Director's Blog

Addressing What Matters

Mention of the term “literacy” usually brings to mind the ability to read and write. Today, there is general agreement, however, that literacy is more than these basic skills. Even so, there is no consensus on an exact definition for the term. For instance, the American Library Association (ALA) offers no less than thirteen definitions, ranging from a set of skills required to function on a job to the ability to use a computer.(1) ALA goes further by defining digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” This perspective extends competencies beyond the general pattern of technical skills found among the majority of computer users. It is significant, for instance, that just because a student is comfortable using electronic devices to communicate does not necessarily mean that they are proficient in all the skills they need to locate, evaluate and synthesize information.

Libraries have traditionally been among the strongest supporters of literacy. As society and technology change, libraries find themselves with collections of out-of-date texts and related materials that no longer circulate. In determining an appropriate response to incorporating digital literacy into the mission of a public library, it is essential to rethink the concepts of literacy when rebuilding and, perhaps, even restructuring or upgrading collections. An assessment of library programs and services is of equal importance.

To help with the process, the Library of Virginia (LVA) provides comprehensive support to create tools that help to integrate the library into the digital learning process. One result is the creation of online resources that focus on infusing library and information skills with instructional technology to help individuals obtain digital literacy. The Mathews Memorial Library takes full advantage of this service by taking full advantage of training opportunities and access to their professional staff. Unquestionably, the most valuable contribution made by LVA to digital literacy in the Commonwealth is the sponsorship of library databases (Find It Virginia, Literati) that provide reliable research using trusted and documented resources, including texts, magazine and journal articles and newspapers. In addition, there are several subject specific databases for conducting historical and family research (HeritageQuest, Discover Your Family History). A recent addition is noteworthy. Document Bank of Virginia (DBVa) is LVA’s initiative to provide users access to original documents, allowing the researcher to draw their own conclusions about Virginia’s past.

Providing access in itself is a worthy activity, but it is not enough. Staff members of Mathews Memorial Library are trained to assist students as well as adults in the most productive means for maximizing the value of the digital tools. Acquiring digital literacy is important, but it must be applied in a manner that enhances and expands the skills and knowledge base of all users. We stand committed to assist in this endeavor.

(1) Deane, Paul. “Literacy:” Literacy, Redefined.

October 2016

A recent Monday morning found members of the library staff frantically mopping up water that was pouring through the courtyard door of the John Warren Cooke Conference Room. Several days prior to that, it was discovered that clogged gutters were creating a deteriorating situation in the roofline. These are but a few of the issues that are part of maintaining the facility that houses the Mathews Memorial Library. Coupled with such problems in the actual structure are concerns related to the courtyard and other areas surrounding the building.

Facility maintenance and operations is the continuous process of service provision required to maintain a facility and its campus over the course of its useful life. These services include cleaning and routine maintenance of major building systems as well as upkeep of the grounds. There are a variety of other associated tasks that are equally necessary, including checking for vandalism and identifying safety and maintenance needs. Adherence to good practices insures a safe and healthy environment for both staff and patrons. Generally, operation maintenance is the work of custodians, grounds workers and external maintenance crews.

The library facilities are owned by the County and maintained through the Buildings and Grounds Maintenance Department which is responsible for maintaining all County buildings and grounds. The resources available to this department for maintaining all facilities is limited, making the job of providing general maintenance quite challenging. Thus, it falls to the library staff to step in and supply back-up, both when unexpected situations arise as well as fulfilling more routine tasks such as ensuring that restrooms are relatively clean, water coolers are stocked, and trash left on the grounds is removed.

Protecting the investment represented by library facilities and its resources from theft or vandalism is also a major responsibility that falls primarily on staff shoulders. On average, 200 patrons and/or visitors enter the library each day. While few items are removed without appropriate documentation and little harm is done to the facilities, it does happen. Prevention is the primary goal and staff and volunteers are geared to pay careful attention to activities within the facility. Overseeing the exterior is more challenging, even with the existence of cameras at key spots. When damage occurs, whether a broken window or more recently, damage to the newly installed ceramic fountain in the courtyard, steps are taken, first to repair the damage and secondly, to determine if further preventive measures can be taken to prevent future re-occurrences of such actions.

Mathews Memorial Library is the result of commitment for excellence on the part of many, including County officials, staff and, most significantly, the Friends of the Library. Their ongoing work and support of library, its facilities and programs, helped make the library a source of pride for all members of the community. The continuing commitment of each of these entities will ensure that the library is always viewed as it was when it was named “Best Rural Library in the Country.”

