Libraries and the sharing economy

honeycomb_collab_econYou read a lot these days about the sharing economy. The rise of companies like Airbnb or Home Away where people can rent lodging from other people rather than hotels or ride-sharing services such as Lyft and Uber is redefining economic models away from a top-down corporate-driven economy to one where goods and services are delivered on a peer-to-peer basis. The graphic, by Jeremiah Owyang, illustrates some of the many companies that currently comprise the sharing economy. Many people observe that this new model is less wasteful, more economical of resources, more sustainable, requires less infrastructure, and encourages a greater level of civic engagement.

Librarians and library advocates have lately begun pointing out that libraries are the prototypical sharing economy. In 2013, Texans borrowed 119 million items from Texas public libraries or nearly five items for every person in the state. At the State Library, our Talking Book Program, a signature program that has existed since the 1920’s, lends materials in recorded and Braille formats to Texans who cannot otherwise read standard print due to visual impairment or other disability. The 13,991 active users of this service borrowed 845,969 items in 2014, or 60.46 items per person. If that service and its customers were a discrete public library jurisdiction, the Talking Book Program would represent the second-highest lending per capita among all public libraries in the state. And the program also lends users the machines they need to listen to the materials.

These materials are a lifeline to users of the Talking Book Program. Many, perhaps most, of these customers would have no other place to go for these materials. The state funding used to provide this service, this aspect of the sharing economy–less than $2 million per year–yields huge savings to end users who would have to purchase the books they read for very expensive prices for a one-time-only use. And this program is made possible through a national sharing system called the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped operated by the Library of Congress. This national network allows for the purchase, creation and sharing of downloadable and other resources by users in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

We contribute to the sharing economy in many other ways as well. TexShare and TexQuest services share access to digital content among users of public, school, and academic libraries resulting in cost-avoidance of over $200 million per year to local libraries every year. Through shared use and collective purchasing with state funds, these resources were accessed over 100 million times and over 50 million items downloaded in 2014. We also support resource-sharing via interlibrary lending across the state, we collect and make available the archival record of the state to all citizens, and we guide state and local agencies in the most effective ways to share their public records with the public.

Libraries represent a highly sustainable, cost-effective, civically engaged model whereby for a minimal investment of public support, valuable information resources can be shared with the widest possible number of users. And we’ve been doing it for over a hundred years longer than any of the companies in the graphic.

To read more about the sharing economy:

For more on the TSLAC Talking Book Program, check out this great video by Rio Grande City Community Television featuring our TBP staffer Saidah Ochoa:

What libraries can do for workforce

This week the Dallas Morning News reported that Texas has lost its distinction as the #1 job-creating state in the country:

Not only is Texas no longer number one, it’s now number four! And at 20,100 jobs created in January, we are way behind new #1 California with 67,300 jobs created. The cause seems to be logically attributed to the downturn in energy employment. But the downturn in energy was expected to occur at some point, it is only surprising that it has come so suddenly. Economies change and workers that are employed in volatile industries are vulnerable to lay-offs and dislocation. When that happens, workers need to look for new jobs, learn new skills, upshift to meet new expectations, and otherwise cope with the changing environment.

That’s where libraries come in. Everyone knows that the system of workforce solutions offices across the state can help job-seekers connect with employers. But what job-seekers also know is that the public library is there to help them as well, and often when the workforce solutions locations are closed at night and on the weekend. Job-seekers use the computers to fill out job applications, to search for jobs, and to brush up their resumes. Folks also use the library collections–including resources in TexShare databases–to learn new skills, to brush up on interview techniques, to prep for job interviews, and to research companies and industries for potential retraining. Adults attend classes to learn new computer and online skills, learn literacy and English-language skills, and prepare to get their GED. Youth use the library to prepare to one day enter the workforce by accessing materials for study and research, learning technical skills through library STEM and STEAM programs, and attending soft-skills training programs.

