur with nearly every recommendation of the Commission. The modifications that we are recommending are refinements rather than a rejection of JLARC’s findings.
Recommendation # 6
Support JLARC’s suggestion that "add on" (an additional funding program) to the State Aid formula be instituted to address the ability, or lack of ability, of certain areas to support public library services adequately.
The consultants believe that addressing the equity issue is one of the most important recommendations, if not the most important recommendation, we are offering. Virginia will not be able to claim that it has high quality public library service until it addresses the significant disparities in service that exist. As we illustrated earlier, most of these disparities are, at least in part, economically based.
The consultants agree with JLARC’s suggestion that the legislature consider an "add on" (an additional funding program) category of State Aid. Furthermore, we strongly recommend that this add-on program be elevated to the highest priority for funding. In other words, the "equity package" of funding should be fully funded before other components of state aid are calculated. Full funding for the equity package might be used as a trigger mechanism to lift or extend the population cap and/or expenditure caps.
The consultants envision this new program to be separate from the current State Aid formula. That is, this new program would not change or adjust the current State Aid distribution method. Rather, it would be a standalone program that reflects the inability of some areas of the State to adequately fund public library service.
The consultants also agree with JLARC that the use of updated data similar to that provided in the State’s Report on the Revenue Capacity, Revenue Effort, and Fiscal Stress of Virginia’s Counties and Cities is a fair way of determining need. These data reflect actual conditions that make it difficult for some jurisdictions to fund libraries adequately. However, in order to make the additional program effective, it would need to be funded at a level that is sufficient to really make a difference. As many as twenty-five or thirty library jurisdictions might be included in an equity add-on program. It is anticipated that at least $ 4 million would need to be dedicated to this type of program if it is expected to have a noticeable impact on library services in economically stressed areas.
Recommendation # 7
Shift the funding for Find It Virginia from Federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) monies to State revenues.
Find It Virginia is one of the most significant tools available to the State to address equal access to information and consequently, equal educational opportunity. Many other states that began funding their statewide database licensing programs with LSTA funds have been able to shift their programs to state revenue streams. This accomplishment recognizes the importance and the success of statewide database access programs.
Find It Virginia should also be expanded to include licenses for services such as tutor.com, which is an online homework help service. Governor Bob Riley of Alabama recently announced that his state would begin offering free access to the service to any child in Alabama with a library card. This resource is an invaluable tool that is directly related to student achievement. The service is currently available through at least one of Virginia’s regional libraries. Making the service accessible statewide would be an important step in offering quality services to all who wish to learn.
Shifting Find It Virginia from Federal to State funding would also have a significant secondary affect. At the present time, libraries in Virginia lack a source of funding for innovation and experimentation. In many states, LSTA funds are used to fund pilot projects, to offer competitive grants to libraries who are willing to try alternative delivery mechanisms and to encourage the adoption of new technologies. We have addressed this issue under a separate recommendation on innovation.
Recommendation # 8
Retain the three factors – population, square miles, and local expenditures – as the basis for calculating State Aid.
The three factors applied in determining State Aid reflect conditions that have an impact on quality library service. Population reflects the fact that serving more people takes additional resources. Square miles reflects the reality that effectively serving a large geographic area often entails branch locations, bookmobiles, and other outreach efforts that have costs associated with them. The local expenditure factor recognizes the partnership that exists between the State and local units of government in providing library services. Local governments that are willing to support services should be encouraged to do so through financial incentives.
Recommendation # 9
Remove the population cap that is applicable under the current formula.
While the population cap currently penalizes only one jurisdiction, the day may come when it affects others as well. As stated above, the population factor is in place to reflect the fact that larger populations require money to serve adequately. Areas that experience rapid population growth typically also face substantial infrastructure costs that have an impact on other funding priorities. Removing the caps ensures that jurisdictions faced with this situation will receive an increase in State Aid that will help them maintain quality services. Furthermore, removal of the cap at this time has a relatively small financial impact. Waiting until Fairfax County grows even larger and until multiple jurisdictions fall under the cap will place the legislature in a situation similar to what they are facing with the revenue cap. The cost of removing the cap will eventually become prohibitive.
