PART III: CASE STUDY REPORT
V. WEST TEXAS LIBRARY SYSTEM
The West Texas Library System (WTLS) was visited on January 11, 2002. Interviews were conducted with the MRC director, the System coordinator, the TANG technician, and nine directors of member libraries. Of the nine member library directors who participated in the group discussion, one has an MLS and the other library directors met all librarian certification requirements. The library directors represented libraries of various sizes with populations ranging from 1,500 to 30,000. One of the libraries with a population of 24,000 had one branch. Two directors represented libraries that were in the process of automation. One library director represented a joint school and public library.
The mission of the WTLS, according to the MRC director, is to build consensus among library members and lay representatives about the programs and services WTLS should provide. WTLS focuses strategically on what is important to member libraries.
West Texas Library System (WTLS) serves 29 counties. It has 34 member libraries and two non-members. The libraries that are not members lack the necessary funding. All members are rural including the Lubbock Public Library. WTLS has three large libraries: the Lubbock Public Library, the Midland Public Library, and the Odessa Public Library. WTLS has four medium libraries, and 27 small libraries.
WTLS' Systems grant for 2001 was $414,040. In addition to the coordinator, the WTLS has an assistant coordinator, a user support analyst, and a bookkeeper. WTLS has two vacant positions, one for a secretary and one for an intern.
The WTLS coordinator is responsible for administering the Systems grant, preparing grant applications and making sure that member libraries have what they need. "We are here as their first source of information." According to the coordinator, the Systems grant that WTLS received has been decreasing because of several factors. The population in the service areas of other Systems has increased, the WTLS service area had lost population, and the overall amount allocated to the Systems grant has not changed.
WTLS begins the needs assessment process with a needs assessment survey of member libraries. In the needs assessment survey, member libraries identify and prioritize needs. The WTLS uses the geographic meetings to discuss needs identified in the survey and the priorities assigned to those needs. WTLS holds three geographic meetings annually. Members discuss their needs and prioritize them in the meetings. The coordinator synthesizes the information members provide in the geographic meetings and integrates it into a plan. The coordinator presents the plan at the System's meeting where members vote on the plan. WTLS also recognizes members' needs based on questions that libraries submit to the System. In fact, WTLS shares through e-mail with all libraries any question that members submit. The coordinator did not see significant differences among libraries in terms of need. The differences are typically associated with the size of the library. In the last needs assessment round, libraries put greater priority on technology support than on collection development.
1. WTLS Services
According to the WTLS FY2002 Plan of Services, WTLS provides services in the following areas:
- Audiovisual collection.
- Collection development.
- Continuing education.
- Services to Limited English Speaking.
- Networked resources.
WTLS provides a wide range of services to its member libraries. Consulting, continuing education, and collection development are considered the most important services, according to the coordinator. Consulting services range from developing building specifications to weeding collections, consulting on technology (TANG), automation, and helping libraries write grants.
Among the services that WTLS provides to member libraries, the MRC director reported that libraries rate collection development and continuing education very highly. Consulting is also a primary service, especially in working with libraries on TIF grants. The member libraries also consider marketing/advocacy to be of high importance.
WTLS also provides consulting services to the two non-member libraries; neither are automated nor have computers.
WTLS offers 10 workshops a year to member libraries on topics such as customer service, marketing, and preparation of annual reports. Non-member libraries are invited to attend the workshops.
WTLS gives its members latitude in collection development, negotiates discounts with vendors, and encourages its members to subscribe to professional journals. Members can spend up to 10 percent of their collection development funds on publicity materials. Every library that wants Spanish language materials gets $200. The WTLS also gives $500 to libraries with literacy programs.
WTLS member libraries exhibited a high level of communication and collaboration. Member libraries communicate via e-mail. Technology increased members' level and frequency of communications. It also put pressure on them to be up-to-date in their use of technology.
Small and medium libraries depend on WTLS; large libraries do not need WTLS as much.
The services WTLS provided to libraries since 1997-98 changed to some extent, according to the coordinator. At present, WTLS helps libraries more with grant writing and grant implementation and with technology issues than in past years. WTLS purchased computers for libraries and trained their staff in using and maintaining technology. The MRC director noted similarly that the services WTLS has provided used to be more oriented toward collection development, but shifted to automation and technology in the early 1990s. The priority now is to bring the small libraries along the technology usage curve. The major change has been the use of technology and Internet by libraries.
The coordinator does not foresee changes in services in the next two years, because of the decrease in funds. If the System had more funds, the coordinator would have liked to hire a children's librarian and help libraries develop story hour programs. The coordinator would also provide more large print books. The WTLS has a circuit with audiovisual materials that rotates among libraries for two months. If more funds were available, the coordinator would expand the technical support and purchase software for statistical reports (e.g. counting Internet use).
