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On the road for libraries: Cape May and Lewes

A new library is being built in Lewes, Delaware
The new library being built in Lewes, Delaware.

As Larra Clark reports, we had the pleasure of working with the “chiefs” (as in the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA)) at their recent fall meeting in Cape May, New Jersey. During the past years, ALA has worked with COSLA on many issues, notably advocating for an improved E-rate program, federal appropriations for libraries (i.e., the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA)), robust and affordable broadband capabilities at libraries, and more reasonable terms for library ebook lending. At the Cape May meeting, our focus was on the Policy Revolution! initiative—both in terms of how COSLA engages in national policy goals but also how the work of the initiative may advance the work at the state level. I am optimistic about our future work together on policy and thank COSLA leadership and members for their engagement.COSLA held its Fall Meeting where participants discussed the national policy agenda for libraries.

More often than not, I attach other meetings on my travel to workshops or conferences. This time, I stopped off in Lewes, Delaware, just a delightful ferry ride across from Cape May. The Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) has had several interactions with the Lewes Public Library over the last few years. Lewes Public Library heard about former OITP Fellow Roger Levien’s work on the future of libraries and his report Confronting the Future. The folks at Lewes invited Dr. Levien to advise them on their new building project and he indeed travelled to Lewes for this purpose. I kept in occasional contact with the people in Lewes, but here was my opportunity to finally meet them in person.

During my visit, I met with board president Beckie Healey, board members Ned Butera, Chanta Wilkinson, and Barbara Vaughan, library director Ed Goyda, and president of the Board of the Friends of Lewes Public Library Candace Wessella. We had a wonderful exchange at which I learned a lot about the evolution of the new building project—which by the way is slated to be completed next year. I got tours of the current library and the construction site, but even more impressive are the energy, knowledge, and enthusiasm of the board members. It was clear that this was no mere building project (as formidable and ambitious that is), but a new major component of the town and larger service area. Obviously, they put in countless volunteer hours to make the new building project a reality.

Not surprisingly, there were a few bumps on the road, and these bumps were striking in their comparability to those we encounter here in Washington. Some folks in their community asked why do we need a library; why do we need a new library building; or what is the role of a library in an increasingly digital society? The answers are familiar to us, namely many people do not have personal access to new technologies and services and there is a big difference between access to technology and the ability to convert that access to important educational, economic, social, or political outcomes—not to mention the larger role of a library as a key community anchor institution, which resonated in Lewes.

I was happy to be able to share a little about trends in technology, society, and public policy as I see them. I also talked a bit about ALA resources such as the United for Libraries division. These visits really help with our work, both in spreading the word about national policy (it is really true that all politics is local) and learning about what’s happening in the real world to inform discussions inside the beltway. I also thank our Lewes’ colleagues for a fabulous lunch at a restaurant in their charming downtown area!

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Alan Inouye

Alan S. Inouye is the director of ALA's Office for Information Technology Policy. Previously, he was the coordinator of the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President and a study director at the National Academy of Sciences. Alan completed his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley.

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