by  Eugene Hainer,  Colorado State Library


There is an old adage about State Library agencies; if you’ve seen one, then you’ve seen one. The reason for this is that states have many ways of organizing and providing the services under the broad umbrella term of “State Library” and variations thereof. No two are truly alike.

Responsibilities and authority for overseeing some—or all—library types vary widely. Some are full-service, walk-in facilities (sometimes) charged with preserving statewide history and artifacts. Others receive and manage distributions of direct aid to libraries; some are offices within a state-run agency such as education or the secretary of state. Still others are separate entities under the auspices of an appointed board, academic facility, or commission. Regardless of the organizational differences, one commonality is that all State Libraries offer programs and services that directly or indirectly enhance resident’s ability to use libraries and access information.

To illustrate some of the many ways State Library agencies help the public and library staff, here are four examples of programs that originated at the Colorado State Library.

Technology Opens Books & Cell Doors
The Institutional Library Development (ILD) unit at the Colorado State Library helps adults and youth held in state operated detention facilities use technology to reach out to family members and increase literacy. Read to the Children and ROCKSTAR are two programs that allow them to record a book onto CD or DVD, then send the book and recording to their child or sibling. Resources are provided by the Colorado State Library, the correctional agency, and the participant so that all have a stake in program success. ILD staff plays an important role advocating for offenders’ ability to reach out to their families.
Another ILD program has made Playaway® readers available through a partnership with the Division of Youth Corrections libraries to make reading an enjoyable activity. The Playaway® readers are circulated with the printed book so students can listen while reading along. ILD staff plays an important role advocating for access to technology and information in environments where access to both is strictly limited.

Research Institute for Public Libraries
Helping passionate library staff better understand library evaluation was the impetus behind the Research Institute for Public Libraries. In July 2015, one-hundred librarians, plus 30+ instructors and facilitators gathered at a secluded, yet beautiful resort in Colorado Springs, Colorado as part of a “data boot camp.” Managed by the Colorado State Library and Colorado Library Consortium, RIPL was a national, three-day event for immersive learning about evaluation. The target audience for the first iteration of RIPL was public librarians, administrators, and any other staff¬ who wanted to develop their skills in evaluation and data use for planning, management, and demonstrating library impact. This event, and the follow-up planned for 2016, created a unique learning experience for participants. Comments from the first RIPL included, “The topics covered were extremely relevant and timely for my needs as a public library administrator. I loved the combination of big picture planning, identifying community needs, and measuring outcomes in addition to very specific tasks like creating a surveys and infographics;” and “RIPL was one of the most rewarding and useful professional development opportunities that I have attended in my career.”

Colorado Libraries Take On Comic Con
In a more unconventional setting, the Colorado State Library coordinated the library presence for 23 different districts at the Denver Comic Con May 23-25, 2015. With a total attendance over 100,000 at the 3-day event, library staff was able to present on educational panels, showcase library makerspace activities, do a library card sign-up, and provide materials promoting summer reading events in area libraries. The Denver Comic Con is unique because it is the main fundraising activity for the literacy non-profit Pop Culture Classroom, which encourages the convention to take on a more educational approach for attendees. The event attracted the attention of the American Library Association’s Graphic Novel Interest Group, who sponsored Colorado library efforts and promoted the results nationally.

Youth Services for the Autism Spectrum: Expanding Accessibility in the Community
Another function of State Library agencies is providing grants, using either state or federal funds. One example of this is an LSTA grant provided by the Colorado State Library to the Longmont Public Library. This grant created an award-winning project to provide enhanced library services for Longmont children and teens with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The library held after-hours programming designed specifically for this group, along with weekend sensory story times to engage the community in ways to recognize and deal with ASD. The library also offered professional development workshops for library staff to develop strategies for working with children and teens with ASD. This is an example of how state funding for developing local partnerships between libraries and other agencies can result in exemplary projects for the library community. This project was recognized as the project of the year (2014) by the Colorado Association of Libraries, and written up as an exemplar project by IMLS.

In summary, no matter what name they use or what responsibilities they have under the law of their home state, State Library agencies provide a wide variety of services and support for library staff and the public. These are just four of many examples. If you haven’t checked out your own State Library lately, take a look at what they’re doing and ask what they can do for you. You just might be surprised at what yours has to offer.