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.