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 As society and technology change, libraries find themselves with collections of out-of-date texts and related materials that no longer circulate.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.”

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!”

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!

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."

There are a number of ways to describe the Mathews Memorial Library. The first, and most important, is that of athenaeum, defined as an institution for the promotion of learning. Although rarely heard in today's world, the term denotes a larger role than that of merely providing access to books, magazines, etc. A second description might be as a center for civic support. This comes into play through such activities as childhood literacy, career counseling, creative programming, genealogy and history archival center. A more recent descriptor is that of computer center. An unlikely, though highly supportable concept, is one of tourist attraction.

Today, the success of the Mathews Memorial Library, like most public libraries, is measured, not so much by what they bring to the community, but rather the resources (budget, collection size and staffing) that the library has to utilize. This form of measuring success is reinforced by the annual collection of data provided to the Library of Virginia which, in turn, impacts on the level of State Aid funding provided. Currently, the most widely collected and reported service measures indicating the level of library use are circulation, reference requests, door counts and program attendance. Even attempts to collect data on the extent of the library as computer center fall short, for instance, in capturing the role of the library website, where efforts are made to record the number of hits, page views, etc. The number of onsite visits to take advantage of the library's wireless network may be captured, but the impact of its availability is not currently measureable when, in fact, this service is the bridge over which information and service flows for many patrons.
The means for assessing and measuring the impact of much of what the library currently does are lacking. What is needed is a set of performance measures that will capture the essence of what the library is providing. It is important to measure the outcome or impact of the difference that some of these programs make in the lives of individuals and the well-being of the community. Such a task is not for a single library to undertake but, rather, will require attention at a higher level, It has never been more important than the present for Mathews Memorial Library to tell its true story than now as we look toward occupying the outstanding and highly functional H. Bland Hudgins Wing. We will need to figure out – one step at a time – how best to serve the teen population for whom a large portion of the Wing is apportioned. Without the means to ensure consistency and validity, the difference that library services make in the lives of young people may be skewed and unproductive.

The mission and role of the library is too important to the patrons and to the community to take for granted. We must, first, seek balance and equity of service and, with commitment, we can figure it out – one step at a time.

September 2013

Imagine yourself as a student in high school. Your assignment in American history is to write a paper on the Civil War. You have chosen to write about Captain Sally Tompkins. It's 10 p.m. on Sunday evening and the paper is due on Monday. You know the Mathews Memorial Library has numerous facts relating to Tompkins' service to the Confederacy as well as documents that include the history of her family home at Poplar Grove. But, the library's closed! What to do – it seems hopeless. But then you remember – the library has just completed a project of digitizing their archival documents. This means you have only to locate them in the catalog to be able to obtain access to the documents you need.

A digital image is the representation of an object by a discrete set of points. Digitizing a written document or other similar types of material means the library performs a series of activities to create a facsimile of the object (books, newspapers, pictures) as a means of preserving the content of the materials.

While many students may be satisfied with a few hits on Google, many others, along with researchers, are more anxious to have access to original resource materials. Thanks to digitizing, it is now possible to share primary resources online. If this seems like a fairy tale today, you may be in for a surprise. When the Mathews Memorial Library launches its planned digital collection of archival materials in 2014, it will be joining a national initiative to make primary sources universally available to students, researchers and others, while, at the same time, providing a means for protecting and preserving documents of historical value.

For the library, this is an important step forward. Since shortly after moving into the newly renovated library, we have enjoyed a partnership with the Mathews County Historical Society. Through our agreement, documents in the Society's collection, as well as library documents, are housed in the Hollerith Archival Center and cataloged as part of the library collection. This includes over 780 distinct collections of documents, ranging from pre-revolutionary war materials and commercial records to letters and documents of private collections.

To accomplish this ambitious task will require a coordinated effort between library staff and volunteers. Creating an acceptable product begins with obtaining the appropriate equipment. Recently, the library invested in a wide-format scanner and digital collection management software at a cost of slightly over $7,000. Training will be needed to ensure that the project produces a collection in a format that can be more widely accessed and shared.

Our history in Mathews is unique in many ways. It is captured in a variety of formats, pictures, maps and other documents. Our goal is to not only make it more accessible to present-day students and researchers but to ensure its preservation for future generations.

January 2013

How do you plan for a future that you can't predict or, more precisely, how do you build a library today that works tomorrow? Is it a matter of seeing the past as a model for the future and following familiar footsteps or using that knowledge to chart a new course? Today's uncertain economy makes these concerns non-issues for many libraries. Many libraries do not have the luxury of planning for change. Not so the Mathews Memorial Library for, as we have discovered, the community has demonstrated their support through their generosity in ensuring that the library continues to grow and serve the community. For this we are more than grateful, we are humbled by the trust that citizens bestow upon those of us who are charged with providing library service.

