A site visit was conducted to the Northeast Texas Library System (NETLS) on January 7, 2002. Interviews were conducted with the NETLS coordinator, the TANG technician, and with a group of 16 library directors representing member libraries. The Northeast Texas Library System (NETLS) has 98 member libraries and 12 non-members, two of which were former members. NETLS members range widely in size. The Dallas Public Library, a member of NETLS, is the largest library in the state. The smallest library serves a community of 500 people. NETLS FY2002 System budget is about $1.4 million. The TANG budget is $60,000.

NETLS has 12 staff positions. These include the coordinator, assistant coordinator, library automation specialist, library technology specialist, media consultant, special services consultant, office manager, collection development clerk, film booking clerk, receptionist, general page, and media page. The NETLS coordinator's major responsibility is to facilitate the planning process and to implement the System's plan.

NETLS' mission, as defined in its long-range plan, is "to support and strengthen local public library services to the citizens in the Northeast Texas System area and promote the development of library service where none presently exists."

NETLS assesses the needs of its members through standing committees. These include the Awards Committee, the Collection Development Committee, the Continuing Education Committee, the Federal Legislation and Information Network, the Lay Persons Involvement Committee, the Media Committee, the Planning and Evaluation Committee, the Publicity and Public Relations Committee, the Special Services Committee, the State and Local Liaison Committee, and the Technology Committee. Each committee is composed of five to ten members. The committees have professional staff, support staff and lay members such as board members and patrons. The committees provide input on members' needs and priorities. NETLS provides workshops to lay committee members on advocacy, board development, and how to involve community members in serving on the board of the library and on System committees.

1. NETLS Services

NETLS provides a wide range of services to its member libraries. These services include:

  • � Automation services. NETLS seeks to equip each of its member libraries with a computer with a modem and a CD drive and have at least one staff member in each library computer literate and using the computer in local or cooperative projects.
  • Consulting. NETLS offers a myriad of consulting on topics such as finance, management, and designing/building libraries. NETLS' goal is to improve library operations, management, services, automation, and funding. According to the NETLS Plan of Services for FY2002, 50 of its 98 member libraries and all 12 of the non-member libraries do not have a professional librarian on staff. These 62 library directors and their staff need basic training in library management and operations.
  • Continuing education and training. NETLS outsources this service. It gives a list of topics to members in the summer and using their feedback, NETLS implements workshops based on the topics selected. In FY2002, NETLS workshops address topics such as:
    • - Children's Services: What They Don't Teach in Library School
    • - Explore! Fun with Science
    • - Marketing and Libraries: A Necessity Not A Choice
    • - Basic Book Repair: A Hands-On Workshop
    • - How Am I Doing? Using Information to Tell Your Library's Story
    • - Security and Disaster Planning
  • Technology support including a media program.
  • Mini grants for special services such as ESL, literacy, services to older adults, automation, and computers.
  • Collection development. In this area, NETLS provides funds and offers workshops addressing reference skills, purchasing priority setting, etc. The objective is to increase libraries' collections to two to four volumes per capita.
  • Project Rotate. This includes a collection of large print and audio books that rotate among 75 libraries. Each library gets a packet consisting of 40 large print books and 15 to 20 unabridged audio books for three months. NETLS periodically replaces 40 to 50 percent of the items to update the packets.
  • Publicity and public relations services. These services aim to increase community awareness of libraries and enhance local library publicity and programming.
  • Membership and geographic meetings. NETLS convenes four membership meetings a year. Attendance is high: between 85 and 90 percent of the members attend. NETLS also convenes five geographic meetings.

NETLS does not have an InterLibrary Loan (ILL) program. ILL is provided by the Dallas Public Library.

The NETLS coordinator considers consulting, continuing education, and communication its key services. The smaller libraries make the greatest use of technical support.

Overall, NETLS services have not changed significantly since 1997-98. NETLS spends more time on providing assistance in the area of technology because libraries have an increased level of technology. NETLS also uses more technology in its communications with libraries. For example, member library staff can register online for workshops.

