Aspen comes to Houston Public Library

We all go to a lot of meetings. We sit in dark rooms sneaking glances at our phones and e-mail while someone runs through a power point deck and then we go back to work, hopefully with some new information to help justify the time away.

Participants in the Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries held at Houston Public Library, Thursday, November 16, 2017.

But this week I participated in a totally different type of meeting. All day Thursday at the Houston Public Library, the Aspen Institute under the leadership of Amy Garmer, convened a powerful group of community stakeholders from organizations across the city and county. The topic of conversation at this Aspen Dialogue, was how the library can be a catalyst to help create the building blocks of a resilient city. This was a particularly timely task as the City of Houston and Harris County along with other communities along the coast continue to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. In fact, in September, Aspen convened a meeting in Houston to bring local agencies and organizations together just two weeks after the floods, to consider and process what had happened. It was a powerful moment that led to intense conversation about the need for cities to work through a process that moved along a line of “Recovery, Rebuilding, and Resurgence.” That first dialogue also revealed what many already knew, that in times of crisis, it is the most vulnerable — including the poor, the elderly, and those with physical disabilities — who will be most impacted and who need the most help.

This week’s dialogue featured the broad range of exciting and transformational services offered by HPL Director Dr. Rhea Lawson and her outstanding team of professionals. The stakeholders present — representing city agencies, the K-12 community, business leaders, philanthropic groups, and others — acknowledged the great work that the library is already doing, and worked together to generate ideas to offer Dr. Lawson and staff in how to leverage those services in ways that help build partnerships for new services and help create the building blocks for a resilient city.

It was a day of affirmation for the power of libraries, confirmation of the great work already being done by Houston Public Library and other Texas libraries, and an expression of confidence that the library is very much part of the solution for creating sustainability and resilience to help communities better prepare for and cope with future challenges.

As HPL Assistant Director for Community Education, Outreach and Cultural Initiatives Nicole Robinson so eloquently stated, “It’s not enough to just BE at the table, we need to OWN the table.” Yesterday all day long, the library literally owned the table.

And no one was reading their e-mail.

TSLAC and TLA step up

This week the Texas Library Association and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission announced grants to Texas public, academic, and school libraries recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

TLA announced grants totaling $102,600 to 25 libraries from its Disaster Relief Fund in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. These funds were contributed to TLA by librarians and library supporters across Texas and the nation.

On Monday, November 6, The Texas State Library and Archives Commission met in Nacogdoches and approved a total of $194,071 in “Rebuilding Texas Libraries” grants to 25 libraries (coincidentally, though most do not overlap between the two lists) in amounts ranging from under $5,000 to $25,000. These amounts are small, but we hope will be some help to libraries attempting to recover from one of the worst storms in Texas history. We thank the Houston Chronicle for their story today about the TLA and TSLAC grant programs and the efforts of gulf coast and Houston area libraries to recover.

Also at this week’s meeting, the Commission approved the posting of the proposed revision to the School Library Program Standards. These voluntary standards–the product of many hours of work by a committee of school librarians across Texas–are the first major revision to the standards since 2005. We look forward to final adoption of these new standards at the Commission meeting in February. I will provide more information about these standards in a subsequent post on this blog.