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Keynotes at the Delaware Library Town Meeting

Written on: December 9th, 2009 by: in Blog Posts

rockwellAt this time every year, Delaware’s public library community comes together for its annual “town meeting”, where we discuss our current needs, initiatives and opportunities, and ways in which the state and county government can help meet the needs of libraries and library users. We met today at the Wilmington University Dover campus, with representatives from libraries throughout the state, along with representatives from friends groups, town managers, and educators.

This year, reflecting the importance that the Markell administration has attached to libraries, we had a number of outstanding keynote speakers. After introductions from the Wilmington University Head Librarian Jim McCloskey, State Librarian Annie Norman introduced Delaware’s First Lady, Carla Markell. In a moving address, Carla discussed the importance of libraries in her own youth- throughout her childhood she frequently used the old Newark Free library for books, music, and educational items not available at home, where family finances were stretched thin. Now an adult, and recognizing her own good fortune, she enjoys taking the children that she mentors to the library and watching their delight in the enjoyment and opportunities presented. She is well aware of the transformational power of libraries in the lives of children. Carla also mentioned that she is currently reading Neither Wolf nor Dog by Kent Nerburn.

Next to the podium was Secretary of State Jeff Bullock, who first recognized the work of Carla Markell in education, literacy, and mentoring. Following up from a comment from the First Lady, Secretary Bullock mentioned that one of the first calls he received upon his appointment was from Annie Norman, who came with so many ideas and requests that libraries have stayed a high-profile item. Bullock then discussed the opportunities for lifelong and “lifewide” learning uniquely offered by libraries- rebutting local commentary about the impending end of libraries. He emphasized that libraries play a critical role in the Markell administration’s goals of smaller and more efficient government- and are also vital in advancing public education. Secretary Bullock also announced that the Division of Libraries will begin meeting with the State Department of Education to examine opportunities to work together on “Race to the Top” and other national and local initiatives geared toward student achievement. He also noted the importance of having a dynamic public library system as an asset in the state’s job creation initiatives- During the Carper administration, for instance, AstraZeneca was examining potential sites for relocation and at a critical meeting to seal the deal, the company’s CEO specifically mentioned the importance of quality of life elements in the decision to relocate thousands of current employees- parks, arts and culture, and libraries were some of the things that made Delaware stand out to AstraZeneca and helped sway their decision- a decision that brought new jobs and revenue to Delaware.

Current challenges bring new opportunities and the need to find new ways of doing things- so it’s time to plan for the future! Recently, Secretary Bullock brought together the agencies in the Department of State and asked them what would “being the best” look like in their fields? For libraries, the question is what initiatives should we explore to make Delaware’s libraries the best in the country? Investing in library infrastructure, expanding library access, and improving and enhancing the professional staff who work there are part of the answer. Additionally, there are still tremendous opportunities to increase access to library services, including a need to look for expansion opportunities in Claymont and Wilmington, and despite the persistent budget gap, he looks forward to the return of popular programs such as the Delaware Book Festival, in part due to some of the money-saving options presented by cooperative ventures and economies of scale that have been realized and coordinated by the administration. Secretary Bullock’s final thoughts: Delaware’s libraries are part of our quality of life and a measure of an educated and progressive community.