These services go on every day in every library large and small in the state of Texas. They are happening as you read this. The public understands that libraries are the go-to places for information and technology access to link to jobs and build skills. We need for the decision makers at the state and local levels to understand this also. TSLAC’s modest request for new state funding to support local library workforce programs has not yet been addressed in either the House or Senate budget discussions this legislative session.That is a shame because for that modest investment, libraries could be critical links in the process of getting Texans back to work.

And based on the current numbers, it looks like Texas job-seekers need all the help they can get.

The perilous state of local records

“When old records are lost or destroyed, so is our history.”
–Mark Wolf, Executive Director, Texas Historical Commission

Mr. Wolf is quite right. The above quote appears in “Courthouse Cornerstones,” the “2015 Update on the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program,” as part of his broader discussion of the need to preserve county courthouses in part to ensure the ongoing protection of local government records. These records are of immense historic value as Mr. Wolf goes on to state: “These records hold not only vital information, but are some of the earliest known histories of Texas.”

We have long recognized and been concerned with the status of local records in Texas. Almost twenty years ago, former State Archivist David B. Gracy authored a call to action on the topic titled, “Too lightly esteemed in the past” (TSLAC, January 1996). In that report, Dr. Gracy described a situation where state and local records are threatened by a lack of resources for preservation, poorly housed collections, staff untrained in records handling, and a chronic undervaluing of the crucial nature of public archives.

More recently, in 2011, the Texas Court Records Task Force, commissioned by the Texas Supreme Court, delivered a study entitled, “Report on the Preservation of Historical Texas and State Court Records” (August 31, 2011). That report stated that in many counties in Texas, “records are decaying or being destroyed due to a confluence of events and condition, including (i) improper storage and handling, (ii) the effects of moisture and temperature fluctuations, (iii) the ravages of rats, bugs and vermin; and (iv) the acidity of the ink and poor quality of the paper.”

Our agency is mandated to advise state and local governments on the proper preservation and management of public records. However, the seven professional government information analysts that perform this service carry a load of over 150 state agencies and over 10,000 units of local government. It is not enough staff and there is a constant backlog in providing meaningful support and guidance to state and local agencies.

To address this situation, we are seeking new funding in our budget request to hire two additional government information analysts to help ensure that the important records of state and local government are protected, maintained, and accessible to the public. This effort is recognized and supported by numerous organizations including the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas and the Texas State Historical Association.

As our budget winds its way through the approval process, we will take every opportunity to inform legislators of the importance of records to preserving the history of the state and the crucial role our agency plays in that effort.

Archiving Texas history


Second graders from Round Rock ISD visit to see the Travis letter on display in the lobby of the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building.

Today is Texas Independence Day and we celebrated by welcoming three groups of second-grade students from the Round Rock ISD to see the Travis letter which is on display through Friday in our lobby.

How wonderful that these students can actually see the very letter written by Col. William Barret Travis from the Alamo on February 24, 1836, appealing to all Texans and Americans for aid in the battle against a vastly overpowering army. Through that letter on display, those students had a direct link to that most dramatic of all events of Texas history. Those students are the latest generation of Texans who will enjoy this and thousands of other documents and artifacts of Texas history that are safely preserved in the State Archives because of the vision of state leaders who acted over a hundred years ago to protect those documents for Texans in perpetuity.

Now, as we are in the digital age, it is equally important to the future that we are also able to preserve archival documents in electronic format. We came closer to that reality last week when a House Appropriations subcommittee chaired by Rep. Sylvester Turner of Houston recommended the addition of a budget item requested by our agency that would create the Texas Digital Archive. We applaud Chairman Turner and the committee for their vision and leadership in acting to preserving digital resources from the state agencies for the study, enrichment and enjoyment of future generations of Texans.

Happy Texas Independence Day and we hope everyone will come visit our building at 1201 Brazos in Austin to see the Travis letter and other historical documents on display in our lobby.