According to member library directors, WTLS has provided them with a wide range of services including technology training and assistance; assistance with grant writing for TIF and TOCKER grants; circuits (books on cassette); and continuing education in the form of workshops on ILL, story time, customer service, marketing/advocacy, services to young adults, literacy; and Spanish language materials.
Library directors recognized that WTLS services had changed with changes in library needs. Currently, WTLS services focus more on automation and technology.
Library directors also noted that WTLS has encouraged library directors to seek assistance from other library directors. This increased and strengthened collaboration among libraries. Some library directors visited other libraries to observe how they perform certain activities or how they had organized specific library functions.
Collaboration among libraries is affected by large distances. Libraries collaborate with libraries in nearby communities through interlibrary loans. Another common form of collaboration is with schools through wireless connections, reference materials, and the sharing of databases. One of the libraries collaborates with the school on a summer reading club using the Accelerated Reader program. In some libraries, the majority of the their budget comes from the school district. One of the library directors plans to collaborate with a high school library. Libraries also collaborate with programs like HeadStart, local colleges, and retirement homes. Some of the libraries are members in the Big Spring Consortium for high-speed fiber optics access (Rural Access).
Library directors expressed a high degree of satisfaction with the services that WTLS provided and indicated that they have never encountered any difficulties in receiving assistance from WTLS. They appreciated the promptness of response, the ongoing support, and the fact that WTLS keeps librarians informed. WTLS staff visit member libraries and "understand what is going on."
All library directors lauded their relationship with the WTLS. They valued the responsiveness of the System and the good attitude of WTLS staff. "They care. They are a member of the family." Library directors appreciated the quality and scope of the training that WTLS has provided to them and the fact that WTLS staff always seek and are open to feedback. The MRC director concluded that the WTLS has met its mission well. This is reflected in the close relationship of the WTLS coordinator with the member libraries.
WTLS libraries are geographically dispersed over a wide area and many are isolated. Distance is the major barrier to service provision. To address this barrier, WTLS tries to visit each library at least once a year.
3. Greatest Needs
The WTLS coordinator identified funding as the greatest need both for the System and for the member libraries. The WTLS needs more staff. With decreased funding, the Library System has been unable to hire more staff. Furthermore, the System needs funds to address salary increases and account for the increased costs of services. WTLS has two vacant positions. WTLS would like to hire an intern to help with TANG services. One of the library directors representing a larger library indicated that WTLS staff is stretched thin. The library director attributed this to the fact that WTLS funding has not changed although the System faces greater service demands.
The biggest issue facing libraries, according to the MRC director, involves technology. Sustaining the cost of technology and the future of TIF is of great concern. Libraries need to stay current in their technology. In addition, the region is facing demographic changes as a result of population loss due to the agricultural depression.. Population loss is associated with less funding for the WTLS. Funding is a key issue for member libraries.
Funding constitutes the greatest need for member libraries, according to the coordinator. Member libraries face staff shortages because they are not able to offer competitive salaries to attract professional staff. The municipal governments do not put libraries as a top priority. The coordinator is concerned that without continued funds from TIF, many of the libraries would not be able to remain technologically viable.
Non-member libraries need recognition of their importance to the community from their respective municipal governments; and with this recognition, they need appropriate local funds.
Library directors who participated in the group discussion identified a range of needs. Funding, space, and time were identified as the greatest needs. Thanks to TIF, the libraries did not have any unmet technology needs. They were concerned, however, with having the funds to keep pace with changes in technology.
Recognizing the increasing importance of advocacy and marketing to local governments and to patrons, The Lubbock City-County Library hired a marketing and fund-raising staff member, according to the MRC director, and is developing a strong Friends organization. The MRC director anticipates that libraries' advocacy role will become more critical.
4. Membership Benefits
The benefits that libraries derive from their membership in the Library System are self-evident. The main benefits, according to the coordinator, are collection development and training. Several of the members would not be viable without the System's support.
Library directors identified multiple benefits associated with their membership in WTLS. Benefits identified included:
- Support, both technical and psychological.
- Purchasing power discounts.
- Training and continuing education.
- Assistance with reference questions.
- Sharing of information and ideas with other member libraries.
- Help with the City Council on issues of funding.
Library directors summed up the benefits by stating that "without the System, libraries won't run." Representatives of small and medium libraries indicated that WTLS met all their needs.
WTLS has a biennial plan but does not have a long-range plan. WTLS wants to have a brief plan that is flexible.
The coordinator emphasized the difficulty of setting service targets under the current system. In setting targets, the coordinator looks at data from the previous five years and uses averages as targets. Technology-related targets are hard to set because of the rapid rate of change in technology utilization. In addition, new programs also have to be included and it is difficult to foresee their development over time.
The member libraries that participated in the group discussion reported that they do not have long-range plans. Two of the libraries had such plans, but have not updated them. Library directors claimed that small libraries with one staff member can not afford the time to develop a long-range plan.
WTLS services have had an impact on several areas. Without System funds and support, libraries would not have been able to establish literacy programs and have Spanish language materials. The publicity materials that the System provides to libraries constitutes another area of impact.
