Reading, libraries, thinking, and reliable information

Many apologies for my lengthy absence from this blog. I took an involuntary hiatus owing to October being a very busy month. Our team opened a new exhibit, presented two programs during the month, participated in Archives Month, prepared for the Texas Book Festival, the Legislative Session, the Sunset Commission meeting in November, and several other major activities.

But I have also been doing some thinking and reading about topics that reflect on the value of what we do as libraries and archives. Over the two days of the Texas Book Festival we watched as thousands of people gathered on the grounds of the Texas Capitol to attend dozens of author sessions, visit book vendors and other exhibitors, purchase books, and otherwise celebrate the power of the printed word. Every author program I attended was completely full with standing room only. I watched at the Gala as contributors donated over $108,000 in less than 20 minutes to support book grants to libraries and the Reading Rock Stars program. The ongoing overwhelmingly positive response to the Texas Book Festival speaks to the power of books and reading and a hunger for authentic information, thoughtful writing, and a faith in libraries as a catalyst and contact point for people seeking access to reliable information and the regenerative practice of reading.

Thursday evening before the Festival, we held our third annual Celebration of Texas Authors and presented the Texas Center for the Book Literacy Award to the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, an amazing program that allows incarcerated women in Texas to record themselves reading stories for their children. That an act as simple and genuine and basic as reading to your child is so restorative and foundational for these women is further evidence of the power of books and reading to bind families and communities and to create lifelong opportunities for children exposed to books and reading at early ages.

Why are people turning to books and reading and libraries so enthusiastically? Perhaps part of the answer can be found in a report published this month by the Knight Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to exploring journalism and civic engagement. The report, entitled “Disinformation, ‘Fake News,’ and Influence Campaigns on Twitter,” provides the results of a highly granular study of the ways in which Twitter bots are employed to generate automatic posts. The slick interactive presentation of the report online belies the troubling implications for society, especially when, according to the Pew Research Center, 38 percent of people get their news online, including from social media and apps. Fortunately, only 4 percent of people trust the accuracy of news from social media. By comparison, also according to Pew, 74 percent of the public say they see public libraries as a place that helps them decide what information they can trust.

Also in October, I read a book that helped me understand how we interact with information and why it might be a good idea to rethink some of those patterns. Bored and Brilliant: How spacing out can unlock your most productive and creative self, by Manoush Zomorodi (whose excellent podcasts “Note to Self” and “Zig Zag” might be the subject of a later blog post), explains how Americans’ obsessive use of cell phones, screens, apps, and other conveniences of the modern world, is disrupting not only our relationships with other people and our environment, but even the way we read and take in information. Zomorodi describes how many people have trouble even reading a book because online apps train the eye to hop around the page so that the linear act of reading becomes much more difficult. This writer is not anti-online-information (after all, she hosts podcasts), but she does see problematic implications for a loss of sustained reflection, thinking, and deeper understanding.

Libraries and archives offer a path out of the confusion, distraction, and craziness. Through books, reliable online sources, or even something as refreshingly analog as a print newspaper (favored now by only 20 percent of the public, according to Pew), people are finding a way to disconnect with the frantic, stressful, and often unreliable deluge of online information and connect to information sources that encourage thoughtful reflection.

URLs included in this post:

The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas can be found here at https://storybookproject.org/

The Knight Foundation report, “Disinformation, ‘Fake News,’ and Influence Campaigns on Twitter,” can be found at: https://knightfoundation.org/

The Pew Research report on journalism can be found at: http://www.journalism.org/2016/07/07/pathways-to-news/

The Pew Research “Libraries 2016” report can be found at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/americans-attitudes-toward-public-libraries/

“Bored and Brilliant” was featured on an episode of the NPR program All Tech Considered. That program can be found here: https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/01/12/376717870/bored-and-brilliant-a-challenge-to-disconnect-from-your-phone

Setting the Texas Table

By Gloria Meraz, Assistant State Librarian

On October 1, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission will open “Setting the Texas Table,” an exhibit about the history of Texas foodways featuring artifacts from the Texas State Archives. From produce parades to the floor of the Texas Legislature, Setting the Texas Table showcases the influence of state government and industry on Texas food culture. An array of historical photos, state promotional materials, and other artifacts highlight the farms and ranches, celebrations, laws and promotions that help define what goes on the Texas table. The exhibit opens Oct. 1 and runs through April 2019.

Opening Event

Attend the exhibit opening event on Oct. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. for an opportunity to check out the new exhibit, which includes armadillo preparation techniques, a letter from former H-E-B CEO Howard Edward Butt Sr. and Red Cross ration recipes from a prisoner of war diary. Industry experts, including John Lash of Farm to Table and Mark Hyman of Llano Estacado Winery, will talk about how Texas food culture today fits in to their professional endeavors in the food industry. There will also be Texas food and drink, a one-night-only display of food-themed artifacts from the archives, and a pumpkin decorating contest with prizes for the best decorated version of Texas’ state squash. For more information on the exhibit and the Oct. 11 event, visit www.tsl.texas.gov.

Exhibit Overview

What we serve on our table is not only a product of our own history and taste but the culmination of a vast and complex enterprise. From the farmer, rancher or fisherman to the industry promoter and state official, the people and organizations behind the scenes are all part of a thriving system of food production, transportation, marketing, sale, regulation and state support.

Setting the Texas Table serves up a hearty helping of favorite dishes and documents how state government influences the foodways of Texas. The exhibit features archival records from the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Tourist Development Agency, the State Legislature and governors.

The exhibit is organized into 6 sections. Cooking Up Texas shows how Texans connect with their history and each other by sharing recipes. Featured items include publications of the Texas Department of Agriculture with industry data and cookbooks, such as The Texas Wild Game Cookbook, which offers impressive recipes for barbecued and stuffed armadillo.

The Lean Table segment focuses on the experience of food hardship during the Great Depression and WWII. Items include documents on rationing, such as a letter from
H.E. Butt to Governor Stevenson on July 8, 1943.

The practice of Farm to Market was essential in maximizing access to local products. The development of roads (physical and promotional) ensured thriving foodways. Archival records include maps of agricultural food regions and photographs of state produce operations, such as the Stugard Ranch, which grew irrigated citrus and vegetables in the Rio Grande Valley.

States often proclaim foods as “official” to promote a local product and state industries. The exhibit’s Making It Official celebrates peaches, the essential component of the official state cobbler.

No Texas food exhibit is complete without beef. The Land and Cattle section highlights elements of the industry, from branding to fencing and images of Texas stock.

Celebrating the Taste of Texas brings people together in a purposeful way to build community. The Texas State Fair, established in 1886, is perhaps the best-known state event for promoting Texas products. One of the artifacts featured is J.R.’s Secret Sauce, which was served up in the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial.

Visit the exhibit online at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/lobbyexhibits/txtable and watch the exhibit video featuring TSLAC Archivist Halley Grogan and many vintage film clips from the TSLAC collection at https://youtu.be/KToEc-jr_3E

We hope you will come enjoy the Setting the Texas Table exhibit and join us for our informative (and nourishing!) program Thursday evening, Oct. 11.