Developing communities of practice and mutual support

In 2012, with the devastating loss of 65% of state funding, the Texas Library Systems ceased to operate. For over four decades, this program had provided a platform for library cooperation, training, and sharing of expertise. When the ten regional library systems ended, libraries in remote parts of the state lost an essential platform through which to interact easily with neighboring libraries, to share information and stay connected to a larger community of libraries. Many librarians felt very much set adrift and isolated. And they still do.

It is unlikely that the systems will return in the form that we knew them in the 1970s through the 2000s. But in the wake of the systems, many libraries across the state have attempted to form themselves into groups that come together to network and share expertise. Currently in Texas a number of systems and consortia exist for a variety of purposes and in various stages of development.

For some time now, we have wanted to find ways to encourage libraries to form into grassroots systems and find ways to come together and create communities of practice and mutual support, either formal or informal. With this in mind, through the Friends of Libraries and Archives of Texas, we sought grant funding from the Still Water Foundation to conduct a study of four systems in West Texas that are in various stages of development. The Still Water Foundation generously supports projects that seek economic development and sustainability for rural communities in West and Central Texas. Using the grant funds, we secured the services of Lee+ associates, a highly respected organization that provides organizational development services to non-profit organizations.

Throughout most of 2018, Lee+ conducted a review of four library systems in West Texas: Small Country Libraries, West Texas Library Group, the Abilene Library Consortium, and the Harrington Library Consortium. Lee+ met with and surveyed these library systems and reported back to TSLAC and the individual systems on strategies these specific systems could use to achieve their desired goals.

The final stage of their research involved the creation of a “Tool Box” for the development of library systems and consortium. Lee+ has delivered the Tool Box – Practical Resources for Developing Library Systems and Consortia and it can be found on our website at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/system-toolbox. The idea of the Tool Box is to help library systems determine what their goals are and to place themselves on a life cycle that helps them decide what resources and strategies they need to adopt to succeed. The Tool Box contains an impressive set of resources such as sample bylaws, policy documents, statements of responsibilities of non-profit boards and much more.

We urge library systems to use the resources in the Tool Box to assess their current status, to articulate their desired goals, and develop a road map to get to those outcomes. We are grateful to Still Water for their support, for Lee+ for their great work, and to our four West Texas library systems for their time and help with this project.