WTLS is the lifeline for some member libraries. One of the library directors reported that without WTLS her library would not be able to operate. WTLS has helped library directors in all aspects of library management and operation, including design of a new building, space planning, collection development, and collection weeding. WTLS has helped libraries with legal and legislative issues, with privacy issues and book challenges. WTLS has had a significant impact "just by being a sounding board" and "knowing that they are there." The psychological support and encouragement is also of great value to library directors, especially to those in small libraries.
Library directors also attributed great importance to the knowledge that WTLS has about grant sources and the preparation of grant applications.
A new library director credited WTLS for visiting her library and helping with automation. As a result, she believes that both she and her library are more professional and can provide better service to the community. Libraries' level of professionalism is also enhanced by being able to send library staff to workshops. One of the library directors saw so much value in the WTLS workshops that she closed her library and took all her staff to a workshop.
The impact that WTLS has had on libraries was also manifested through funds and services targeted at special populations. For example, the Spanish language materials benefited one library in a community that has a high percent of Hispanics. WTLS assistance with literacy programs, books on tape (used by truck drivers) and materials for people with hearing impairments. One of the libraries provides support to home schoolers by allowing them to use the library's computers.
WTLS has also impacted libraries' use and maintenance of technology. TANG training and assistance increased librarians' technology skills and competencies. For example, one of the library directors has developed skills that allow her to support the library's software and she can rely on the local school for assistance with hardware replacement. All but one of the library directors present at the group discussion rely on TANG for technology assistance. Only one library director, with the largest library, has an in-house staff member who provides technology support.
According to the MRC director, the biggest impact that WTLS has had on member libraries is in the area of meeting their technology goals. The direct aid to libraries is very important. It is used for library materials by the smallest libraries. Technology has helped libraries improve communication and cooperation.
Technology has been the major trend affecting libraries. Changes in technology are projected to dominate how libraries operate. Technology has posed a significant challenge to WTLS and to its member libraries: how to manage it, how to keep up, and how to integrate it into libraries in small communities. WTLS has helped libraries in making technology-related decisions. For example, WTLS advised some of the libraries to incorporate technology through wireless networking. WTLS wants to see videoconferencing as a method of communication with libraries and as a delivery medium for training. WTLS uses the Lubbock Public Library's computer lab for training its member libraries.
8. Technical Assistance Negotiated Grant (TANG)
The WTLS TANG technician came to the System from the City's Information Technology Department. The TANG technician has been with WTLS for 2.5 years. His major role is to support libraries in the technology area by fixing equipment, developing plans for networks, setting-up web servers, and helping libraries develop their web pages. He designed the WTLS web page. The TANG technician also organized a workshop on hardware and provided basic training to member libraries' staff. He spends about 70 percent of his time on site. Last year, WTLS libraries submitted 11 TIF grants; this year member libraries submitted 14 TIF grants. During the first round of TIF applications, 28 out of the 34 member libraries applied. At the end of this round of TIF grants all member libraries will be automated and all will have Internet access. The TANG technician's goal in 2001-2002 is to get all libraries automated. Thus far he has automated and upgraded the automation of 25 of the 34 libraries.
The TANG technician informally reviewed libraries' technology status and the level of their staff technology skills. This review gave him sufficient information on their needs and what services TANG will have to provide. He does not have a formal plan of service. Typically, the TANG technician visits libraries in response to a problem unless he has already planned to visit them for service.
Most of the member libraries have state-of-the-art technology, including wireless networks and fiber optics. At least 80 percent of them are not technologically self-sufficient, according to the TANG technician. The three large libraries are technologically self-sufficient.
The TANG technician considers automation as the greatest need of the member libraries and his greatest accomplishment to date. In his judgment, automation is critical for libraries so that they can serve their community through the provision of access to the Internet. The TANG technician helped libraries in the last two years to put together plans for automation, high-speed access, equipment, and technical support. He acts, in many instances, as the intermediary between the libraries and the vendors. This has saved libraries considerable funds.
Some librarians, according to the TANG technician and the MRC director, are still reluctant to use technology.
The TANG-funded assistance to libraries increased libraries' self-sufficiency in the area of technology, although most libraries are still not technologically self-sufficient. Library staff require more training.
According to the technician, TANG has been invaluable to libraries. "We are building something that is of value. We provide a service that they could never afford."
Library directors reported that they relied on WTLS for technical assistance. WTLS provides an unbiased viewpoint (compared with self-interest input that vendors offer) on what the library needs in term of technology. This, according to one of the library directors "takes the burden off of us." Library directors appreciated the fact that the TANG technician explains things in such a way that librarians can perform them. The TANG technician always shows respect to librarians regardless of their formal training or technology skills.
The MRC director considered TANG the most important service that WTLS provides. The most important aspect of TANG is the technical assistance function. TANG provides the "human dimension that goes along with the technology."