April 30 is a special day on the calendar of librarians, teachers, and literacy advocates across the U.S. This is the day that we have traditionally observed El día de los niños, El día de los libros, Day of the child, Day of the book. And this year’s observance of “Día” is especially important as this is the 20th anniversary of this national celebration of the power of books and reading to change young lives, with special emphasis on multicultural children and families and the materials that mirror their experience.
The children’s author Pat Mora first began promoting Día on April 30, 1996, because she correctly observed that no other day existed on the calendar on which to celebrate children and reading. In the 20 years since, with the support of a wide array of literacy, library, and education groups nationally, and through Ms. Mora’s passionate dedication to this cause, Día is now celebrated in thousands of libraries and schools across the U.S. The celebration now stretches throughout April and into May and, indeed, Ms. Mora stresses that “every day is book day.”
This year in Texas, in observance of 20th anniversary of Día, the Texas Center for the Book at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission launched our own Texas-based “Lone Star Día” celebration, urging libraries and schools across the state to take the opportunity to hold events specifically tailored to the children of the many and varied cultures that now define the State of Texas. We hosted an appearance by Ms. Mora in Austin in February to kick off our celebration, we designed and distributed to every public library branch in Texas posters with artwork from Ms. Mora’s book “Book Fiesta!” by artist Rafael López, and we promoted the importance of Día with librarians across the state. And currently on the front of our building we are proudly waving a banner with our Lone Star Día poster design.
We hope that our efforts will prove to have renewed excitement among Texas libraries to redouble their efforts to bring literacy services–or in the more colorful words of Pat Mora–“Book Joy” to the children and families of their communities. As Pat reminds us, building literacy is important, even patriotic work, and we are uniquely positioned to make a difference in the lives of these children.
Throughout the spring, the staff of TSLAC has been in dialogue with librarians of all types of libraries across the state about the strategic direction of the State Library and what the most significant needs are statewide. The outreach included a statewide resource sharing summit in December, a statewide e-resources summit in March, a webinar, and an online survey. I also attended nine meetings with library staff across the state that included public, academic, school, and special librarians. From these meetings, we can draw some initial conclusions about what librarians and library supporters across the state feel are the most significant ways TSLAC can assist libraries.
Based on my own conversations with librarians, I would characterize the priorities as follows:
- Help us tell our story – librarians across the state would like help from TSLAC, TLA and other library leaders to better tell the story of what libraries do for their communities, including cities and counties, but also school districts and their parent institutions of higher education. This priority surfaced in almost every conversation I had across the state, and often was the first item mentioned.
- Get us more resources, especially online/digital resources – librarians are struggling to have the resources they need to provide information to the public, especially with the ever-increasing demand for digital materials. This priority includes online databases such as are now provided via TexShare and TexQuest, but also include e-book access, open digital content, and open educational resources (OER).
- More training and technical support – librarians are hungry for training and technical assistance, both in the form of classes and instruction from the TSLAC or other organizations, but also in the form of peer-to-peer training among colleagues. A frequently heard suggestion was expertise-sharing across the state. Staff would also like to see more streaming video instruction for libraries.
- Greater digital inclusion – libraries want to help their communities and patrons bridge the digital divide. That is partly through access to more online content, but also includes the need for greater access to broadband statewide.
These priorities shift slightly given the forum. For example, in the online forum, access to more resources (#2 above) was the highest priority for academic and school libraries while more training and technical assistance was first for public librarians. And in the online survey, “help us tell our story” was included within a larger category of administrative support so did not surface as a high priority as it did when we met with folks individually.
But the results indicate some pretty clear preferences and they are remarkable in how they cut across library types. I look forward to discussing the results further with colleagues at the TLA Annual Conference this week in Houston. We are considering now how these results will drive our appropriations request for the next session.
Many thanks to all of you who participated in this process and attended meetings with me and others from TSLAC. We very much appreciate your comments and suggestions.
Earlier this month, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller sent a letter addressed to Texas Library Leaders to urge libraries to join the Department of Agriculture in providing summer nutrition programs.
Commissioner Miller writes: “I hope you will consider joining the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) in our efforts to provide meals to Texas children in need this summer at your library. No child should go hungry just because school is out for the summer.”
That is indeed true, and as the commissioner points out, many libraries are already offering summer nutrition programs. Several branches of the Houston and Dallas public libraries as well as many other libraries around the state are locations for free summer lunches for children. Just as libraries have always offered summer reading programs to ensure that children do not lose ground on their reading skills when school is out, similarly, summer nutrition programs ensure a bridge during months when kids aren’t able to access free or reduced lunch programs in their schools.
This activity is one more example of the ways that libraries are finding ways to align their programs with broader community aspirations to strengthening individuals and families. It is part of a wider interest of libraries in creating community sustainability, –including through food security–that brings many libraries in Texas and nationally to host community gardens, lend seed packets, and provide garden tools among other activities.
We commend Commissioner Miller for this initiative and especially for recognizing the role that libraries can play in meeting the basic needs of our children and families. We are very pleased to be able to partner with the Department of Agriculture to achieve their important goals.
For more information on this topic and how your library can be involved, please see the excellent site on this topic maintained by TSLAC Youth Services Consultant, Christine McNew at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/summerreading/summerfood.