Highlights of a busy week

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro on hand to dedicate the new Ricardo Romo BiblioTech in Bexar County, Saturday, July 25.

U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro on hand to dedicate the new Ricardo Romo BiblioTech in Bexar County, Saturday, July 25.

This was a busy but very exciting week. I started the week attending the four-day TALL Texans leadership retreat near Lake Dallas in north Texas. I was grateful to Ted Wanner at the Texas Library Association for inviting me to be a mentor at this year’s TALL Texans. This was the second time I had served as a mentor at TALL Texans, but the last time was in 1997. The experience was just as fulfilling as I remembered. Maureen Sullivan and Jack Siggins are still the amazing presenters they have always been and the other 5 mentors were outstanding. But the most amazing thing were the attendees: 24 of the best and brightest individuals from across Texas public, school and academic libraries. I found the quality of the conversations, the inquiry, and the commitment of these librarians to be indicative of a very high quality of talent working in the library profession across our state. And I applaud the Texas Library Association for their ongoing commitment to cultivating leadership to ensure the longterm success of Texas libraries.

On Thursday and Friday of this week, I attended the annual conference of the National Association of Government Archivists and Records Administrators conference here in Austin. TSLAC was a gold sponsor of this event and many of our staff participated in local arrangements, program planning, and in presenting at the conference, led by our State Archivist, Jelain Chubb. As in so many other aspects of our society, the work of contemporary archivists and records managers has changed enormously in the electronic age. We are now in an era of digital archives and records managed on local servers as well as in the cloud, accessed via sophisticated discovery systems on handheld and desktop devices with overlays for mapping and other complex data uses. These new developments point to an exciting future of use of these resources by researchers, historians, government and the general public. Several of our staff participated in programs on topics such as the acquisition of the records of Gov. Perry and the digitization of decades of Texas Senate audio tapes. We are meeting the new world of archives and records with a staff that now includes a several who hold the Digital Archiving Specialist certification from the Society of American Archivists. And with the new resources appropriated in the last legislative session, we are now poised to begin building the Texas Digital Archive to preserve, protect, and make available the electronic archives of state agencies.

I ended my week yesterday in San Antonio with the opening of the new Ricardo Romo BiblioTech operated by Bexar County. This is the second library branch opened by Bexar County that features no books, but rather only resources in digital formats. The library makes available state of the art computers for public use as well as e-books circulated on tablets and a children’s room in which both children and adults can explore interactive resources. On hand for the opening were many local dignitaries, including the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, State Senator Jose Menendez, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff (who has masterminded the creation of these BiblioTechs), and the library’s namesake, UTSA President Ricardo Romo. It is always gratifying to see a new library open, but it is particularly exciting to see so many officials from the federal, state, county, and city level present to speak on the importance of libraries to early literacy, technology access, digital literacy, economic and workforce development and lifelong learning. Thanks to the partnership between the City and the County and the vast resources of the San Antonio Public Library, residents have access to a rich array of library services. We wish Bexar County much success with its new BiblioTech and look forward to the opening of the third facility on the East Side in a few months.


This week in Talking Book


Victor Hunter of the TSLAC Talking Book Program reading from the Braille edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Barnes & Noble.

We were very happy to participate this week in a marathon reading of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee at the Barnes and Noble bookstore in Austin. TSLAC/TBP staffer Victor Hunter participated in the reading in a–no pun intended–novel way: he read from a Braille edition of the book. There was much curiosity about the edition he was reading from and some people in the audience came around behind the podium to get a closer look while others approached Victor and staff after the reading to ask questions about it.

We are proud to circulate Braille books from our Talking Book Program to persons with visual impairments across the state. It is one of three major formats that we circulate, the other two being recorded books (on cassette, digital cartridge, and downloadable), and large print books. We are very happy to be able to help persons who cannot read standard print to have the joy of experiencing a great literary classic such as “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as well as the many other thousands of titles we have in the collection.

Also this week at the library we welcomed an old friend who stopped by to work with staff on a project–two old friends in fact. Robert Helfer, who wrote the complex computer program that runs our Talking Book Program circulation system stopped by to advise staff on various aspects of the program which is now being modernized. This is not because the program is inadequate. Far from it. In fact, the TBP circulation system has long been considered a state-of-the-art program with functionality that far exceeds other similar programs. Also, in writing the code, Robert included extensive analysis and explanation of his rationale and the interrelationships between parts of the program, an unusual, but extremely helpful step now. The program is only being replaced now because it is built on a database platform that is aging. The task before us is to revise the code in such a way as to preserve all of Robert’s great functionality, which is no simple task.

Robert was joined in his visit by his wife Lisa deGruyter, also a former TSLAC staff member and, in fact, the person who first hired me at the agency in 1991. Lisa was the first person on the State Library staff to move the agency into Internet services and did groundbreaking work establishing a service called the Texas State Electronic Library back in the mid-1990’s. It was great to have them both back with us for a couple of days.

Thinking strategically

Like most library leaders across the state, I participated this week in the Texas Library Association’s Annual Assembly, a meeting of library and information professionals who gather each summer in Austin for business meetings, collaborations, and conversations to advance library services across the state.

As part of that meeting, I attended a strategic planning session in which TLA leaders led the groups through a discussion of how the Association itself can be of maximum assistance in leading libraries forward. TLA, under the leadership of Pat Smith and her team, has long been a huge force for positive growth and change in library service in Texas. That they are asking how they can be even more effective in service to libraries and library users is indicative of the quality of their organization.

But the task was not easy. We were asked to choose which of the following is the single most important strategic initiative to us personally:
1. Demonstrating the value of libraries.
2. Developing an online dashboard highlighting critical library-related issues.
3. Ensuring greater diversity in membership and leadership.
4. Forging new relationships and promoting collaboration and partnership to benefit libraries.
5. Providing online tools for members to participate in association business.

Talk about tough choices! We had a very spirited discussion at my table, especially between number 1 and 3. Diversity is incredibly important. The demographics of our state are changing rapidly. We are already a so-called minority majority state, that is, non-white population is the majority. By 2020, the Hispanic population of Texas will outnumber whites and that condition is expected to prevail in most counties in the state. The African-American and Asian populations of the state are also growing and many regions are experiencing greater and greater diversity as they welcome new residents from Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America. If we are going to be relevant, we have to ensure that the staffs of our libraries mirror the communities they serve.

At the same time, demonstrating the value that we provide to our communities is an ever-increasing pressure. In many meetings, we are often called upon to state the Return on Investment, or ROI, of our services. We seem to be largely winning the argument of whether libraries will survive in the online era as we shift our services from being largely about maintaining collections to community hubs for technology and civic engagement. But we continue to search for ways to show the impact of our services on peoples lives, so-called outcome measures.

Another key strategy is number 4, forming relationships and strategic partnerships. This is critically important. The aspirations of the library community overlap with those of many other groups. Finding common ground with those groups creates a strength that we will not have alone. Making the library a key player in finding solutions to issues such as broadband deployment, early childhood education, workforce development will depend on partnerships, relationships, and collaboration with groups outside the library community.

I personally voted for number 1, demonstrating value, but I could have easily selected 3 or 4 or any of the others. But the TLA planning process forces us to think about the programs we pursue at the state library and of course we will be working closely with TLA as a strategic partner to accomplish our mutual goals as well. And as we get into the latter part of this year, TSLAC will be conducting our own strategic planning process and look forward to gathering input from all our key stakeholders as to how we can help all our communities achieve their aspirations.