Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Q&A with Ilona Burdette, head of the Kentucky Virtual Library

August 04, 2021

Ilona Burdette

During the pandemic, Kentucky’s libraries had to shift to an evolving business model that had little to do with book stacks and traditional services. Instead, they quickly adapted to operations based solely on digital communications, services and resources to assist Kentucky’s educational and governmental institutions.

A key player in the success of the digital shift was the Kentucky Virtual Library (KYVL). Facilitated by the Council, the KYVL is a consortium allowing Kentucky libraries membership to access digital resources. Membership is especially critical to libraries operating in rural or low-income areas where local funding of library resources is a challenge.

We sat down with Ilona Burdette, KYVL’s executive director, to discuss the role of libraries in providing access to online resources and internet connectivity during the pandemic.

A survey conducted in March of 2020 by the American Library Association found that 99% of responding public libraries closed because of the pandemic. How did this affect KYVL usage?

The closures affected all types of libraries, not just public libraries. Across Kentucky, most education and library services went virtual practically overnight, and this sudden transition to online amplified the need for the KYVL.

Our membership includes nearly all Kentucky public libraries, over 50 colleges and universities and about 100 school districts. Although library doors closed, the need for information for Kentuckians continued through the transition to remote work and school. We were happy to be able to help our member libraries and their patrons by providing over 60 online databases – encyclopedias, collections of journal articles, health resources and more – without interruption during the pandemic.

What type of growth did you encounter as more libraries became aware of your services?

Last year, we initiated a program called, “KYVL for All” that temporarily extended access to libraries that weren’t participating in the KYVL at the time of the pandemic. This included public schools and public libraries.

As we have moved forward, two state agencies – the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives (KDLA) and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) - have stepped up to support availability of KYVL resources. KDLA will reimburse public library membership costs for the year ahead and KDE will do likewise for public school districts. KYVL and our member libraries truly appreciate how our state partners are showing their support for our library systems.

Did you know? According to a 2020 study by Common Sense Media, Kentucky is the eighth-worst state in the nation for student internet access. Kentucky’s libraries led the charge to bring Wi-Fi to under-connected communities as part of their pandemic response.

Usage of your resources is dependent upon access to a computer or high-speed Internet at home. We’ve seen studies showing that one out of three Kentucky students doesn’t have reliable internet. How did libraries respond to this need?

Our libraries contributed to meeting this need by providing Wi-Fi access for library users across Kentucky and circulating mobile hotspots to students and patrons. KDLA’s staff collected the locations, passwords and availability for public library Wi-Fi into a one-stop resource, and the Council disseminated this information, since it would also help postsecondary students. This effort was a terrific way to show how our local libraries and state agencies can collaborate for statewide impact.

With the changes brought about by the pandemic, I’m sure librarians learned a lot about the critical needs of their communities, and that probably reshuffled priorities. What changes do you anticipate for the future of library services?

Libraries are continually changing and adapting to meet the needs of their users and communities, and are always looking for ways to increase convenience for busy patrons. COVID also brought about new protocols that emphasize safety.

Specific strategies vary in different types of libraries, but one common thread is that library services and resources are increasingly available on mobile devices. One example that has been gaining popularity in public libraries is curbside pickup. It’s convenient for patrons, but also helps maintain social distancing.

How will KYVL continue to support these changes?

An important role of KYVL is to foster collaboration among all kinds of libraries. Librarians are great at collaboration and problem-solving, and through KYVL, librarians from all kinds of libraries work together to share best practices and innovations. For example, the reopening plan developed by KDLA for Kentucky’s public libraries was adopted by a number of Kentucky’s private colleges after being shared with KYVL’s Leadership Team.

KYVL continues to be a premier resource for Kentucky libraries and their patrons, offering an affordable collection of resources that travel with students from primary grades through college and career.

Other collaborations are underway. Watch for updates in a future column!

Thanks so much. Remind us again, how can our readers utilize KYVL’s services?

Often the best starting point is your own college library, school library or public library. Visit or contact your local library for links and log-in information for KYVL and local resources. You can also begin at

Last Updated: 8/5/2021