Whew! It’s over and we have a budget!

Today Governor Abbott signed Senate Bill 1, the General Appropriations Act. This action culminates months of work by our agency commission, staff, and stakeholders across the state to set a budget that will continue our work providing Texans the information they need to be informed, productive citizens.

The TSLAC 2018-2019 Budget Overview

The final budget for TSLAC as included in the General Appropriations Act stands at $30,227,139 in GR funds and a total budget of $66,010,905. These figures represent a total decrease of state funding of 4.9%, but, an overall agency funding increase of about 1.5%.

Like most other state agencies, we had prepared a budget as instructed at a 4% reduction ($1,271,405) in base GR funding. And while $250,000 of this amount was restored for security and repairs at the Sam Houston Center in Liberty, the legislature, however, reduced the agency’s GR appropriation by an additional $536,573. These reductions can be taken without the loss of staff or deep impact to library and archives programs.

Broadband initiative

The budget includes a supplemental one-time $1 million from the Economic Stabilization Funds (the “Rainy Day Fund”) to support broadband development in Texas public libraries. We are grateful to the Legislature for helping the commission achieve a major milestone toward their strategic goal of ensuring digital inclusion through libraries. The project will help libraries secure E-Rate discounts for high-speed Internet affordable and furthers our goal of demonstrating the important role that libraries can play in providing a digital safety net for their communities. The staff of the Library Development and Networking Division has already begun to plan for this project. Please stay tuned for details in the coming days and weeks.

Unfortunately, no other exceptional items were funded, including the requested $8 million for e-book materials for TexShare and TexQuest. It seems that it was not a year to gain such an appropriation, though many lawmakers told us privately and in committee hearings about their awareness and appreciation of the TexShare and TexQuest programs. We will continue to push for additional resources in future legislative sessions.

I want to thank the Texas Library Association and other supporters across the state who took time to express to the Legislature the importance of the services provided by our agency. We are humbled and grateful for your advocacy and encouragement.

Give yourself the Edge

A comment we hear a lot as we travel the state and talk to librarians is, “we need the State Library to help us tell our story better.” I hear a significant and understandable frustration among many librarians that their community does not fully recognize and appreciate what they do. And undoubtedly that is true: libraries are one of the greatest resources a community has to support literacy and learning, to create sustainable cities and counties, and to ensure access to technology and online information. But often we see that the library is underutilized and underappreciated and we don’t always have a seat at the table for critical discussions in the areas where we could most effectively contribute.

Edge is specifically designed to help libraries tell their story in the critical area of technology. TSLAC purchases access for every public library in the state to this highly effective tool designed specifically so that libraries can assess their technology readiness, make a case for local support, and demonstrate the important role they can play in digital inclusion and technology access. Edge allows a library to benchmark their work against others of similar size across the country to determine where they are ahead of the curve and where they need to improve.

Over 200 libraries in Texas have completed the assessment and many have used Edge to great effect. The San Antonio Public Library used Edge to assess its technology program and ultimately to argue successfully for $1 million in additional city funds to improve library technology. The New Braunfels Public Library, an early adopter of Edge, used the resource to evaluate its effectiveness in serving the community, a process that led to expanding services to key clientele such as disabled persons and eventually doubling the library’s bandwidth. In Pottsboro, Library Director Dianne Connery used Edge to demonstrate that the library is an essential service and stimulated the library to think about ways it could align its services with community priorities. These and many other success stories can be found on the Edge site.

Edge includes a toolkit of resources, assessment tools that are keyed to benchmarks in three key strategy areas, and a range of other resources geared to help libraries advance their technology as a critical element of the overall library program.

We offer Edge as part of an overall suite of services and tools libraries can use to both manage their services and to also talk about what they do and advocate for their programs. I hope that you will take time to explore Edge today and consider the many ways it can be of service to helping tell your library story.

Libraries Past, Present and Future, and the Upcoming TLA

A few days ago, because it is National Library Week, I did an interview for the public radio show The Texas Standard. They were nice and the piece came out well. The topic was what was the oldest library in Texas. (There were three contenders and all three have a claim to being the oldest in a category, but you’ll have to listen to the segment to find out.)

While we always appreciate the coverage, and as much as I like to talk about the history of libraries, what I would much rather talk about is the future of libraries. As we move toward the end of the second decade of this century, we have demonstrated that far from obsolete, libraries have re-invented themselves as vibrant hubs of learning, technology, and community engagement. A recent article in the Dallas Morning News and Austin American Statesman by Texas Library Association President-Elect Ling Hwey Jeng nicely describes by investments in libraries pay off huge dividends for communities. The recently published study on the economic value of libraries by the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Texas quantifies that every dollar invested in public libraries returns $4.64 in value to Texas communities.