Member librarians listed multiple services that NETLS has provided to them. These included:

  • Training.
  • Collection development.
  • Negotiated vendor contracts with deep discounts. Vendors treat individual libraries more favorably, knowing that they have NETLS behind them. � Introduction of libraries to new media: i.e. videos.
  • Assistance with grant information, grant application reviews, and with writing grant applications and administering the grants.
  • Lobbying for libraries with TSLAC and with local governments. By supporting libraries and advocating for them, NETLS increased libraries' stature with local governments.

In addition, member librarians lauded NETLS for being "a catalyst and facilitator." NETLS is most useful to small libraries and to libraries that are very isolated. It helped non-certified librarians by providing them with consulting on how to build a library, how to operate a library, and how to manage it.

Member librarians find the quarterly meetings to be very helpful. These meetings provide opportunities for giving both input and feedback to NETLS on a variety of issues, as well as for librarians to come together and share information and ideas.

2. Barriers

The greatest barrier to service provision, according to the coordinator, is lack of funds and the System's inability to fill all vacant positions. It is difficult for NETLS, which is located in Garland, to offer competitive salaries because it competes with cities like Dallas for professional staff. The salaries that NETLS can offer are determined by the City of Garland.

The coordinator emphasized that the amount of funding of NETLS Systems grant has not changed significantly in eight years although both membership and operational costs have increased. The coordinator estimated that at present NETLS has to spend more than forty percent of its budget on salaries and those keep increasing, so less is left for services. This reinforces the point that the staff-intensive programs of consulting, continuing education and communications are replacing the programs in which the system purchases "things" for the members (i.e. collection development).

3. Planning

NETLS has a long-range plan for 2002-07. NETLS hired an outside consultant to help in the development of a long-range plan. It uses the plan to design new projects. In response to the funding and financial resource constraints issue and through the analysis of future trends, a non-profit foundation (Library Partners) has been created. The membership can expect the foundation to address funding support issues. The Library Partners board has prepared two grant applications for foundation operation funds.

Member libraries identified a number of long-range issues likely to impact their libraries. These were similar to the issues that NETLS addressed in its long-range plan. These issues included the following:

  • Expansion of services through the establishment of branches.
  • Increasing libraries' collection development.
  • Technology.
  • Expanding current funding through the use of local funds and creating library endowments.

4. Library Size

In addition to having a large membership, NETLS member libraries represent a wide range of sizes. NETLS has 52 members serving populations of 12,000 or less. To those libraries, NETLS is a major and crucial resource, according to the coordinator, providing training, consulting, and continuing education. NETLS staff get 10-15 e-mails a day from libraries in this category. These libraries are likely to rank NETLS a "10" on the basis of meeting their needs.

Medium size libraries rely on NETLS primarily for training and some consulting. According to the coordinator, these libraries are likely to rank NETLS "8" on the extent to which NETLS meets their needs.

NETLS has six to eight large libraries (exclusive of the Dallas Public Library which is considered "super large"). These libraries use NETLS primarily for training. They contact the coordinator for information and advice. In the coordinator's judgment, these libraries are likely to give NETLS a ranking of "7" or "8" on the extent to which NETLS meets their needs.

According to member libraries, small libraries consider NETLS to be doing a superb job. They recognize that the NETLS coordinator is most attuned to their needs, because he too was a director of a small library.

Library directors of medium size libraries valued the assistance they received from NETLS in contract negotiations and in planning new buildings. They credited NETLS with providing valuable and time saving assistance. They also appreciated the training ("invaluable"), the small grants to libraries, and the consulting and continuing education services.

Representatives of larger libraries were also complimentary of NETLS. According to these directors "NETLS has been excellent over the years." They recognized that at present NETLS is more useful to small libraries but that the larger libraries do participate in NETLS sponsored training because they consider it helpful to them.

5. Greatest Needs

According to the NETLS coordinator, members' greatest needs are, to a large extent, associated with their size. Small libraries need funds for materials. Other libraries need training so their staff can keep up with technology changes.

Non-members need funds just to cover their on-going operational costs. They also need training in basic library skills. These libraries need considerable assistance. The NETLS coordinator spends two to three percent of his time helping non-member libraries.

