Reopening library services

On Monday of this week, Governor Abbott identified libraries and museums in his announcement of the businesses and services that would begin to reopen in Texas May 1. The governor specified that local libraries and museums would open at 25 percent capacity at the discretion of their local governments. The directive specifies that interactive components of libraries and museums can remain closed to the public.

Since Gov. Abbott’s order was released Monday, we have received many contacts from libraries with questions such as, how can a library open in a manner that is safe? What does 25 percent capacity mean? Are ordinary books on the shelf considered interactive? 

In response to those many contacts and questions by local librarians, Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz and staff of the Library Development and Networking Division developed a resource guide to reopening libraries which can be found on the COVID-19 Resources Page developed by the LDN team.

The Resource Guide answers many questions pertaining to Governor Abbott’s order (GA-18). It is important to note the following components of that order:

  • libraries may only open if allowed to do so by their local governing authority
  • the threshold for occupancy is set at the “up to” 25 percent mark, and
  • interactive functions or exhibits, including child play areas, must remain closed.

The Resource Guide provides sample reopening plans, questions to consider in reopening, and lists of materials and resources helpful to libraries planning to reopen. Among the questions that library directors can discuss with their governing authorities are whether the library’s hours can be limited or changed? Does time need to be allowed to disinfect materials and surfaces? Could the library maintain special hours for at-risk populations? What should be considered “interactive” and not made available to the public?

These are complex decisions that will require discussion with local governments. And they are questions that we at TSLAC have been grappling with along with all other libraries. We look forward to resolving these questions and eventually beginning to provide services while observing social distancing, face coverings, and other ways to ensure the safety of our staff and our public as they access these services that the governor has acknowledged as one of the most important services in our society.

Links in this post:

Governor Abbott’s Open Texas Plan (libraries and museums, see pp. 35-36) –  https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/orgnization/opentexas/OpenTexas-Report.pdf

TSLAC Reopening Libraries: Resource Guide – https://www.tsl.texas.gov/sites/default/files/public/tslac/ld/ldn/COVID/TSLAC_Return_to_Work_Libraries_Resources_2020.pdf

COVID-19 Information and Resources for Library Workers – https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/covid-19

Bracing for the budget impact and, while we wait, a little good news

Every day we get some variation of this question from someone: “Has the state notified you yet that you will have to cut your budget?”

I most recently received this question on Friday from members of our commission in their regularly scheduled meeting (the first ever TSLAC commission meeting conducted via teleconference).

The answer is, as of today, no. The state has not notified us that we will have to cut our budgets in the current biennium. The most we know is that we believe that in preparing the Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) for the next session, we will be required to identify a contingency cut of 20 percent.

But we don’t kid ourselves that that will be the extent of the pain. In the commission meeting, Commissioner Bradley Tegeler commented that his sources in the legislature are predicting that the next session will be a repeat of the grim 2005 and 2011 sessions. Not good news: in 2011, TSLAC took a 65 percent cut to our state funding. That reduction caused the elimination of the Texas Library System and of Loan Star Libraries program of direct aid to libraries. Further, the reduction in 2012 was such that Texas lost maintenance of effort for federal funds and was initially denied a request for waiver in 2013, which would have resulted in a further cut of $6.5 million in federal funding. Despite some recovery over the last three biennia, the TSLAC budget is still about 20 percent below our pre-2012 level.

So, it appears, we may be looking at similar levels of cuts this year. Like everyone else, we can read the news and know that the coronavirus epidemic has caused a dramatic loss of revenue from various sources, most notably sales tax and oil and gas revenues. Of course, as directed, TSLAC will prepare a budget with contingent cut plans. The difference from the last three biennia is that this session those cuts are much more likely to be more than just contingencies. Those budget reductions will likely impact services across the agency. And, as in 2012, a cut of over 10 percent of the budget would very likely result in a corresponding loss of federal funds. In that round, we ultimately avoided the cut because in subsequent sessions, the legislature moved to restore at least some TSLAC funding, but the warning to Texas at that time was not to expect similar waivers in the future.

