Aug 09, 2020 10:55 AM

NORRIS: Kansas State Library a key resource — especially now

Posted Aug 09, 2020 10:55 AM
Kansas State Librarian Eric Norris is Fort Hays State University alum and former director of the Hays Public Library. 
Kansas State Librarian Eric Norris is Fort Hays State University alum and former director of the Hays Public Library. 

My name is Eric Norris, I am the State Librarian of Kansas, and this is a response to Keri Strahler’s letter to the editor printed on Thursday, July 30, in the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The State Library of Kansas, located on the third floor of the Capitol Building, is an agency of the Governor’s Office and though we are one of the oldest library organizations in the state, it is sometimes difficult to inform and educate the public about our work. Not to let a great opportunity go to waste, the following is a very brief and partial overview of a few services we provide at no cost to you, our patron.

The State Library makes available to all residents an extremely wide range of resources for work, life, and leisure. These include research databases covering a multitude of topics and disciplines through magazine, periodical and news coverage, encyclopedia and critical analysis, video, photos, statistical data, activities, and games. 

Our skill-building collection includes language learning (non-English and ESL courses), resume, career, and job-seeking skills, literacy and reading skills, business and computer training, parenting and family information, crafts and hobbies, real estate, self-help, pet training, and much more.

The collection of digital books, in audio and ebook formats, circulated over 680,000 titles last year, and in our continued effort to meet current demand, popular and literary fiction along with timely non-fiction titles are featured and added constantly.

Since most digital books circulate from reader to reader, one check out at time, just like books off the shelf, an individual account is necessary to request and check out a title. The Kansas Library eCard is not a traditional library card. Rather it is an account that lets readers borrow from any of our digital book providers. 

The research and skill building collections generally don't have this requirement, so for most Kansans, they are available and usable right from our website. When this doesn't work (for Kansans traveling, attending school or in military service outside the state), the eCard also lets you take your library with you, by providing alternate access to the same online materials available in-state.

During this current time of isolation and difficulty, it should be recognized that some of our content partners like Encyclopedia Britannica, EBSCO and Tumblebooks are providing all Kansans with new and expanded book and research resources at no additional cost to the State Library. 

Another service of the State Library is the Talking Books of Kansas. Just this month, Talking Books celebrated 50 years of providing personalized support and materials specific to Kansans who are blind, have physical impairments, or are otherwise print disabled. Accessible audio and braille reading materials are available via mail at no cost to the patron or by direct download, to all qualifying Kansas residents of any age. 

Through the pandemic, our dedicated staff have continued to engage and work with our Talking Book patrons through daily phone and email contact, providing themed reading lists and quarterly phone book discussions, and facilitating a yearlong Youth Reading Club.

Public libraries across the state are staying engaged with their communities online through so many exciting and imaginative ways – interactive story times, book clubs, trivia nights, author talks, photography clubs, writing workshops, cooking classes, genealogy groups, just to name a few that I have seen on Facebook alone. For those of us in Shawnee County, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of all that the Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library has to offer by visiting https://tscpl.org/events

Editor's Note: The Hays Public Library's activities page can be found HERE.

Undoubtedly, this is an unprecedented time of stress, we are unsure about almost all aspects of our lives and the immediate future. Everything feels strange, and temporary, and unstable, and frightening –but through all of this, the State Library of Kansas and your local public library have been stalwart in our dedication to serving our communities. 

It might not look the same as it did at the beginning of the year, it might not be what you would have imagined, but every librarian in Kansas is working out how to keep providing the same access to informational, educational, and recreational materials and programs you would normally expect.

Ms. Strahler’s letter was titled “We need to lean on libraries” and I couldn’t agree more. If I have learned anything in almost 15-years of working with and for public libraries in Kansas – we are here for you and, to paraphrase the late Bill Withers, we can help you carry on.

More information about the State Library of Kansas and contact information can be found at our website, https://kslib.info/ 

Eric Norris is a native Kansan who received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas, MA from Fort Hays State University, and MLS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Prior to joining the State Library in 2018, he served as the Adult Department Librarian and Director of the Hays Public Library. He has also worked as a Director of Human Resources and a newspaper reporter.