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Taking the training wheels off

Reduced funding for technical assistance is a reality for many libraries, even as increased demands are placed on them. Even small branches are being faced with greater demands to care for their own infrastructure. Still, nobody can be expected to become an expert overnight, so what can be done to help libraries learn to help themselves?

One system in the Texas panhandle has devised an innovative plan for walking their branches through this process. Marsha Barker, Coordinator of the Texas Panhandle Library System, works with 28 libraries in her system. She has 28 members and 21 are under 10,000. Of the 21 that are under 10,000 15 of those are under 5,000. Almost all of them have just 1 FTE. “All of my small libraries ask for assistance every day. They need everything,” she relayed to us, “I mean you drive 70 miles to get to one library and some counties have only one town in them…and so in order for people to survive they have to work together out here.”

With funding from the state government decreasing, she has created a stepping stone system for the libraries. Through their outsourced consultants, she will be providing them with a limited, but predictably decreasing, amount of technical support – teaching them to plan and budget for these expenses through their own resources in the meantime. “They are getting smarter and we are training them in the past couple of years to get them to budget for technical assistance…I’m providing 12 hours of technical support for all my libraries this year. The whole point is that I am asking them to keep records on their end so they can track the amount of assistance they needed this year and how much it cost. And then we’re going to talk at the end of the year and see why this is important. And then next year we’ll reduce the amount of money and hours we’re giving them, and the third year we’ll reduce it again and then there will be no more. So I’m trying to get them to build it into their own budget and realize that it’s essential - you have to do this. It’s teaching them to feed themselves. You have to be able to support yourself if you want to exist.”

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