Inquiring Students Want to Know!
As Wheeling High School students considered questions they had regarding the various levels of government, their public library was an area of interest, and they extended an invitation to President Louise Barnett of the Indian Trials Public Library Board of Trustees.
Unfortunately, President Barnett had previous commitments but offered, “As a former high school English teacher who marched with Al Shanker and the teachers in New York City in the 60″s, I commend your efforts. If there is another way in which I can participate in your program please let me know.”
Well, we did – and below are questions from our WHS students along with President Barnett’s very thoughtful responses.
Q: What issues are your top priorities?
A: As a library board member, my top priority is being a conscientious custodian of the taxpayers’ money. Financial oversight, policy decisions and the hiring and review of the Library Director are the major responsibilities of a library trustee.
Q: Indian Trails Library recently replaced its furniture and repainted, right before tearing down the whole building in lieu of our amazing new library. How can funding allocations such as these be addressed so that projects like our library can move forward without wasting valuable taxpayer dollars?
A: The referendum to expand and rebuild the Indian Trails Library occurred several years before the construction project actually began. In the interim, the library had to be maintained. We purchased additional shelving for the CD and DVD area because we knew that it would be used in the new building as well. The only painting I am aware of was possible touch-ups to keep the appearance up while we remained in the building. We have a solid long-range financial plan Look at your tax bill and you will see what a small fraction of the bill goes to Indian Trails. In return, taxpayers receive services in excess of the money they have spent if they only check out a few items or go to our free programs or movies.
Q: Elected officials must ensure a fair, reasonable, and efficient bidding process. Do you support a universal process that provides comparisons of contractor billing rates based on the total cost of projects?
A: All construction projects and purchase over $25,000 are subject to competitive bidding by state law. Sometimes the lowest bidder is not the most qualified or experienced with the work needing to be done so there is room for some flexibility if justified. Our project manager took bids on all aspects of our construction and the board reviewed these bids. The process is transparent and all bidders can see their competition through FOIA requests.
Q: Are government buildings such as the library covered by insurance?
A: Each year we receive bids on our insurance from several different companies for our coverage, which includes insurance for the building and its contents, liability for staff and board members, data breaching, government crimes, an umbrella policy, and workers’ compensation. We aim for the best coverage at the lowest rates.
Q: Do library staff and decision makers reflect the ethnic diversity of those currently residing in our community?
A: We have a diverse staff and strive to hire the most qualified applicants for all positions.
Q: Nearly all public libraries offer free wireless internet access, technology training, education and learning programs, summer reading programs, assistance in completing online government forms, and notary services. Almost 80% of libraries offer programs that provide assistance with job applications, interview skills, and résumé development. Three-fourths of libraries offer community, civic engagement, or e-government programs. What programs are currently in jeopardy due to funding cuts?
A: Fortunately, Indian Trails Library has no programs in jeopardy at this moment, and in fact, we are increasing our programming to meet community needs. We rely on tax dollars for close to 95% of our budget and if cuts in financing were to occur the hours of operation, staffing and materials would suffer in equal measure.
Q: How does library content address the diversity in children’s literature – both in content and among writers and illustrators?
A: The Board of the library hires a director who then is responsible for hiring and managing the professional library staff. The board does not deal with material selection. That is the job of the professional librarians. We do set policy and our selection policy follows ALA guidelines and the freedom to read for all patrons. Materials are purchased to meet community needs and selectors read review journals to guide in their selection
Q: Describe the current state of teen services in libraries, as well as the environmental causes that may be driving a need for change?
A: Our library has a librarian dedicated to teen services and an area and collection specifically for our teen population. We also have a teen advisory board and teen volunteers. I am not sure what your question means when you talk about environmental forces driving change.
Q: Digital literacy continues to grow as an important library service. Research shows that families are increasing their access to digital media, but they lack the knowledge to use it effectively in a way that enables learning. What should be done to address this problem?
A: Our new Indian Trails building has a computer lab as well and our Launch Pad maker space. Both of these areas offer opportunities to learn skills that enhance digital literacy for all ages. Librarians are aware of the problems in authenticating “real” sources in the digital age and are at the forefront of educating people in finding information. We offer many classes that explore digital literacy.
Q: Both the quality and quantity of library programming are on the rise, but tight budgets demand that library professionals justify program expenses and demonstrate an impact. Since little data exists to indicate whether, or how, programming affects individuals and communities, how can this challenge be met?
A: When we worked on our long-range strategic plan this year we enlisted the assistance of focus groups from all demographic groups and all stakeholders in our community. We review comment cards and do evaluations of our programs by email after each person attends. We know that many of our programs change lives and we strive to improve them. The Pew Research group has documented that libraries are well loved in our society and that they are community gathering places. It is a challenge to offer programs for all age groups and interests in our diverse community. Our One Book, One Community program has been a great success in bringing groups together. Our attendance at programs and comment cards tell us we are succeeding in our efforts.
Q: What would you recommend to a student who wants to have a career in public office?
A: I don’t have a career in public office. My elected position is a volunteer one. But having been a teacher and a librarian I would say that a solid education is the most important thing. Volunteer in your community and get involved with the campaigns of the people that represent you at the local level.
Q: How much is spent on a typical campaign run for a seat on the library board, and how much, on average, will an elected official holding this office earn?
A: A library trustee receives no compensation. Serving on the board is a way of giving back to my community. I have spent no money on my campaigns. I used email and have gone out to speak in the community to meet people. Few people even know that libraries have trustees or board members, or that they are elected officials – but now you do.
Keep up the good work.