Next week, the Texas Library Association annual conference will be held in San Antonio. TSLAC is looking forward to participating both as we attend exciting programs by library experts from across the country, but also as presenters. TSLAC is presenting or sponsoring 33 programs at the conference. TSLAC is proud to be a sponsor of the program, “Big Idea: Artificial Intelligence–Out of Science Fiction and into Daily Life” presented by Anita Brede, CEO and co-founder of Iris AI.

TSLAC staff are presenting sessions that range over a wide variety of topics, including Power Up TexQuest! Hands On Lab by Liz Philippi (April 19, 2:45-3:45 p.m.), Top Tech Trends presented by Kyla Hunt (April 20, 4:15-5:15 p.m.), and Edge Initiative and Enhanced Public Services by Jennifer Peters (April 21, 8:30 – 9:30 a.m.).

We also urge librarians to attend two sessions where we are soliciting feedback on two very important processes related to TSLAC continuing to plan for the future development of Texas libraries. On Thursday, April 20 from 11:15 to 12:15 a.m. Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz and I will be leading a discussion of the agency sunset review. And later that day, April 20, from 1:45 to 2:45 p.m., Library Development and Networking Director Deborah Littrell will be leading a discussion of priorities for the next five-year plan for federally-funded LSTA projects in Texas. We urge you to attend both of these programs to let us know your thoughts on how TSLAC can assist in creating strong future libraries in Texas.

And also please come visit us in the exhibit hall at the TSLAC booth #2409.

We look forward to meeting and conferring with all our colleagues to discuss the exciting world of libraries today and into the future.

The importance of IMLS for Texas library services

The President’s budget released a few days ago eliminates a number of federal agencies. Among those is the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Since then, we have received a number of questions about what the impact of eliminating that agency would be on Texas libraries. The impact would be significant. Every year, Texas receives nearly $11 million in federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds that come to Texas via the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

We produced a short video that details how the funds are spent in Texas. I urge you to take a moment to view the video as it provides a good visual on the wide distribution of these federally funded services.

Over 90% of these funds pay for library services that directly benefit local communities all over the state. The major programs funded with federal dollars are:

  • TexShare resources. Nearly every public and university library in the state accesses online information via TexShare. Federal funds supply about 25% of the annual cost of TexShare online resources. Federal funds are also used to support TexQuest resources used by K-12 students across the state.
  • Interlibrary loan. Thanks to federal LSTA funds Texans in over 500 communities borrow needed library materials from any other library in the state. ILL service is funded 100% with federal dollars.
  • Grants to local libraries. LSTA funds pay for grants for innovative library services in hundreds of communities large and small across Texas.
  • Summer reading program. Across Texas, public libraries keep children reading through the summer months with federal LSTA funds.
  • Continuing education for library staff. Thousands of library staff across the state, especially smaller community libraries, benefit from training and technical assistance provided through federal funds.
  • Edge technology assistance. Federal LSTA funds allow over 200 Texas public libraries to improve the quality of their technology via the Edge program.

In addition to these projects, we use about $900,000 annually to support TSLAC’s state archival projects as well as the Talking Book Program which provides recorded books and other materials to thousands of persons with visual impairment or physical disability across the state.

Libraries and Archives and the 85th Session

Those of us who work in state government expect the 140 days of our biennial legislative session–which started January 10 and go to the end of May–to be a hectic time. But this session so far has been particularly active for our agency. Here are a few highlights so far:

  • The TSLAC budget has now been heard in the Senate Finance and the House Appropriations Committees. We have also had our mark-up hearing in the Appropriations subcommittee that covers our agency. In that meeting held on Tuesday of this week, the committee adopted our item to help libraries provide broadband to their communities. Yesterday, the committee reconvened and moved it from “adopted” to “Article XI,” a wish-list category that includes many millions of dollars worth of items that will ultimately go unfunded. But they also pended our TexShare, cybersecurity, and staff

    TSLAC staff Ashley Stevens with Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and the Texas Declaration of Independence.

    increases items in a way that suggests they could get a good second look.

