About your work with libraries and MBLC
What (or who) led you to a career in libraries?
In the early 90s, I was a research assistant at a think tank in Washington, DC, having
recently finished grad school in public policy and administration in NYC. I was regularly
doing research at the Library of Congress, the National Archives, and some presidential
libraries, and I started thinking about working in the library field, particularly with public
libraries. I decided to go to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s graduate
library and information science program, received a fellowship, and was able to complete
the program in one calendar year. I started out working as an adult/reference librarian at
the New York Public Library at the Mott Haven branch in the South Bronx and I’ve been
very happy to be in the library field ever since then—it’s rewarding work that I strongly
believe in and a great fit for me.
What do you like best about your work at the MBLC?
I like knowing that we are supporting—through leadership, funding, advisory services,
and partnerships—equal access to key core and innovative library programs and services
that improve the lives of all the Commonwealth’s residents. I also like working with the
enthusiastic and dedicated folks in the Massachusetts library community.
What are the greatest challenges?
Funding and organizational capacity for us and for our affiliates and partners: the
Massachusetts Library System, the Library for the Commonwealth at the Boston Public
Library, the Perkins and Worcester Talking Book Libraries, the Massachusetts Center for
the Book, and the nine automated library networks.
Do you have a vision for library service in Massachusetts?
I share the MBLC’s vision of the Commonwealth’s libraries being successful by
providing equitable and universal access to services, information, collections, and
programs; meeting a broad multitude of needs in their communities; and being essential
to a functioning democracy.
The MBLC recently approved a legislative agenda for next year. How will this affect the library community and, in particular, school libraries? What does the best-case scenario bring to libraries?
We are focusing on three items this year: two in our operating budget—our State Aid to Regional Libraries line (7000-9401) and the Library Technology and Resources Sharing line (7000-9506); and on the capital side, the Massachusetts
Public Library Construction program.
Line 7000-9401 supports the Massachusetts Library System (MLS) and the Boston Public Library in its role as the Library for the Commonwealth. MLS provided delivery of approximately 15 million items to libraries across the state last year; funds statewide databases and e-books in partnership with the MBLC; and provides training, consulting, temporary staffing and much more to help its more than 1,600 public, academic, school and special library members. The Library for the Commonwealth provides access for all Massachusetts residents to collections including eBooks, databases, downloadable audiobooks, and digital magazines; to reference and research assistance, education and skill-building tools, and to cultural heritage materials held by Massachusetts libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives through the Digital Commonwealth. 7000-9401 is down 41% from a high of $17.6 million in FY2002. However, costs for one of the major activities covered by this line, statewide delivery, have increased 45% since 2011, and now take up 60% of MLS’s budget. Because of this, some libraries no longer receive delivery, there are delivery delays, and last year some libraries paid a fee for the delivery sorting process. Funding for this line is critically important, particularly for strengthening our statewide delivery program and making it sustainable for the future.
Line 7000-9506 primarily funds our nine Automated Networks (including CWMARS, for this part of the state) and a portion of the statewide databases and electronic resources (also funded in part with federal funds from the Institute of
Museum and Library Services--IMLS) that we provide in partnership with MLS. Recent statewide database statistics show that school libraries are the heaviest users of statewide databases (over 65% of FY2018 users). Five of the top ten
libraries that used the databases the most in 2018 were school libraries. Increased funding for 7000-9506 would lower network membership costs for libraries; increase digital collections for patrons, add internet bandwidth, and allow for investments in technology that provide patrons with better access to materials. Our third funding priority for this year is on the capital side: We are requesting $250 million in new bond funding for the MA Public Library Construction Program in order to fund the projects on our waitlist as well as offer our next planning and design and construction grant rounds.
In addition to things in the legislative agenda, how else does MBLC work with schools
and school libraries?
In addition to providing access to statewide databases and consulting services, the MBLC provides IMLS Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grants to school libraries. Recent grants to school libraries have supported STEM/STEAM initiatives; programs about healthy social media usage for teens; and technology and digital materials for students with learning disabilities. MBLC Commissioners and staff also served on or were involved with the Special Commission on School Library Services in Massachusetts. We are working with MSLA, DESE, and others in order to ensure the Commission’s recommendations for improving equity in the Commonwealth’s public schools, some of which involve the MBLC working with DESE, are adopted and implemented in a timely fashion.
What is the best way for school librarians and stakeholders to get involved with and/or
provide input to MBLC?
We encourage school librarians and stakeholders to contact us directly; we would be happy to hear from you. Our staff directory with contact information is available at: https://mblc.state.ma.us/about-us/contact-us.php. In preparing our legislative agenda and budget request each year, we gather input from school librarians and the entire Massachusetts library community about the budget lines that are funded by the MBLC. Additionally, school librarians are represented on the State Advisory Council on Libraries, which involves libraries and library users in policy decisions regarding the implementation of our LSTA program, including the awarding of direct grants to libraries of all types. School librarians are also involved with the statewide database advisory committee and provided input through surveys, database trials, and Q & A sessions that were held in conjunction with our most recent database procurement. Finally, the Commissioners have oversight responsibility for the MBLC and all its affiliates. We hold monthly board meetings that are open to the public (see https://mblc.state.ma.us/index.php for times and locations for upcoming meetings.) The Commissioners and staff also regularly attend our affiliates’ meetings and events, where we often get input from librarians from all library types.
You’ve worked in several states and at the national level. How do Massachusetts school libraries look when compared to other states?
I think the statewide support for school libraries and libraries of all types is good compared to many other states, but it could always be better. For example, having just come from New Jersey, where I represented the State Library in the state library association’s advocacy efforts for school libraries (see http://unlockstudentpotential.org/), I recommended that they consider adopting a version of the Commonwealth’s regulation for eligibility requirements for membership in MLS, including minimum staffing and education levels for school library media specialists (605 CMR 7.01). However, as a result of the Massachusetts School Library Study: Equity and Access for Students in the Commonwealth, we know more about the status of and inequities in our school libraries than is known in many other states. We need a national survey of school libraries (NCES used to do this but stopped in 2012) like the Public Library Survey that is conducted by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
What are your favorite non-library-related activities?
Reading, cycling, and travel. I used to row competitively but haven’t gotten back into it since returning to Boston, but I would like to at some point, even if just recreationally.
What are your favorite books? And what are you currently reading?
I mostly read nonfiction. I recently read Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life by Eric Klinenberg, which highlights the importance of shared community spaces, including libraries, for the future of democracies. I’m almost finished with Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your
Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence--it’s fascinating. I had read Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals several years ago and thought it was excellent.