NETLS responds to libraries' needs in several ways. For example, NETLS helps its member libraries to apply directly to TSLAC for any needs under the Loan Star Library Project. This project provides direct aid to libraries in any area except for building funds. Once member libraries receive funds from TSLAC, NETLS can provide support in the implementation of the grants.

NETLS ensures that its own staff is up-to-date in its knowledge and skills, especially in the area of technology. For example, NETLS staff are currently involved in developing a media streaming project that will provide libraries with the ability to download library materials via the Internet, thereby eliminating the need to mail these materials to them.

The NETLS coordinator anticipates that in the next three to five years NETLS will have to increase its staff or increase its staff capabilities, especially in the area of technology. At that time it is hoped that NETLS, and other Systems, will provide training through videoconferencing and videostreaming. The NETLS coordinator is planning to develop web-based training through collaboration with the University of North Texas School of Library and Information Science.

Member library directors see their greatest needs in technology. Their needs concern both the technology skills and competencies of their staff, and having space in their libraries for technology. Member libraries also identified needs in other areas. For example, one member library needs to relocate the library to a new building that has more space. Emerging and new libraries need help in dealing with the county or local government. They also need assistance with publicity and public relations (PR) for the library in the community to elevate its presence and stature and create more recognition of the importance of libraries and their contribution to the community.

6. Membership Benefits

LSTA benefits are crucial to libraries. The funds that NETLS gives to its members benefit small libraries in the areas of collection development and enhance their training. For medium to large libraries, the benefits are not so much in funds for collection development as in training. NETLS plans to provide 75 days of training this year. These libraries also benefit from NETLS' four consultants and coordinator. (The fifth position is currently vacant). All NETLS consultants also provide consulting on basic library services.

The libraries benefit in the areas of:

  • Automation (both catalog and circulation system).
  • Assistance with applications for library technology.
  • Continuing education.
  • Services to special populations, such as services to disadvantaged populations.
  • Media services: using media in public programming; e.g. having videos on how to do taxes.

Member librarians credited NETLS with "turning non-experienced staff into library professionals." Member librarians also appreciated:

  • Assistance with space evaluation, in libraries that were moving to new buildings, ADA compliance issues, or building a children's wing.
  • Small grants to libraries, such as grants for equipment.
  • Assistance with Internet connectivity issues.
  • Collection weeding: especially weeding reference and children's collections. � Dispute resolution.
  • Information on hot button legislative issues. NETLS keeps libraries informed through e-mails.

Member libraries were most appreciative of the fact that they "have a say in what goes on with NETLS."

7. Impact

NETLS services have had significant impact on small libraries in the area of collection enhancement.

NETLS also saved libraries money by negotiating discounts on purchase contracts for materials and equipment.

NETLS helped member librarians develop good skills and enhance these skills on a continuous basis.

Through NETLS assistance, 14 non-members became members.

The NETLS coordinator considers training as having the greatest impact on member libraries.

Member librarians reported that NETLS services and assistance have had wide reaching impact on them and on all aspects of library operations. Areas of impact included:

  • Library operations through the rotating collections of videos, and large print materials and equipment such as video projectors, fax, television and VCR.
  • Space planning and signage. In some instances, NETLS recommended architects for a new building and saved the libraries considerable time and effort.
  • Fund allocation for special services and for materials for special populations such as the Spanish language materials and outreach programs to senior citizens and nursing home bound adults.
  • Hands-on technology training.
  • Contract negotiations. � Assistance with preparation of requests for proposals.

Members' looked at NETLS as a source of "trust, independence, reputation, and innovation.".

8. Special Populations

NETLS serves special populations by targeting populations with limited English proficiency through literacy programs, as well as targeting services for older adults. In FY2002 NETLS established a Special Services Grant program to libraries. NETLS asked libraries to apply, received 19 applications, and awarded 15 grants for $30,000. NETLS also helps member libraries with special projects such as literacy.

9. Trends

  • The NETLS coordinator projected that technology will increase in importance; it will become more integrated with traditional library services; libraries will deliver more services in an electronic format.
  • Library staffing will become an increasingly critical issue, especially for middle level positions. The needs for training will increase.
  • Funding. The System and the libraries will have to look for additional funding sources. Library Partners set a prime objective to look for grants.