Like many libraries, we face the challenge of meeting the needs and expectations of 21st Century users. Recognized for taking an innovative approach to library service, the Mathews library believes today's patrons expect, and deserve, to have more than strictly access to information. In particular, when creating special places and charting programs for children and teens, we must adhere to principles that provide multi-layered experiences, foster anticipation and wonder, engage all the senses, offer paths to pride and accomplishment and, equally important, offer refuge where they can regroup to rest their bodies and their minds.

Our goal is to utilize the added space from the planned expansion in a way that provides a more attractive, patron-oriented environment sufficiently flexible to change over time. Virtual space is also a part of the vision. Information that is digital can be available anywhere, anytime and can be retrieved using today's electronic tools. With the planned creation of an "E-Branch" encompassing service to all ages, the library hopes to expand patrons' literary and information environment.

2013 should prove to be an exciting year for the library as we take a fresh look at how best to provide a patron-focused environment that is conducive to learning as well as being a cultural center for community activities. While it is not practical to think that we can be all things to all people, we aspire to continue to be among those libraries that offer the best to the communities they serve.

July 2012

"If you would hit the mark, you must aim a little above it."     - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

There is little doubt that the staff of the Mathews Memorial Library gets stretched – especially during the summer when the challenge is to inspire and excite young people. The entire staff is dedicated to serving anywhere, anytime in the library, and this is never truer than when we offer a youth program such as we have done each July for the past ten years.

Empowering the Team. First and foremost, staff must be encouraged to take risks without fear of disapproval if they don't succeed. There has been no shortage of such experiences at the Library, but those events are far outweighed by the number of successes. Because each of us brings different skills and experiences to the table, there are times when we have difficulty reaching consensus on what will work or not work; however, the culture allows for honest mistakes. We learn from everything and keep the focus on customer service.

April 2012

"History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time, illumines reality, vitalizes memory, and provides guidance in daily life..."     - Marcus Cicero, Pro Publio Sestio

Once upon a time, when the sounds and sights of spring were in the air, the Mathews Memorial Library (only recently moved from its original site on the Court Green to the iconic Farmers Bank of Mathews building on Main Street) hit the jackpot. It acquired a partner – a group of citizens who called themselves "Friends." The year was 1982, and the library had been in existence since 1935, even longer if one considers the fact that it had almost become a reality in 1933, but for the small matter of a hurricane which wiped out plans for opening in August 1933.

In 1975, Mildred Sadler Hudgins had replaced Miss Dahlia E. Callis as librarian. Miss Callis, the fourth individual to serve in the post had bestowed to the county a rich tradition of library service, one which was enhanced by the dedication and love of community that Mildred brought to the position. It was during her tenure that the organization, Friends of the Library, became a dynamic force in sustaining and expanding library service in Mathews. The foresight and vision of the leaders of the organization have remained as guiding principles of excellence in service.

October 2012

Libraries don't just offer the hardware, but also the expertise of librarians in helping teach people how to use the Internet and find the information they need quickly.

Each day of the week, as well as on weekends, the Mathews Memorial Library opens its doors to begin a day of meeting the many and varied needs of its nearly 10,000 patrons and numerous visitors. Some come to check out books; large number use computers, but many come because they enjoy the sense of community that pervades the warm, inviting atmosphere of the library. This daily challenge is almost always met. Those who make this possible are the staff and volunteers who are constantly striving to ensure the library achieves its mission and more. Both the staff and volunteers are well known in the community, but recognition of their dedication and hard work is sometimes overlooked.

The library has a staff of five full-time staff, five part-time and twelve volunteers. Each has a specific role to fulfill, but success depends on a tremendous amount of sharing and working together. Looking at the skills of each, one understands how this spirit of working together is so effective. Through this and future issues of the Friends' newsletter, I will share information about these individuals and their contribution to the library.

More and more daily activities in the library depend on its complex technology environment. Greg Lewis, the soft spoken and patient Head of Technology Services is never overwhelmed when it comes to providing the needed support. Whether restoring a network, assisting a patron with a problem or downloading an ebook onto a reader, he presents a spirit of helpfulness that puts everyone at ease. Greg is equally on top of the game when answering questions about the library collection or searching through the numerous databases for obscure facts or lengthy treatises on a pet subject. His tenure with the library began as a part-time endeavor in 1996. In 2002, it was recognized that Greg could be a more valuable asset on a full-time basis and thus was named to the position of Head of Technical Services. He received his bachelor's degree from Mary Washington College (now University of Mary Washington), majoring in geography and graduating in 1992. Thought by many to be a confirmed bachelor, he found his lifetime partner at the library in 2008 when he married Leigh Wilder, and both now reside on Gwynn's Island.

