DATE: January 04, 2013
MBLC Director Announces Retirement
Robert Maier, Director of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), announced his retirement at the January 3, 2013 monthly Board meeting. “I truly believe that when people have the information and resources at hand they will use their intelligence and creativity to transform themselves, their town, their state, their county and the world," said Maier. “That’s why I am so proud to have had this opportunity to serve our Commonwealth. Commonwealth means we work together to improve all of our lives. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. That’s why I’m a librarian.”
In a career that has spanned more than 40 years, Maier’s work has been instrumental in moving libraries forward and shaping the access and services available to Massachusetts residents through the Commonwealth’s libraries. “It is not an overstatement to say that Rob has been a part of every significant library innovation and advancement that has led us to the way we operate today. His experience and in-depth knowledge has been a steady force for libraries and therefore residents, not only in Massachusetts, but in the nation,” said MBLC Chair Frank Murphy.
Throughout his career, Maier learned valuable lessons and experiences that he brought to bear during his decade as MBLC Director. His first job was as a reference librarian and later branch librarian at Cranston RI Public Library System which was trying to bring six formerly independent public libraries together. “It made me value cooperation and it made me aware of barriers to cooperation,” said Maier. The experience also taught him about the value of regional services and the importance of being part of the state library association.
While Director of Bedford MA Public Library, Maier capitalized on the opportunity to improve library service through automation. He worked with other area librarians, trustees and town officials to develop what became the Minuteman Library Network. In order to fund the network Maier and others worked with staff at the MBLC and wrote a successful Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA) grant application which was then matched by the fourteen communities that were the founders. As the network’s first president, Maier coordinated the work of dozens of colleagues and learned how to keep a diverse group focused on its goals and bring a large project to conclusion on time and within budget.
Looking for the opportunity to impact library service on a larger scale, Maier came to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners as Head of Library Development in 1991. “It was an exciting time,” said Maier. “LSCA was funding the start of new automated networks and the public library construction program awarded its first grants.” There are now nine automated networks that make today’s library service possible. The highly successful Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and is responsible for hundreds of projects across the Commonwealth.
The MBLC was also at the center of other major changes that shaped the future of library services. The regional library system, which at that time consisted of three regional systems that served only public libraries, transitioned to six regional systems serving all types of libraries. The Massachusetts Library and Information Network (MLIN) funded public access computers for nearly every public library, put the MBLC on the Internet with a Gopher site (an early precursor to today's web) and later a web site, provided the first statewide databases, and then the Small Libraries in Networks program.
“It showed me what a great state library agency staff can do to move libraries forward and make every library stronger than it could ever be on its own,” said Maier. The benefits of those advancements are still felt today. On average, 22,000 residents use public library Internet computers every day. Over 11 million full text articles are downloaded from state-funded databases each year and the MBLC continues to help small libraries become members of automated networks.
In 2000, Maier was designated MBLC Deputy Director in addition to his position as Head of Library Development. Two years later, Maier was named as Interim Director. Within a week, the Governor exercised 9C cuts reducing most of MBLC budget lines and nearly eliminating account 9506 which funds technology and automated networks. These were the largest cuts taken against library programs to date. “It made me realize that I wanted to be Director,” said Maier.
“It was a long way back,” said Maier. “But I knew that if we stuck together as a library community we could bounce back.” Under Maier’s direction, the MBLC strengthened the State Aid to Public Libraries program by finding ways to keep it relevant as a force for public library development in a constrained fiscal environment. Support for regional library systems was maintained. State-funded online database offerings were expanded and a sophisticated web site and a consumer web portal were created. In addition, the MBLC led the way in disaster recovery developing a first of its kind program with MEMA and FEMA in which libraries open as disaster recovery centers.
During Maier’s tenure, the MBLC helped libraries start literacy programs, kept the federal LSTA grant program vibrant, brought the Equal Access Libraries program to Massachusetts, facilitated five Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant programs supporting public access computing, mounted a dynamic marketing effort that engages libraries and library users, and built more public libraries. Maier also worked closely with the Legislature and the Administration and the Legislative Library Caucus was formed and began working on behalf of libraries.
During the most recent economic crisis funding to support libraries was again reduced. In 2009 it was clear that with more cuts on the way it would be necessary to shrink regional funding and reduce the number of regional systems. Maier was part of a team of dedicated, motivated, and determined librarians who worked to transition from six regional systems to a single system (the Massachusetts Library System) with offices in two locations in six months. “I learned what can happen when a dedicated team, a dedicated board, and an engaged and supportive Governor come together,” said Maier.
Maier has also been instrumental in helping libraries navigate through the challenge brought on by eBook publishers. Some publishers refuse to sell eBooks to libraries or set strict lending limitations. Maier serves on the American Library Association’s Digital Content Working Group and has been part of the Massachusetts’ effort to broaden eBook and new media access while also making it more affordable for libraries and easy to access for residents.
Maier’s last day at the MBLC is March 15, 2013. Commissioners have set a Special Board Meeting for January 16 to begin the search process.
The Board of Library Commissioners (mass.gov/mblc) is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.