Today I presented closing comments at the Texas ILL/TexShare Virtual Conference organized by our resource-sharing team — special shout-out to Danielle Plumer, Sara Hayes, and Russlene Waukechon — exploring the amazing universe of resources available to libraries across the state via resource sharing. The conference was great with many very valuable presentations. I was honored to be able to make closing remarks. I wanted to share those remarks here on my blog.
Good afternoon, everyone. I am so glad that you were able to attend this day of wonderful presentations and very glad also to be able to provide closing remarks. I want to thank all the presenters today, especially my excellent colleagues Danielle Plumer and Sara Hayes who were our lead staff in planning this conference as well as Russlene Waukechon who also participated in the planning. I want to thank all our resource sharing partner companies and organizations, many of whom were represented in the program today, and especially our friends at Amigos who helped organize and present today’s conference, especially our E-Read Texas project manager and former TSLAC colleague, Christine Peterson.
When I was considering what to say to you today, I was looking back over my over 35 years of professional work and it occurred to me that there are not many enduring aspects of library work about which I can say that I was present at the creation.
But when it comes to TexShare, I am honored to say that I was present at the creation.
Governor George W. Bush signing HB 2721, the TexShare bill, May 27, 1997.
Now, I was not present when the late great Dr. S. Joe McCord first approached Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock with his brainchild idea of creating a statewide shared digital network, which I think occurred around 1995. But as the Director of Communications for the Texas Library Association in 1997, I was directly involved in working to pass HB 2721 by Rep. Bob Hunter of Abilene that established TexShare in statute and permanently located the function at TSLAC (It had previously been with the Higher Education Coordinating Board). And the only bill signing that I have ever had the privilege to attend was when Governor Bush signed HB 2721 into law on May 27, 1997.
In the next session two years later, library leaders were successful in working for the passage of HB 1433, again by Rep. Hunter, to expand TexShare participation to Texas public libraries.
To be sure, those were proud accomplishments for Texas libraries and represented the culmination of much hard work by Dr. McCord, State Librarian Bob Martin, the Texas Library Association, and many other Texas library leaders.
I have been thinking about that accomplishment now going on 25 years ago, as well as the creation of TexQuest, which levels the playing field of digital inclusion for over 90 percent of all K-12 students across Texas, and our statewide interlibrary loan system for public libraries that makes the physical resources of all of our libraries available to patrons wherever they live. And by the way, ILL is consistently ranked one of the most—if not the most—critical service we offer, especially for public libraries.
I have been musing on why Joe McCord and others thought this idea was so important, so worth pursuing. That is, what was the specific value they saw in libraries sharing resources in order to achieve statewide access not only to traditional library services but also to online databases filled with proprietary content? Further, what was that vision at a time when library access to the Internet was still new — and the potential of that medium to create equitable access to information for persons who never before could have enjoyed that –was just being explored?
But while the technology has evolved and the resources have become much more sophisticated, the basic concept is the same. We cannot have a fully functional competitive modern educational system — not to mention economy — in Texas without a level playing field of access to information. What Joe McCord and other library leaders realized in 1995 and 1997 was that shared access to information and particularly to digital information unlocks an ever-expanding universe of resources that are absolutely fundamental to building a progressive modern society in Texas. For the last 25 years, TexShare, and a little later TexQuest, have put libraries in the exact center of that flow of information, made libraries vital to providing the public a gateway to the riches of those shared online resources. And by harnessing the purchasing power of the state, those resources have flowed to Texans in all parts of the state for pennies on the dollar what they would have cost if those libraries had to buy them—as Danielle detailed earlier. Every year, those resources receive over 100 million uses, which means that over the last 25 years, TexShare and TexQuest materials have been consulted literally billions of times by Texans. The investment has paid off. TexShare and TexQuest resources have immeasurably helped the citizens of Texas while putting the libraries of Texas in their rightful place in the driver’s seat of providing public access to information in all its many formats.
Now fast forward to 2020. The outlook is suddenly clouded with uncertainty. The economic crisis that has been born of the coronavirus pandemic threatens to erode much of the amazing progress of library resource sharing in Texas over these nearly two and a half decades. While we have not received our budget instructions yet, we are anticipating a reduction of up to 20 percent or more in our state funding. And while those reductions will be spread across agency functions, because TexShare and TexQuest electronic resources comprise the single largest purchase of our agency and account for over one-third of our state funding, they will by necessity take the brunt of the reductions. We believe we will be able to maintain the core TexShare and TexQuest electronic resources, but we may well be forced to eliminate a number of the individual products you and your patrons and students rely on.