However, the removal of the population cap, and even more importantly, any adjustment of the expenditure cap, must be done in a manner that holds other jurisdictions harmless. Growing areas should not be compensated at the expense of other areas, many of which lack adequate capacity to support library services at a high level. Even if a hold harmless provision is built into the formula at the "full funding" level, the impact of the removal of the population and expenditure caps must be considered under partial funding scenarios to prevent a shifting of funds away from the struggling areas of the state and toward growth areas.
Recommendation # 10
Adjust, and then index the revenue cap and revisit the cap every five years for possible readjustment.
The revenue cap is the source of a considerable degree of unfairness in the State Aid formula. Over one third of the libraries in the State are now affected by the cap which serves to negate one of the purposes of the original State Aid formula – encouraging local expenditure for libraries. The problem that exists is that the revenue cap has not been adjusted for fifteen years. During that time, local funding for many libraries has soared and an increasing number of libraries have been affected by the cap.
Almost everyone, including the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, agrees that the expenditure cap is problematic. An ever increasing number of localities are not being recognized for their contribution to library services. However, nearly everyone is afraid to tinker with the cap for one or more of several reasons. A complete removal of the cap would either be very expensive (JLARC estimated that a tripling of State Aid would be necessary to hold harmless the two thirds of the libraries not under the cap) or would severely penalize two thirds of the libraries in the State including most of those that are in economically distressed areas.
Because this situation will only grow worse over time, the consultants believe that a three step process should be followed. A one time adjustment larger than the 3% per year adjustment suggested by JLARC should be made. The adjustment should be accompanied by the amount of money necessary to hold harmless all libraries not affected by the cap. This adjustment is likely to cost the State nearly $ 8 million. The new cap should then be adjusted annually as suggested by JLARC using the Consumer Price Index as a guide. JLARC further recommended revisiting the expenditure cap every ten years. The consultants believe that it should be readjusted at five year intervals to prevent the current dire situation from reoccurring at regular intervals.
In short, to achieve a fair application of the State Aid formula, the expenditure cap should be removed; however, providing enough additional funding to protect two thirds of the libraries is unlikely. The consultants therefore recommend a significant adjustment that falls between JLARC’s recommendation and a complete lifting of the cap.
Recommendation # 11
Seek restoration of funding for the Infopowering the Commonwealth program including Find It Virginia as well as grants for computers and network equipment.
Virginia’s libraries must be technologically advanced if they are going to continue to be relevant to the people of the Commonwealth. Although the consultants believe that books will continue to dominate library collections for many years to come, nevertheless, computers and computer based devices will continue to expand their domination in reference and information services.
We have already discussed the merits of Find It Virginia and have stressed the importance of that resource as a tool that extends equitable access to quality information resources to all Virginians. We have also alluded to the benefits associated with moving the Find It Virginia licenses to State funding. However, the consultants believe that the Infopowering program must also include funding for computers and network devices as well.
In order to remain current, libraries must develop rolling replacement schedules that allow for a complete turnover of equipment every four to five years. For most libraries, this kind of replacement schedule is just a dream. Gates computers are nearing the end of their useful lives. Every day, thousands of Virginias turn to public libraries as their primary source of computers. They depend on the equipment for communication, for education, and for consumer and health information. Classes held in computer labs in libraries help residents of the Commonwealth develop marketable job skills and help students hone their information literacy skills. A robust Infopowering program is an excellent investment.
Recommendation # 12
Seek a separate construction bonding program to promote new public library building and expansion of current facilities.
We have already seen the importance of public library buildings in the lives of their communities. They are more than just brick and mortar. They are, in many cases, the heart and soul of their communities. The JLARC study of five years ago recognized the need for a source of capital funding to renovate and expand existing buildings and to construct new facilities.
A funding program for construction such as the one envisioned by the legislature in the year 2000 makes sense on several fronts. If nothing else, such a program could help to address significant handicapped accessibility problems that exist across the State. Inaccessible restrooms, non-compliant or non-existent ramps, shelving spacing that fails to meet the ADA Guidelines and the lack of handicapped parking abound. Addressing these issues should be a high priority.
Secondly, new and expanded facilities can have a significant impact on a local economy. As the most significant public building in the community, a library can be used as a catalyst to encourage private investment in aging city centers. It can be used as a mechanism to encourage higher density development and to fight urban sprawl in the "New Urbanism" mode.