Perhaps Greg's greatest challenge comes during events such as "Deck the Hall" when, in the past, he has been gently coerced into portraying a variety of roles, ranging from Santa to the Nutcracker. On other occasions he has filled in as Dr. Seus's "Cat in the Hat" and Count Olaf of Lemony Snicket fame. Whatever the challenge, Greg approaches it in good humor and with a great deal of enthusiasm, as he does all aspects of his multi-faceted role.

Those most in danger of being left behind in the Information Age are most in need of assistance from professionals like Greg, whether it be using a mouse, establishing an email account, filling out government forms online, using new software or effectively navigating Internet resources.

Like Greg, all Mathews Memorial Library staff and volunteers are at work in the literacy trenches, taking books and effective programs directly into the lives of children, parents, grandparents, childcare providers, and educators.

July 2011

Two major events occurred in 1989 – the first was the historic dismantling of the Berlin Wall; the second, the invention of the World Wide Web, was little recognized at the time, beyond a few scientific and technical researchers. However, like a rock thrown in a stream, the ripples of this event have flowed through society and transformed the way people live. Even those who sensed the importance of the Web failed to anticipate the economic and social change that would ensue.

The concept of a digital divide gained headway in the mid-to-late 1990s. Much was made of the need to be connected to remain relevant. It was evident that it would become increasingly necessary for people to make the leap across the divide in order to succeed. It was generally accepted that overcoming this threat depended on access to a computing device. Today, it is recognized that the computing device is only a small part of the context in which people can successfully integrate technology into their lives.

July 2010

A few days ago, Phyllis Theroux, author and journalist, came to the Mathews Memorial Library. Accompanied by her husband, Ragan, Phyllis was prepared for a small rural library setting where she was scheduled to talk about her latest book, The Journal Keeper. After all, Phyllis has talked in many such libraries, and furthermore, she lives in the small town of Ashland, Virginia. What Phyllis and Ragan found was not what they expected. In fact, as they described it, it's the best library they've ever visited. For a small library, they believe we're in a class of our own.

April 2011

Mathews became one of the first communities in the Commonwealth to have a public library. Overcoming the devastating effect of a hurricane in 1933 that destroyed the entire library collection, the library re-opened with 3,000 books in 1935 and was dedicated in 1937 as a memorial to the young men of the community who had served their country in World War I.

The library was moved in April 1982 from its original location on Church Street to a former bank building on Main Street. In 2003, nearly seven years after the first public announcement was made by the Friends of the Library that a renovation and expansion project was being planned, a dedication ceremony was held in celebration of the expanded facility. 

In the ensuing years since 1933, the library has made momentous strides in both physical expansion and service as a center of learning in the community. With its current collection of over 45,000 items and high speed Internet access, the library seeks to provide for the informational, cultural and recreational needs of the citizens of Mathews County. Today, the library looks forward to yet another major expansion as the Friends once again have stepped forward to acquire the adjacent building, which will provide dedicated teen space, staff offices and an expanded area for adult computer use.

January 2011

In the literary world, at the end of the year, dozens of lists of the "best books" appear. You find them in magazines, newspapers, book stores and on the Internet. It occurred to me recently that not only does the library have most of the "best books" available for readers, but a review of the many services and programs provided throughout the year might also produce a best list. Assisted by the staff, we have produced a compilation of, what we consider to be our best. We recognize that our judgment may be somewhat compromised, and thus we invite your feedback on what the list should include.

October 2010

Ask a member of the staff who works at the library what they do and you may get a puzzling response such as: "It all depends." It is not so much that individual titles and responsibilities do not exist. More likely it is because the individual is concentrating on a particular project underway at the time in a shared, networked environment. For instance, Sara Hallberg, head of adult services, and Raquel Ott, technology services assistant, will be found each Thursday working together with clients to provide a variety of job-related services. At the same time, Becky Barnhardt, head of genealogy services, may be applying her technical and creative skills toward the production of promotional material for a Halloween party in the youth wing. Likewise, Greg Lewis, head of technology services, may be seeking input on web development from almost every member of the staff (excluding the director), while, at the same time, he is working with Missy Bauby, head of youth services, on the development of a program to improve access to electronic homework assistance applications.

April 2010

Can anyone convey, with a modicum of objectivity, what impact a book will have on those who read it? Do reviews provide the means by which to convey a sense of how a reader will respond? Words, sentences, and paragraphs are dynamic elements that may reach to the depth of an individual's soul to reveal some inner truth or inflame passions that drive them to imprudent action.