The coordinators recognized that NETLS might have to change its method of service delivery. As it serves clients in an on-demand fashion, it may use "spot consulting methods;" that is, hire consultants for a short term (i.e. a few days) to work with specific libraries on specific tasks. NETLS currently offers limited "spot consulting" in areas for which there is no staff expertise or when there is no staff time.

Librarians who participated in the group interview identified additional trends affecting libraries, especially libraries in small communities:

  • The library as a community education center and as a community center.
  • The use of technology for distance learning.
  • Adding service delivery formats.

10. Technical Assistance Negotiated Grants (TANG)

From the beginning of the TANG program, NETLS has focused these resources on training. In FY 2001, NETLS hired a Library Technology Consultant who devoted 75 percent of his time to the TANG project. After two months, the coordinator asked to amend the project and use the funds for training. From that point on the Library Technology consultant was paid out of the NETLS grant. In subsequent TANG grants, NETLS will use the funds for training. The technological support needed by NETLS members will be provided as a part of the NETLS grant.

NETLS staff have surveyed member libraries regarding their technology-related needs. These surveys, along with the NETLS Technology Plan, formed the basis for determining what type of training member libraries need. Consequently, NETLS offered a one-day course on troubleshooting and workshops on security, firewalls, and Windows NT. TANG funds were used to purchase supporting materials for each NETLS member library.

During the first year of TANG, NETLS contracted with a firm (Train USA) for training. The firm offered a five-day A+ training course and trained 104 librarians. During the second year, Train USA offered a series of workshops on networking: a 3-day workshop as well as customized workshops. Currently, NETLS is conducting a technology needs survey and will hire an outside firm to offer training on hardware and the Windows 2000 operating system.

In addition to the training, NETLS also purchased for each library materials such as NT4 Network Security, and Writing and Updating a Technology Plan.

Libraries' greatest needs in the technology area related to security, firewalls, and automation. Ten to 15 percent of the NETLS member libraries are still not automated though nearly all have access to the Internet.

11. Technological Self-sufficiency

According to the NETLS Library Technology consultant the large libraries have in-house technology staff and do not need help from NETLS. The smaller libraries are mostly automated and have access to the Internet, but they do not have in-house technology staff and need support with the maintenance of technology. The "fledging" libraries have no automation and need the most help.

Member library directors associated with small libraries credited NETLS with making them more knowledgeable and consequently more confident in technology matters. As a result of TANG-funded training and consulting "we can identify what's wrong." Thanks to these efforts, library directors reported that most of their staff and volunteers have received technology training.

12. TANG-funded Services

The TANG grant funds training (which NETLS outsources) and materials. NETLS provides consulting and workshops to member libraries in the technology area. The NETLS consultants go on-site, visiting each library at least once a year. In addition, they help libraries with grant applications, develop specifications for equipment, and help with grant implementation.

According to the Library Technology consultant member libraries found the TANG services very helpful. They found great value in the workshops that educated them on security and firewalls and gave library staff enough knowledge to be able to negotiate and work with vendors.

The NETLS Library Technology consultant did not experience any difficulties in serving member libraries. However, some of the libraries that are not automated resist becoming automated.

Libraries found the TANG services helpful in several ways. Just knowing that NETLS has the skills to help them has been important. Library directors also appreciated, according to the Library Technology consultant, the fact that they received timely and prompt information and assistance. Many of the libraries have contracts with outside consultants for fixing equipment and use TANG for other technology-related needs.

The greatest accomplishment of TANG has been the training. The A+ cycle of training laid the foundation. A representative from every member library participated in the training. The training showed libraries how to take a computer apart, add memory, etc. Participants also received a tool kit at the end of training.

The Gates Foundation equipped most libraries with computers. Some also received a computer lab for training.

Replacement of equipment is a concern. NETLS members can address this by applying for grants such as Tocker, TIF, and e-rate. The NETLS staff will propose to the membership reallocating SFY 2003 funds from Collection Development to a special equipment fund for the purchase of replacement CPUs. Library Partners may also help in this area.

Part Three, Section Three | Part Three, Section Five

Page last modified: March 2, 2011