To: Members of the Maryland General Assembly
From: Members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
Contact: Sharon Maneki, President
National Federation of the Blind of Maryland
9013 Nelson Way
Columbia, MD 21045
Subject: Moving the Maryland State Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (LBPH) out of the Maryland State Department of Education
Date: January 19, 2017
LBPH is part of the Division of Library Development and Services (DLDS), which is organized within the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). As a part of MSDE, LBPH cannot operate properly because it occupies an insignificant position within this large bureaucracy. Because of the low priorities that MSDE assigns to LBPH, LBPH is unable to support blind children in their development of literacy skills. LBPH is unable to properly serve blind adults in their need to obtain information about careers and other aspects of community life. Furthermore, LBPH is unable to adequately lend a helping hand to blind seniors who are losing vision and have few opportunities to continue their life-long habits of reading.
The Maryland General Assembly should enact legislation to create a new entity in the executive branch of state government, the Maryland State Library, which will be responsible for LBPH and other functions currently performed by DLDS.
LBPH, located at 415 Park Avenue in downtown Baltimore, serves patrons across the state of Maryland who are “legally blind and cannot see well or focus long enough to read standard print; who are physically disabled in that they have difficultly handling a book or turning pages; or who are reading disabled due to an organic dysfunction such as dyslexia.” Approximately 68% of the library’s patrons are senior citizens; 20% are between the ages of 21 and 60; and 12% are students. These patrons depend on LBPH because other public libraries lack the materials and expertise to serve this group of citizens.
LBPH is part of the network of state libraries operated by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Library of Congress. As a network library, LBPH distributes books and magazines in Braille and audio formats to patrons in Maryland. Because of this federal-state partnership, LBPH does not pay for Braille books or magazines. However, NLS provides LBPH with only one copy of each audio book it produces. As a network member, LBPH must then duplicate additional copies at its own expense to distribute to patrons. LBPH and the state of Maryland is responsible for maintaining its building, paying its staff, and providing for other operational needs such as computers, phones, and office equipment. The state of Maryland has never adequately fulfilled its role in this federal-state partnership.
In 2016, the Maryland Advisory Council on Libraries issued recommendations to transition DLDS to an independent state agency in the executive branch of Maryland state government. According to these recommendations, DLDS would become the Maryland State Library. The Maryland State Library is to be governed by the Maryland State Library Board. If the Maryland General Assembly follows these recommendations and creates this new state agency, the Maryland State Library will be responsible for the operation of LBPH. The entire library community supports this change in structure.
LBPH has been administratively part of the DLDS in MSDE for the forty-eight years of its existence. Throughout its history, LBPH has suffered under this administrative structure because it has never been able to manage its own resources. For the first twenty years, LBPH was housed in a substandard rented building that had a leaky roof and heating problems. These conditions damaged books and other materials. This situation was only remedied because of the advocacy efforts of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, not because of leadership from MSDE. LBPH moved to its own facility and current location in 1992. While having its own facility helped matters, problems with poor library services continued because of the administrative structure.
The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies, which is part of the American Library Association, has established national standards for all network libraries in the Library of Congress Books for the Blind program. These standards outline such items as the number of staff these libraries should have based on the target population, the type of staff these libraries should hire, the hours of operation, etc. LBPH has never been able to meet the national library standards created for this type of library. LBPH experienced years of underfunding and staff shortages because MSDE was more interested in funding its other programs. LBPH did not even have its own line item in the DLDS budget until the Maryland General Assembly took action in 2014.
Unfortunately, having its own line item in the budget since fiscal year 2016 has not led to the expected improvement in services provided by LBPH. Bureaucratic delays within MSDE have caused delays in hiring needed staff, as well as delays in procuring essential equipment such as a new nonvisually accessible telephone system. MSDE officials frequently require redundant justifications and repeatedly demand answers to irrelevant questions. Locating LBPH in a structure with fewer layers of bureaucracy will enable it to use its funding with greater dispatch in order to improve services for the blind and physically handicapped citizens that it serves.
ADVANTAGES OF THE PROPOSED LEGISLATION
Creating the Maryland State Library will lead to greater efficiency.
LBPH has a history of missed opportunities. Because of inadequate funding, LBPH has limited access to state of the art computers and software to fulfill its mission. The most glaring example of missed opportunity is the failure to adequately support the Accessible Textbook Coordination program for students and faculty in higher education. In 2007, the Maryland General Assembly requested that LBPH serve as the coordinator for the distribution of accessible textbooks so that blind and other reading disabled students in college can obtain textbooks on time and in a format they can use. This approach would not only benefit individual students, but also would eliminate duplication of effort by individual colleges throughout the state. Such efficiencies have never been realized because the State of Maryland has never adequately funded this program through LBPH. Once again, MSDE failed to provide needed leadership.
Reorganizing LBPH into the Maryland State Library will not require significant additional funding.
Experience demonstrates that reorganization does not require significant additional funding, but does bring about a better quality of service to constituents. For example, on the federal level state libraries were housed in the Office of Library Programs in the U.S. Department of Education. During the 1990’s, libraries were moved out of the U.S. Department of Education and became part of the Institute of Museums and Libraries. In a study entitled Moving to Independence: A Case History of the Institute of Museums and Libraries (IMLS), the author, Dr. Trudi Hahn, Teaching Professor and Director of Academic Outreach at the iSchool, College of Information Science and Technology, Drexel University, states that:
“since separating from USDE and aligning with IMLS, the nation’s libraries have made tremendous progress both programmatically and financially. In real dollars, their budget has not expanded a great deal, but they have much greater control over their budget, a greater opportunity to educate elected officials, the ability to work with professional associations, greater visibility for themselves and for the library and museum community.”
The libraries in Maryland in general, and LBPH in particular, will benefit from reorganization just as the state libraries in IMLS did. The State of Maryland should continue to fund LBPH, according to the funding formula that the General Assembly established in 2014.
Providing a new structure will enable LBPH to become a 21st-century library.
Due to advances in technology, libraries are becoming more dependent on computer hardware and software. This is equally true for specialized libraries such as LBPH. Having a streamlined structure will enable LBPH to purchase specialized duplication equipment to make copies of digital audio books. LBPH will also be able to hire a staff that has greater technical abilities. LBPH must have the flexibility to take advantage of new technologies to advance its service delivery system.
Every segment of LBPH’s customer base will continue to grow in the 21st century. Each year approximately 75,000 Americans become blind. Due to the war on terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been and will continue to be an increase in the number of veterans who are blind and have other reading disabilities. Since people are living longer, more seniors are facing the loss of vision due to macular degeneration and other diseases. LBPH must also serve a diverse population of working-aged adults. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults. More and more Americans join the ranks of people with diabetes each year. Advances in medical technology have made the survival of more disabled children possible, which is another reason for expansion in the number of LBPH patrons. In order to plan for this patron expansion, LBPH must have a stable source of funding. LBPH also needs sufficient staff to conduct outreach programs to find the people who need its services. Creating a new state library structure is the only way to ensure that LBPH truly becomes a 21st-century library.
Blind and physically-handicapped patrons receive woefully inadequate services from LBPH. Since its establishment, LBPH has been plagued with inadequate funding and staff shortages. MSDE bureaucracy threatens the existence and stifles the growth of LBPH. The State of Maryland should not continue to deprive LBPH patrons of essential library services. It is time to loosen the stranglehold that MSDE exerts on Maryland’s Libraries by creating the Maryland State Library.