Many other states, including Delaware, Massachusetts and California, have well developed programs that provide a significant percentage of the cost of new library construction. For example, the Delaware program provides 50% of construction costs. The consultants believe that this kind of program is merited and that it would have a significant positive impact both on library services and on the communities in which new or expanded facilities are built. However, it should also be recognized that the administration of such a program would require additional staff within the Library Development and Networking Division. At least one professional with significant library facilities experience and full-time clerical support would be required to implement this type of program.
Recommendation # 13
A significant portion of Federal LSTA funds liberated through a shifting of the Find It Virginia program should be used to support pilot projects and innovative approaches to offering service.
At the present time, Virginia’s public libraries lack a source of funding for innovation. Libraries find themselves in the uncomfortable position of being a highly technical knowledge industry with little ability to carry out any research and development activities. If the Virginia Library community is successful in getting State support for Find It Virginia, LSTA could be used for a variety of important purposes including fostering innovation.
For example, LSTA could provide the initial funding for a 24X7 virtual reference network that would enable all Virginians to get real-time answers to reference queries anytime day or night via telephone or through the Internet. LSTA funds could also be used to encourage the development of shared automation consortia serving multiple library jurisdictions.
Several states (Indiana is one example) have used or are using LSTA funds to begin the development of statewide virtual libraries patterned after the Library of Congress’ American Memory project.
Recommendation # 14
Develop an "Ohio Library Council" model for advocacy.
Ohio is widely heralded as a model for public library funding. The activity of the Ohio Library Council (OLC) over many years is at least in part responsible for the unparalleled funding received by Ohio’s public libraries. OLC serves as Ohio’s public library association, as a coordinator of continuing education and, most importantly, as the center of legislative advocacy and lobbying activity on behalf of the State’s public libraries.
While OLC has individual members, institutional memberships are stressed. A large number of Ohio libraries are "Honor Roll" libraries and pay dues on behalf of all of their staff. In addition, many other libraries pay healthy dues on a sliding scale that enables full-time professional lobbying activity on behalf of libraries. OLC also encourages memberships from automation vendors, book jobbers, and other commercial entities that benefit from healthy public libraries. More information on the Ohio Library Council can be found at:
We are not recommending an OLC model for advocacy because we believe that Virginia needs another library association. The model we are suggesting might well find its home in the Virginia Library Association or, alternatively, it might be an extension of the Virginia Public Library Directors’ Association. The point is that if Virginia hopes to provide high quality public library services to all of its citizens, the library community must ratchet up the level of its legislative, advocacy, and lobbying activity.
While the expectation that the Library of Virginia will serve as an advocate (not a lobbyist) for public libraries is reasonable, it is NOT reasonable to expect that the Library of Virginia will be able to deliver the full measure of initiatives and funding outlined throughout this report. The OLC model recognizes that advocacy is more than a part time activity. Virginia has benefited from the hard work of many dedicated individuals who have worked tirelessly for many years on behalf of Virginia’s libraries. The Virginia Library Association’s legislative advocate has been a tremendous asset to libraries as well. However, as public dollars have become increasingly hard to come by, libraries in many states have come to recognize that the time has come to take advocacy and lobbying to the next level.
Recommendation # 15
Organize and prepare library trustees and members of library Friends organizations to be advocates for libraries.
The consultants believe that library trustees and Friends are underutilized as advocates for libraries in Virginia. We are aware that there have been efforts to establish a statewide Friends organization and that there is a Trustees and Friends Forum within the Virginia Library Association. However, neither of these efforts represents an effective mechanism for mobilizing the skills and political influence of citizens who love and care about libraries.
We believe that the OLC model described above could be used as a means to develop a dedicated and organized corps of well-informed citizens who could speak, both locally and at the State level, on behalf of libraries. The paid staff at the OLC-style organization could contact every director in the State and could identify and recruit a few as one trustee and one Friend from each library to serve as part of a Friends and Trustees Legislative Network.
Training and legislative issues sessions could be held in each region across the State on a regular basis. A listserv could be utilized to inform network members of pending legislation, issues of importance and to mobilize the troops when phone calls and letters to legislators are needed.
Recommendation # 16
The Library of Virginia and the Virginia Public Library Directors’ Association should work together to develop a more symbiotic, synergistic relationship.
Unlike state library agencies in some states that exist primarily for the purpose of fostering public library development, the Library of Virginia is a multi-faceted organization with a wide variety of responsibilities. Many public library directors have perceived the emphasis that the Library of Virginia has placed on some of its other priorities as a lack of interest in public libraries. Whether or not the perception matches reality, there is room for improvement in the relationship between and among the public library community, the Librarian of Virginia, and the Library of Virginia Board.
