State Librarian and Director, Delaware Division of Libraries

Dr. Annie Norman loves Delaware

Dr. Annie Norman

“I have always believed children should be in book floods, not book deserts.” For Dr. Annie Norman, the State Librarian and Director of the Delaware Division of Libraries, the goal has always been to help a small state make a large impact.

Norman was born in Maryland, with a family ancestry in the state dating back to the 1600s. She knew Delaware from a young age, spending time at her family’s summer place in Fenwick Island as a teenager. She later moved to Dover in 1982 and commuted to Salisbury State College (now Salisbury University) to get her bachelor’s degree. After three years of college, and throughout her first pregnancy, her husband told her “you’ve gotta get a job closer to home,” so Norman took an entry-level job at Delaware Division of Libraries.

“I started at Libraries for the Blind and Physically handicapped,” Norman said. “It was a very chaotic time there, and they kept promoting me– I had four promotions in four years by four different supervisors.”

Norman knew she would eventually need a master’s degree to become a librarian, but waited for the right opportunity. “I would learn as much as I could and make myself useful. I think I got so many of the promotions because it was clear I was interested in it as a career. I actually made it to administrative librarian before I had my master’s degree.” Norman eventually got her master’s at Drexel University.

It was at this point that Norman started to craft a vision for the future of Delaware Libraries. “One thing unique about Delaware is that we have to wear a lot of hats as part of a smaller agency. Unlike larger states, this helps us see a lot of connections between the different programs we provide, and there is a lot of value to that.”

Norman has been State Librarian and Director of the Delaware Division of Libraries since 2002. She considers the statewide Delaware Library Catalog to be their biggest achievement so far. “In a state this size with limited resources, I wanted to make sure we had the depth and breadth of content to support all of Delaware’s brainpower. So I knew we had to somehow pool our resources.”

    The statewide Delaware Library Catalog includes all 33 public libraries and a total of 70 libraries if you include the academic libraries in the system. A diverse shared catalog of over two and a half million items including; e-books, audiobooks, etc., instantly gave Delawareans options that even the largest states do not have access to. Even in 2020, Delaware is one of a handful of states with a connected statewide catalog.

    Just as important was the access to live data this framework created. It allowed their teams to focus on places they could make an impact, and hyperfocus on patron’s needs. This data would lay the groundwork for Norman’s vision and the Delaware Libraries’ successes into the present.

    “Delaware is a great place to be able to make a difference. It’s a great place to experiment. Our success is really a testament to all of the libraries working together.”

    “We have been reading ‘Palaces for the People’ by Eric Klinenberg. This book talks about how libraries are a key part of the social infrastructure. We are providing a diverse set of resources and opportunities for communities and individuals to achieve their full potential. And live data is a critical tool for this.”

    The access to data immediately led to an increase in partnerships with other state agencies, and it became clear that libraries were a unique solution to a lot of statewide challenges. They worked with the Department of Labor to place employment specialists physically in the libraries. They created substantial relationships with Delaware Health and Social Services to connect social workers to patrons who needed them. And they received funding from Delaware Division of the Arts for two arts performers to travel to every library throughout the summer.

    The expansion of partnerships was created out of a need to help connect underrepresented people to job opportunities during the last recession. “The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation connected us to a grant to allow us to put job centers in the libraries as well as wireless. From there we realized the depth of needs and how libraries were positioned to create solutions. From there STEM arrived and connected us to schools and had us put 3D printers in the libraries and technologies that couldn’t be experienced otherwise.”

    With Governor Carney’s election and First Lady Tracey Quillen Carney’s focus on literacy, Norman sought solutions that combined relationships with existing opportunities. “We are using ‘Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library,’ which provides books through the mail every month for children from birth up to age five, to partner with Delaware Pediatricians’ ‘Reach Out and Read’ Program. This helped extend their budget.”

    Historically, libraries have been involved with helping learners, and not as much with supporting basic needs. Developing the tools and processes necessary to affect change was a unique challenge for Delaware Libraries. “We worked on the creation of a Basic Needs Chart to help make sure we are providing Delawareans with the right referrals to our partners, to make sure we are sending them in the right direction, and make sure they get what they need.”

    In her spare time, Norman still loves a good book. “I do read for fun. I have my business books and my evening books.” She also enjoys going to local yard sales and is an avid collector of World’s Fair memorabilia. But after almost 20 years as director, it is clear that her mind is always on processes and systems.

    “Delaware is a great place to be able to make a difference. It’s a great place to experiment. Our success is really a testament to all of the libraries working together.”