  • Two bills have been introduced that pertain to open content and open education resources, topics of interest to the library community. SB 810 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham would encourage the greater use of open education resources (OERs) and directs TSLAC to study the feasibility of establishing a repository for OERs from participating Texas institutions. SB 803 by Seliger of Amarillo would study the feasibility of collecting and making available publicly funded research, so-called open content. Both bills have been referred to the Senate Higher Education Committee.
  • Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury has introduced SB 902 that would prohibit TSLAC from adopting minimum criteria for public library accreditation in four areas, two of which–local support and staffing–are fundamental to the criteria. The Texas Library Association has taken an oppose position to this bill based on their assessment that it would “diminish the quality of library services throughout the state.” The bill has been referred to the Senate Business and Commerce committee chaired by Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills.
  • On Wednesday, March 1, we were invited by Senator Kolkhorst to come to come to the floor of the Senate with a historical document to mark Texas

    State Archivist Jelain Chubb and Senator Royce West of Dallas.

    Independence Day (March 2, however, the Senate was not in session that day). We took to the Senate our two very rare and valuable versions of the Texas Declaration of Independence, the handwritten version of which five were created and ours is the only remaining, and the printed broadside, 1,000 copies of which were printed at San Felipe de Austin and only 15 remains. Our copy was acquired in the papers of Mirabeau B. Lamar, second president of the Republic of Texas. The senators enjoyed viewing the documents and we were honored to share them.

We look forward to updating you as the session continues. And hang onto your hats: it’s sure to be a wild ride as usual.

My photo op with the entire Texas Senate and the broadside version of the Texas Declaration of Independence.

Christine McNew and the importance of library service for children

Christine McNew

This week we had the sad task of announcing the death of a wonderful TSLAC colleague and extremely devoted professional, Christine McNew, Youth Services Consultant. Christine dedicated her life to the advancement of excellence in library services to children. Following our post on the Library Developments blog, many expressions of sympathy and disbelief poured in from across the state and nation. These individuals understood the outstanding work that Christine has done over the last 17 years at the Texas State Library and throughout her career.

Christine left the agency following the disastrous budget reduction in the 2012-2013 biennium. We felt extremely lucky to be able to hire her back two years ago and since rejoining the staff, Christine worked very hard to re-establish TSLAC’s support of library services for children in all parts of the state. She produced new workshop series, both in person and by webinar, she supported more robust adoption of summer reading programs in Texas libraries, she worked to revive TSLAC support of El día de los niños, día de los libros, Day of the child, day of the book, and she led the charge to get libraries to adopt summer nutrition programs.

Among her many remarkable achievements, Christine’s work with Family Place in Texas could rank as her greatest and most enduring accomplishment. Over the past two years, Christine has assisted 55 Texas public libraries to receive training in the Family Place model of library services to children. With TSLAC sponsorship, using federal LSTA funding, staff from these libraries have travelled to the Middle Country Library in New York State to learn about this total approach to serving children from learning about brain development, to selecting children’s room furniture, materials selection, and modeling reading behavior for children.

Dedication of the Family Place children’s program at the Bee Cave Public Library.

Last Friday I attended the dedication of the new Family Place children’s room at the Bee Cave Public Library. On hand were dignitaries including the mayor and others to celebrate this achievement. Kathleen Deerr of Family Place explained how children who enter school reading or ready to read will be more successful in school and more productive, and civically engaged adults. The investment that we make in the intellectual development of the preschool child in our public libraries is not just a nice luxury, it is a down payment on citizens who will contribute to our economy and engage in our civic institutions.

Christine McNew understood these truths and she worked tirelessly to advance these programs in hundreds of libraries across the state. Through the Family Place program, 55 libraries statewide are now strongly focused on effective methods of ensuring that generations of young Texans will have the tools they need to succeed in life.

That is a legacy worthy of our appreciation and celebration.

Welcome back, Texas Legislature

It’s that time again–the return of the Texas Legislature. It happens in January of every odd numbered year and lasts for 140 days. The 85th Regular Session convened this Tuesday.

The TSLAC display in the ground floor rotunda of the Capitol.

The TSLAC display in the ground floor rotunda of the Capitol.

And there to greet House and Senate members and their families and other visitors to the Capitol was a display featuring the Texas State Library and Archives Commission in the ground floor rotunda. The display features beautifully designed panels showcasing the work of the agency, the four major divisions, and the Center for the Book. The display also included the giant postcard from our “Wish You Were Here” vintage postcard display in our lobby and all week visitors were making their own selfie postcards using the display.

This week we also welcomed about 30 staffers from legislative and policy

The Library Development and Networking banner in our display.

The Library Development and Networking banner in our display.

offices to our agency to learn about services that we offer to legislators and their staffs, including records management, archival resources, and access to TexShare online content.

