Volume 29, Number 3, Fall 2007

Western Council of State Libraries Venture into New Territory

Jan Walsh, President, Western Council of State Libraries, and Washington State Librarian

State librarians in the western states first met as a group in Juneau, Alaska, in November 1973, when the Western States Library Agencies Conference was convened. The group was officially incorporated as the Western Council of State Libraries in 1977 and has met continuously since that date. Twenty-two state libraries west of the Mississippi River are members of the council: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. The council's purposes are to:

  • actively promote and improve library and information management services;
  • provide leadership based on consensus at regional and national levels on issues of common concern;
  • advocate for national policy and legislation that enhances library and information management services; and
  • provide a forum for resource sharing and continuing education for each state library agency.

Several years ago, the council ventured into uncharted territory by making a significant change in strategic direction to support its purpose. Applying for and receiving two grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has facilitated collaboration on unique solutions for commonly held needs. The first grant enabled the states to improve library services by defining the essential skills of library practitioners and increasing and improving training opportunities, while the second grant supports two Tribal Libraries conferences.

Western Council Continuum Project

In 2003, the Western Council of State Libraries received an IMLS Leadership Grant to improve the training of “library practitioners,” defined as library directors and managers without a degree in library science. The outcomes of the grant are a list of competencies that describe the skills, knowledge, and abilities needed by library practitioners; a regional library practitioner certificate; and reciprocal agreements among certificate-granting states. Some member states use the competencies to establish curriculum for their workshops and courses. The project contributed to ALA's interest in establishing a national library support staff certification program. More information can be found at the Library Practitioner Certificate Program Web site.

Tribal Libraries, Archives, and Museums Conference

As a result of another IMLS grant, the Western Council of State Libraries will present a conference entitled "Guardians of Language, Memory, and Lifeways: Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums." The conference is being held October 23-25, 2007, in Oklahoma City. Eight pre-conferences will be offered on October 22, 2007. This conference builds on two earlier conferences hosted in Arizona in 2002 and 2005. The American Indian Library Association is again a cosponsor of the 2007 conference, as it was of the two previous events. Over fifty concurrent sessions will be offered on topics of special interest to those working in a tribal organization or dealing with tribal materials. Conference planners are hoping to host more than four hundred attendees to the 2007 conference. A second conference is also funded. For more information visit the conference Web site.

Paraprofessional Staff Certification

In June 2007, ALA and Western Council of State Libraries received another IMLS grant - with ALA being the fiscal agent - for $407,111 to develop a national voluntary certification program for paraprofessional staff in libraries.

Western Council Offers Unique Value to State Libraries

The Western Council of State Libraries provides its membership with valuable avenues for networking and collaboration, including identifying and articulating issues, many of which are unique to the west. It also is a forum to implement possible collaborative actions, such as the grants, in response to identified needs. Staff exchanges present a rare opportunity for staff of member state library agencies to enrich their experiences by traveling to another site, attending training, or securing a special consultant or speaker. Ultimately, the council offers a unique venue for articulating western-specific concerns and for networking, collaboration, advocacy, and staff development.