The consultants believe that there is much to be gained through a more symbiotic, synergistic relationship between the Library of Virginia and the public libraries of the State. The dispersion of public libraries throughout the State provides the Library of Virginia with a widespread network of institutions that share many of the same goals as the Library of Virginia and that could act as a distribution point for information and services as well as a widespread advocacy network. On the other hand, the Library Virginia is a well-respected and highly visible institution in the State Capital that is obviously associated with libraries. Greater visibility of the Library of Virginia in regard to public library issues could assist efforts to improve the overall quality of public library services in the Commonwealth.
The consultants recommend that the Library of Virginia Board meet with representatives of the Virginia Public Library Directors’ Association to explore ways in which the Library of Virginia and public libraries can coordinate efforts to support each other.
Recommendation # 17
The Library of Virginia should work with the public library community to seek support from foundations to develop and implement a major public awareness campaign on behalf of public libraries.
Although many Virginians use their public libraries regularly, many others are largely unaware of the depth and breadth of services that libraries offer and of the relevance of those services to their own lives. A major media campaign is needed to address this situation.
Because some might question the propriety of using tax dollars to support a public relations campaign, the consultants believe that foundation support should be solicited for this purpose. As a highly respected statewide institution, the Library of Virginia is in an excellent position to seek such funding and to supervise the development and implementation of the public awareness effort.
Virginia might adopt a model used by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) to carry out such an effort. MBLC was able to convince historian and author David McCullough to act as a spokesperson for public libraries in a professionally produced campaign. Given that Virginia is home to a large number of significant authors and historians, many of whom are familiar with the Library of Virginia, the consultants believe that one or more high profile authors could be located who would be willing to lend their name(s) and their time to the effort.
While the consultants believe that action is needed on all 17 of the recommendations presented above, a variety of factors suggest that immediate attention can be given to some while acting on others will require considerably more extensive groundwork and preparation. The consultants have identified four of the recommendations that, in our opinion, should be addressed without delay.
Two of the priorities that we have identified (Recommendation # 14 and Recommendation # 16) do not require any legislative action nor do they require any appropriation of tax dollars. Furthermore, making progress on these two fronts will enhance the capability of the library community to move forward on other recommended actions.
Recommendation # 14 calls for the development of an "Ohio Library Council" model for advocacy. While implementing this suggestion will require financial support, exploration of the concept and the initial planning required to apply this model to Virginia’s unique situation will not. The consultants believe that the Virginia Public Library Directors’ Association is the most likely candidate to convene a gathering of interested parties.
Recommendation # 16, which calls for the development of a more symbiotic/synergistic relationship between the Library of Virginia and the Commonwealth’s public libraries, can also be accomplished without the appropriation of additional public funds. The Library of Virginia Board could appoint a special committee or could designate an existing committee to convene a meeting that would include the Library of Virginia Board, Library of Virginia senior staff (not just staff from the Library Development and Networking Division), members of the Virginia Public Library Directors’ Association, and a facilitator. The consultants recommend using a modified version of a specific process referred to as a "Future Search." More information about the Future Search process can be found at:
The consultants believe that a concerted effort should be made to begin work on two of the other recommendations as soon as possible. Recommendation # 2 calls for a review of the certification issue and an effort to strengthen Code of Virginia and administrative rules regarding the certification of public library directors. We recommend rapid action on this issue for two reasons. First, we believe that professional leadership is a core component necessary for achieving high quality public library and information services in Virginia. Secondly, we believe that quick action in response to the recent gutting of the effectiveness of Virginia’s certification program is necessary to make it clear that Virginia intends to strengthen, not weaken, standards of quality in regard to public library services.
The last of the four recommendations that the consultants believe should receive rapid attention is # 6. While accomplishing the goal of having a discrete category of State Aid that would address equity will certainly take an extended period of time, we believe that this recommendation is at the heart of the challenge facing public library services in Virginia. Exploration of the best method for instituting such a program should begin immediately simply because it is so important. As was illustrated in the introduction to this report, libraries can fulfill many vital roles that have a positive impact on individuals and on the communities in which they live. Addressing the equity issue is important not just for libraries. It is a matter of statewide importance.