 

We love to talk about our agency and we love to serve the public and state government. I am hopeful that we hear often from our friends in legislative offices during this session and that we can make their very difficult and challenging work a bit easier.

We look forward to a fun and frantic session. If you happen to be over at the Capitol for any reason, we hope you will stop in and visit us and learn more about our services.

2016 – A year of planning and progress

Always at the end of each year, I like to pause and reflect on what we have accomplished during the last year. My TSLAC colleagues are always so busy that sometimes they don’t take time to consider the many successful projects we have undertaken and completed in the past year. So that I could remind them, I started a list. Before long it was a page and a half—over 60 discrete projects in all—most requiring many hours, staff, and phases to complete, and most representing projects beyond the daily productivity and core tasks of the agency.

I will spare you the entire list, but I will mention a few major areas that we worked on this year:

Planning and budgeting – As with all state agencies, this was a year of intensive planning as we wrote first the Agency Strategic Plan, followed by the Legislative Appropriations Request, and concluding with the first stages of the Sunset Review (TSLAC is up for Sunset Review in 2019). In the course of this planning, we met with hundreds of stakeholders, held statewide planning meetings, conducted surveys, presented webinars, and otherwise solicited input from libraries, archives, historians, and local governments across the state. Those comments were reflected in a set of 8 agency operational goals, and in our LAR, including five exceptional funding requests. The agency also revised its mission and vision statements to more succinctly and accurately reflect TSLAC purpose and direction.

Accelerating shift to electronic resources – All of TSLAC’s core programs are reflecting an ever-increasing shift to electronic resources. Using a new appropriation from the Texas Legislature, we launched the Texas Digital Archive, the first ever repository of Texas Government E-Archives. Also, with new funding from the Texas Legislature, we added many new shared online information resources available to millions of Texans through the TexShare and TexQuest services, including science and technology, legal, and language-learning resources. In the Talking Book Program, we continued the migration from analog to digital content and began uploading digital copies of books recorded at our studios to the Library of Congress BARD service for use by patrons all across the country. And in our State and Local Records program, we held the very popular annual E-Records Conference as well as the State Records Management Officers meeting to help folks learn how to more effectively manage public records in electronic format.

Legacy automation upgrades – We completed two of three planned legacy upgrades. The first was to implement the Centralized Accounting and Payroll Processing (CAPPS) system for Human Resources functions of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. This system will result in greater efficiency and make our operations consistent with those of other state agencies. The second was to update our grants management system used to manage the application, award, and reporting of TSLAC competitive and non-competitive grants, saving many hours of staff time both at TSLAC and local libraries statewide. The third project was the upgrade of our Talking Book Program automation system, which despite the hard work of our staff, was halted for technical reasons in March. However, even that restart will eventually result in a more efficient and streamline system when finally implemented in a few months.

Texas Center for the Book and other outreach efforts – This was the first full year of the Texas Center for the Book which we migrated late in 2015 from the Dallas Public Library. The Center for the Book had a very successful first year encouraging reading, literacy, and library use through a variety of programs including Letters About Literature, Lone Star Día, a statewide celebration of the 20th anniversary of Children’s Day, Book Day (El día de los niños, El día de los libros), Little Free Library builds in four cities, and exciting new partnerships with literacy, book and reading groups all across Texas. We also presented two lobby exhibits, several programs, and appeared at numerous book festivals and other events throughout the year.

The list could go on and on. We secured funding from the Texas Workforce Commission for a digital literacy program with local public libraries. We completed crucial work with school libraries around the Every Student Succeeds Act and the revision of the Texas School Library Standards. We made upgrades to our facility at Shoal Creek and completed extensive site work at the Sam Houston Center in Liberty.

And among all this, we welcomed our new Assistant State Librarian, Gloria Meraz.

We take pride in fulfilling our mission to, “To provide Texans access to information needed to be informed, productive citizens.” So, with another year behind us and a new one about to start, we will take a short holiday breath and be ready to dive back in on January 2, 2017.

Happy holidays to all our many customers, friends, and colleagues across the Texas.

The Digital Safety Net

Today I am participating in a panel on the topic of “Rural Broadband Access in an Ever-More Connected World.” I will share the stage at the City Summit gathering in Austin with State Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) and Mark Strama, CEO of Google Fiber. I am very glad to have a “seat at the table” in this forum to be able to make the case for adequate broadband connectivity in libraries.

Libraries are proud to be the digital safety net for the Internet access that all persons need for education, employment opportunity, health information, civic engagement, and personal growth.

