November 21, 2017

Politicians of the Year 2007: Delaware's Dream Team

Governor Ruth Ann Minner (l.), Secretary of State Harriet Smith Windsor, and Assistant Secretary of State Rick Geisenberger boosted per capita and library construction funds, provide new computers every three years—and just love libraries

By John N. Berry III — Library Journal, 09/15/2007

To librarians at the Delaware Division of Libraries, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, Secretary of State Harriet Smith Windsor, and Assistant Secretary of State Rick Geisenberger are “the Delaware Dream Team.” The editors of LJ concur, naming these longstanding library lovers our Politicians of the Year 2007.

The tech-savvy governor “gets” how libraries are woven into the life of her state. So Delaware’s librarians and libraries of all types have prospered from the team’s leadership.

On the most basic level, appropriations for state aid to libraries began at $2,569,500 in 2003 and have grown annually, this year totaling $4,469,500—more than $5 per capita in a state with a 2006 population estimated at 853,476. [Excluding Ohio and Hawaii, heavily dependent on state monies, state funding was about $1.50 per capita in 2004, the last year for which such figures are available.]

Building libraries

State aid to library construction has boomed, from $2,312,400 in 2003 to $8,797,000 in 2007. In Delaware, construction grants match local dollars, so the impact doubles.

“We started the library construction funding years ago, when I was in the Senate. I wanted to help my local Milford Library,” says Minner. “We needed to improve some of the services and materials, but we needed a bigger building.”

As a member of the Joint Bond Bill Committee, which deals with capital projects, she pushed for construction funding—then expanded it for all libraries. And the requirement for matching funds has stimulated new donors and new usage.

Planning for progress

All three of the Dream Team are Democrats but agree that libraries enjoy “broad bipartisan support,” as Geisenberger puts it. Delaware’s Senate is Democratic; its House is Republican.

The governor and her team supported funding for the 2004 statewide effort that resulted in the Delaware Master Plan for Library Services and Construction. An impressive series of initiatives emerged. The trio instituted a three-year replacement cycle for library computers; beginning in 2005, $300,000 has been appropriated each year to that program. “We keep updating our computers because of their importance to the lives of our children,” says Minner. Appropriations for other technology hardware, which began in 2003 at $100,000, reached $635,000 in 2007. State money to acquire databases rose from $387,400 in 2003 to total $510,000 in 2007.

With a boost from the Dream Team, the Delaware Division of Libraries, under Director Annie Norman, last year launched the Delaware Library Catalog. It already includes all the records from two Delaware counties and is adding the records from the largest one, Newcastle.

Ultimately, residents need only key in the URL to get user-friendly access to all the library resources in the state; participating libraries are issuing a new Delaware Library Card.

E-government

Minner has reorganized the technology infrastructure. “We went from 49th among the states when Brown University first did its study of e-government in 2000. This year we ranked first,” says Geisenberger. “[Governor Minner] created our Department of Technology Information, adding a new Government Information Center, which manages the content on the state web site.”

What about those who can’t access the web from home or work? “The answer was pretty simple—the libraries,” Geisenberger notes. “That’s why we linked state funds to the Gates [Foundation] grants. We realized that while our libraries had a lot of computers, many were leftovers and obsolete.”

Libraries then and now

Minner, who grew up on a farm, recalls how her third-grade teacher inspired her to use the library and explore the wider world. Her father asked her to drop out of school to stay and work on the farm. She later married; when she was 32, her husband died suddenly, and she returned to school to earn her GED diploma, then went on to college.

“When I was in [college], they didn’t have the kind of computers they have now,” says Minner, explaining her focus on e-government and the use of technology. “I’ve been fascinated with how you can communicate so easily.” She remembers a girlhood that for some years lacked a telephone or even electricity. Given the influence of the latter, she reflects, “Don’t you really wonder, when you think about computers and the way we communicate today, what we’ll be able to do in 20 years?”

“I worked in the college library to help pay my tuition, so I learned about all the things they do in libraries,” Minner recalls. Asked if she thinks the technology is a threat to libraries, she responds adamantly, “Absolutely not! I think it allows us to process material much faster, and it allows us the opportunity to share the materials we have so much of more easily.”

Recently, the state sought places to give away new energy-saving light bulbs. “We asked people to go to their libraries to pick up those two free light bulbs,” Minner recalls. “Our libraries say they are a lot busier now. It’s amazing how many people have said to me, ‘I didn’t know there was a computer there that I could use any time I needed it.’”

Librarian wannabe

Windsor agrees that libraries and technology are complementary. “Libraries are a catalyst,” she continues. “They are still a hub in our state. They encourage more activity from home, but there are still many who need to come to the library” for its atmosphere and its updated technology.

A librarian wannabe who’s even cataloged her own books using the Dewey Decimal System, Windsor developed a love of literature at an early age and worked in a library in college. As a high school English teacher, she saw what school and public libraries could mean. “I saw students experience things vicariously that they could never know otherwise,” she says.

Geisenberger calls his interest in libraries “really very selfish,” since he, his wife, and their two children use the library every week: “We take out about 25 books, DVDs, and CDs. I know our library is the community center.”

Quality first

Minner’s emphasis on outstanding government service draws on her interest in the federal quality awards developed by former Interior Secretary Malcolm Baldridge (1981–87) and the Six Sigma process that has worked so well in corporate America. Using them, the Division of Library Services has won the Delaware Quality Commitment Award and Delaware Quality Merit Award and is now trying to win “the big one”: the W.L. (Bill) Gore Award of Excellence.

On the local level, the Dream Team recognized that Delaware libraries, especially those in small communities, need skilled, well-educated staff but can’t always afford the education required to upgrade employees’ skills and talent. To that end, the state appropriated $50,000 in 2003 for scholarships to send library workers to study for the MLS. This year, that amount grew to $275,000.

To ensure that Delaware’s school libraries also are brought up to speed, the state hired Ross Todd of Rutgers University School of Communication, Information & Library Studies, NJ, to survey their effectiveness.

Now Delaware seeks a “seamless information landscape,” ensuring that what students learn in school libraries will be helpful at their local public libraries. “We are really focusing on how we can work with the school libraries to make their searching and other systems similar to those across all the libraries in Delaware,” says Geisenberger.

The leadership of the Dream Team also means Delaware’s elementary school libraries have new databases. A state partnership with the University of Delaware provides access to networked e-resources and training, including full-text online encyclopedias and full-text magazine and journal databases.

Looking forward

Topping off their library initiatives, the Dream Team actively participated in the hugely successful Delaware Book Festival, begun in 2006. The second annual festival will be November 3 in Dover, the state capital.

Minner served eight years in the Delaware House of Representatives, ten years in the Senate, and eight years as lieutenant governor and as president of the Senate. After seven years as governor, she’ll retire next year with a rich legacy.

Indeed, Geisenberger notes, “If you take elected leaders to their library in the morning when it opens, they see a crowd of people rush in every day. It is clear libraries are needed and that is why we focus so much on them.”

Influenced by libraries, Minner, Windsor, and Geisenberger—the Delaware Dream Team—have supported and improved them, with the state’s citizens and librarians the beneficiaries.

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