That would be tragic, not just for the libraries, but more importantly for the citizens of Texas. Online resources are needed now more than ever, especially as students grapple with remote learning and the public is forced to remain home and sheltered and many libraries remain closed. In fact, one of the huge lessons of the pandemic is that the public’s ability to access information remotely has been one of the most crucial lifelines offered by libraries. Libraries proved key to the public’s ability to stay connected and informed during the pandemic through access to online resources, including those provided via TexShare, as you saw from Kate Reagor’s analysis. And libraries that had signed up last fall to participate in our E-Read Texas e-book program found that as they had to close their doors, content provided via the Simply-E app integrated with their ILS offered yet another source of materials for their homebound customers. Patrons of libraries that had made that move to E-Read Texas before the pandemic were rewarded for that initiative and several others contacted us to get on board after the lockdown started.
People trust the information they receive via the library. Surveys by groups such as Pew and the Knight Foundation have consistently found that while the public mistrusts both government and the media, they have a high confidence in the authority of information they get through the library. In an era where a significant percentage of the population says it gets its news and information via social media, TexShare, TexQuest — not to mention other library materials available widely through ILL — offer information of high authenticity and accuracy. I believe the public desperately craves that level of authenticity in information sources.
And the difficulty of a potential reduction of TexShare resources is compounded by the fact that local budgets are also likely to get slammed. Public library budgets will probably take a hit from a downturn in revenue for cities and counties. And higher ed libraries might also feel the pain as parent institutions see a decrease in tuition revenue and state support. It is a bad time to try to locally backfill resources lost from reductions in TexShare and TexQuest.
But I don’t want to end your great day today with a bleak downer message. You get enough of that in the news every day. I believe we collectively have the ability to resist and roll back some of these potential reductions. So, I am going to suggest a few ways that you can be prepared to help with this situation.
First, use the heck out of TexShare. One of the ways that we can ensure that we keep these resources is to use them. We have uncommonly high use already, but it would be very helpful to demonstrate that use is increasing, especially in the time of Covid. And in addition to using the resources, let your patrons know how valuable they are and keep seeking creative ways to integrate the content into your ongoing programs and services.
Second, tell your elected leaders at the state level how you feel about TexShare and TexQuest. Thank them for supporting these services over the years. Let them know that your patrons find these resources extremely valuable for school, business, and personal use and the hardship that loss of those resources would cause. If you have them, convey anecdotes of how they have helped people in your communities, how crucial remote access was during Covid, and tell them you’d like to see more money for these resources, not less.
Be ready to support TLA as they advocate for the TSLAC budget. Our intention, if they let us, is to request immediate reinstatement of any funding cuts to our budget, especially for shared digital resources. TLA will coordinate support for that ask, but if you find these resources useful, spring of 2021 will likely be the time to start telling the legislature. Let them know that this is exactly the wrong time to deprive people of access to online resources. Now more than ever people in all parts of the state need to be connected to authoritative information delivered remotely through broadband networks.
And finally, and more broadly speaking, keep the hope and dream alive of the power of sharing resources among libraries. 25 years on from the creation, when electronic resources are so ubiquitous and have become so routine, it is hard to remember the bad old days. Hard to remember when people could not sit at home and pull up the information they need for school, work, and home. Hard to remember when interactive service for people in rural areas meant getting in a car and driving for hours to get to a major city. Hard to remember that information that people needed to grow their businesses or get legal forms or research their family history depended on where they happened to live or whether their local library could afford to acquire all those resources.
What Joe McCord and others knew in the 1990s was that libraries working together, combined with the power of statewide purchasing, has the potential to erase all kinds of barriers that keep people from the information they need. That core model has not changed. In fact, in the age of Covid, it has become even more glaringly obvious. Libraries can and should be one of the central institutions moving Texas in the direction of a sustainable, information-based economy delivered remotely to every citizen via high-speed networks.
It will take effort by every one of us, but I am confident we have the power to go forth from here today and continue to make that dream a reality.
Thank you so much for participating in the conference today and for what you do to serve your communities. I wish you the best of luck in all your programs.