As has been widely stated, providing broadband connectivity to all communities in our state is the most important public infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century, easily rivaling the importance of rural electrification 80 years ago. Internet access is not a luxury, it is a fundamental need that supports economic development, education, health services, public safety and citizen engagement.

And where do citizens go if they do not have access at home? The library.

In 62% of U.S. communities with libraries, the library is the only source of free Internet access for those who do not have Internet at home. But people turning to the library for access often find frustratingly slow connections. In Texas, according to TSLAC research, 94% of public libraries fail to meet the FCC standard for recommended access for libraries. Admittedly, the standard of 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps, based on population served, is a high bar, but the majority of our libraries don’t even meet the much lower FCC minimum individual standard. Over 60% of Texas public libraries are below the standard of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. That 60% represents mostly rural libraries serving approximately 8 million Texans. Arguably the 8 million Texans with the most acute need as they have few other options for Internet access in their communities.

To cite only one issue close to home, TSLAC spends approximately $10 million per year on TexShare and TexQuest databases, which receive over 100 million uses and 37 million downloads each year. But slow Internet speeds hinder the ability of the public to fully utilize this incredibly valuable resource.

The main obstacle is cost. The market rate for high-speed Internet is approximately $3,000 per month per library location in Texas. This is far beyond the budget capability of cash-strapped Texas public libraries. With E-Rate discounts, this figure could be reduced by as much as 90%, but only 23% of Texas public libraries participate in E-Rate (compared to a national rate of about 65%). Why so few? Mainly we believe it is because the application process is so very burdensome.

In this legislative session, TSLAC is asking for $1 million to assist approximately 100 libraries to secure E-Rate discounts totaling an estimate $2.5 million per year. This small investment would yield great results both in real dollars returned to Texas but also in the much greater measure of Texans’ access to the online information they need to be productive, active, informed citizens.

Texas Book Festival and the Texas Authors Summit

Last weekend, TSLAC participated in the 21st annual Texas Book Festival. Once again this year the agency had a booth in the festival exhibit tents, showcasing the many services and resources provided by TSLAC to individuals, state government, libraries, and local governments across the state. We are grateful to both staff and members of

TSLAC staffers (from left) Steve Siwinski, Jennifer Peters, Rebekah Manley, and Mark Smith at the TSLAC booth at the Texas Book Festival.

TSLAC staffers (from left) Steve Siwinski, Jennifer Peters, Rebekah Manley, and Mark Smith at the TSLAC booth at the Texas Book Festival.

the Friends of Libraries and Archives of Texas for working the booth.

On the Thursday evening before the start of the Festival, TSLAC and the TBF collaborated on an exciting new program called the Texas Authors Summit. This event invited Texas authors to come together for an evening in Zavala building and to learn about the resources that TSLAC offers to authors in researching their books. Several dozen authors attended the event, mingled, networked, met staff, and toured the stacks.

Authors Caroline Gnagy (left) and Nikki Loftin speak about their work at the Texas Authors Summit.

Authors Caroline Gnagy (left) and Nikki Loftin speak about their work at the Texas Authors Summit.

I was honored to moderate a panel at the Summit with two authors, Nikki Loftin, author of Wish Girl, a novel for young adults set in the Texas hill country, and our Texas Great Read for the National Book Festival, and Caroline Gnagy, author of Texas Jailhouse Music: A Prison Band History. Both authors shared information about their research and the background for their books.

The event was organized by the Texas Center for the Book and coordinator Rebekah Manley, who also presented the first annual Center for the Book Literacy Award of $1,000 to Midland Need to Read at the event.

TSLAC and the Texas Center for the Book appreciates the close partnership with the Texas Book Festival. The TBF staff under the leadership of Executive Director Lois Kim, are responsible for one of the most successful and vibrant book festivals in the U.S. Those of us in Texas and in Austin, are fortunate to be able to participate in this event each year the proceeds from which have benefitted hundreds of Texas public libraries as well as the TBF signature program, Reading Rock Stars.

TSLAC participation in the Texas Book Festival extended to a Lit Crawl event called “Band Books: Libraries Rock” held Saturday evening at the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library, in partnership with APL and the Texas Library Association. The event featured Echo and the Bats, a great band comprised of APL youth services staff, and appearances by two notable authors, Yuyi Morales, who provided a spirited reading of her book, Niño Wrestles the World, and R.L. Stine of Goosebumps fame who read a very spooky—and funny—story to the adoring crowd.

These types of fun events spread information about the services offered at TSLAC, as well as generating excitement for the wonderful work that libraries across Texas do to promote literacy and a love of books and reading. We can’t wait to return to next year’s Texas Book Festival.