Currently, Mathews Memorial Library supports the needs and interests of more than 10,950 patrons, providing access to approximately 40,000 print/audio books, 46,000 ebooks and 109 periodicals. In addition, there are 53 public computers connected to high-speed Internet access.

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center detailed the changing role of libraries. (American Libraries, Special Issue, March, 2015) Some of the key findings include:

Ninety-six percent of those surveyed agreed that public libraries are important because they promote literacy and a love of reading. The same number agreed that libraries are important because they provide access to tech resources non-print materials, and a majority view libraries as community centers.

Ninety percent of the respondents said that libraries are important to the community, and 76% said that libraries are important to them and their families.

More than 75% of the survey’s respondents want libraries to play an active role in public life.

Seventy-seven percent want libraries to coordinate more closely with local schools in providing resources to children, and the same proportion want free early literacy programs for children.

The transformation of libraries in terms of outreach and diversity takes many forms, with initiatives targeting an ever-wider range of underserved populations. Along with traditional services, public libraries continue to transform to meet changing needs, addressing current social, economic and community needs. At Mathews Memorial Library, this can range from sponsoring programs and hosting group meetings, (33 events/activities in February) to helping the community cope with the unexpected. On a recent snowy day, for instance, schools and the Boys and Girls Club were closed, resulting in more than 40 children and teens at the library for most of the day. Tax season brings tremendous traffic to the library with the tax assistance program offered by AARP. This is frequently a one-time, but much-appreciated, visit to the library by many members of the community. The Career Connect Center continues to draw a significant number of job seekers throughout the year.

In summary, the number of visitors recorded visiting the library in 2014 exceeded 24,000 and this, perhaps, says it all!

November 2015

A recent article appearing in the New York Times focused on what is described as the changing world of libraries. Among other things, it stated: “the crunch pushed libraries to look locally to prove their value,” said R. David Lankes, a professor in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. The article goes on to describe how many libraries, to accomplish this goal, have turned to activities totally unrelated to access to information, search for knowledge or other activities traditionally associated with libraries. Instead, they are offering a new service with activities as “checking out tools, kitchen items, musical instruments telescopes and sewing machines. These alternate services have prompted new names for such as “library of Things” and the “Stuff-brary.” I was driven to ponder this announcement, particularly the writer’s phrase – “to prove their value.”

While downward economic trends are cited for this dramatic shift in service, the most compelling argument for this transition is captured in the idea that “the way you best serve your community is to look like them.” This latter notion has a certain appeal to those of us in the library world where no motivation is stronger than the desire to be relevant.

Focusing for a moment on our community here in Mathews, were we to become a library of things, what would we offer? First and foremost, popularity would probably hinge on making available such items as fishing rods and tackle, paddles and perhaps even crab pots. Moving to the land-based population, weed whackers, saws and hammers and plumbing tools would likely be a hit. We would not want to neglect those who enjoy gardening as well as the cooks and bakers in the community. Children would probably become quite excited at the opportunity to check out American Girl dolls, Frisbees or other entertaining items.

While much of the above is written tongue-in-cheek, it is not meant to diminish the fact there is a need for libraries to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, a change that reaches even to our community. Thus, the Mathews Memorial Library takes seriously this challenge. To date, our focus is on becoming, especially for youth and teens, a hands-on creative center, or what is more popularly known as, a “maker space.” We envision this as a space where patrons can work singularly or in groups to compose music, learn and experiment with photography, write stories and perhaps even learn to knit or other similar handcrafts. We are excited about the possibilities a maker space can offer our patrons. However, we do not envision, as explained by a Berkeley, California, librarian….“when the toilet is clogged, people come here!”

It recently fell to our County Administrator, Mindy Moran, to select an accomplishment by the community of Mathews to highlight for an achievement award submission to the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo). Not surprisingly, Ms. Moran selected the recently completed library expansion project as presenting the optimum opportunity to be recognized by VACo in 2014.
Her skillfully written and poignant presentation, "Meeting the Needs and Expectations of 21st Century Patrons," should guarantee serious consideration by the selection committee. She effectively captures the long history of community support for the public library and highlights the numerous challenges and victories faced by community leaders, whose goal has been to ensure that all citizens of Mathews have access to the unique resources offered by a public library. Ms. Moran placed particular emphasis on the success of the most recent expansion undertaken by the Friends of the Mathews Memorial Library. She attributes the overwhelming financial support for the project to the confidence that the community holds that their donation "supported an expansion that would address community needs and the knowledge that the Mathews Memorial Library meets needs that are not traditional library roles."
Regardless of the success of Ms. Moran's efforts, the library stands ready to make real her assertion that "Mathews Memorial Library is truly a community engagement oasis on the front line of protecting the right to learn."