Of course, many other states will be in the same situation this time so ultimately many waiver requests will be likely. The bad news is already starting to roll in from other states that have ongoing legislative sessions and their cuts are playing out in real time.

But, we do have a little good news. . .

In the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, Congress appropriated $50 million for programs targeted to libraries to be administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Of these funds $30 million will come to Texas. Last week the IMLS notified Texas that our share of these funds will be $2.6 million. The funds are targeted on a need basis to assist libraries in technology, broadband access, and Covid-19 recovery. The following are the priorities for these funds as stated by the IMLS:

a. Primarily to address digital inclusion and related technical support, using the following types of data to inform targeted efforts:

• Poverty/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
• Unemployment
• Broadband availability;

b. Secondarily to address other efforts that prevent, prepare for, and respond to COVID-19; and

c. With respect to (a) or (b), reach museum and tribal partners, in addition to traditionally eligible library entities, where appropriate.

While we are still discussing exactly how we intend to distribute these funds in Texas, we are heavily leaning toward a combination of direct grants to libraries to address technology development, unemployment, and Covid-19 recovery, and a strategy to bring more libraries into statewide high-speed broadband networks. We look forward to having more definitive information to the statewide library community by early May.

On Thursday of this week (April 23 at 2:00 p.m.), Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz and I will be discussing these and other strategic issues associated with the coronavirus crisis in a webinar entitled, “Texas Libraries: Planning and Communicating the Library Message and Services Under Covid-19.” You can register for that webinar at this link. We hope you will join us.

We look forward to continuing to communicate the value of our services and the importance of strengthening Texas libraries so they can be true community anchors in times of crisis and at all other times as well.

 

Links in this post:

Link to our webinar this Thursday at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2548786007212315917 

The importance of libraries during and after coronavirus

This week we held a webinar to reach out to the statewide library community regarding how they are coping with the Covid-19 crisis. I want to thank Katherine Adelberg, Manager of Consulting and Continuing Education and her team in Library Development and Networking – Cindy Fisher, Naomi DiTullio, Henry Stokes, Kyla Hunt, and Laura Tadena – for their outstanding work making that session a success. At one point, we had near the capacity of 1,000 attendees on the webinar. Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz and I discussed suggestions to manage through the current crisis and Katherine, Laura, and Cindy provided further information on resources the LDN team is gathering for Texas libraries.

The session concluded with a lengthy question and answer period. I hope we answered some of the questions that librarians had, but I know that many questions were left unanswered. We look forward to answering those as time goes on. The Library Development and Networking Team have announced a series of similar webinars targeted to specific regions in the state.

Many of the questions asked in the call confirmed that Texas librarians are dealing with a very heavy load. They are trying to serve their communities and patrons while also holding their staffs and their own lives together during a very trying time. And I heard an understandable level of fear about what the future holds both for the duration of this crisis and also once it is over.

One question often asked of us is, how do we strike a balance between keeping ourselves and our staffs safe while trying to serve the public?

Safety of library staff and the public they serve is of key importance. TSLAC cannot recommend libraries close, though many are. If your jurisdiction has decided to keep its library open, we urge library managers to take whatever measures they can to protect their staff and patrons. Many libraries have gone to wiping down returned books, others are experimenting with curbside pickup. Encouraging as much remote access as possible is also an obvious strategy for minimizing in-person visits as well as for patrons of libraries that are closed. Online interactive story hours are rising to become a possibility as an alternative for traditional Summer Reading Programs.

Another question we hear in many different ways is, how do we remain relevant and essential, especially as many libraries are now closed?

There are many ways to remain relevant and essential. Libraries have a vital role to play in their communities as a trusted source of information, as community anchors, and as gateways to online access and community connectivity. Libraries are also have an unusually high level of public trust as an information source (See Libraries 2016 from the Pew Research Center). These roles are all much more important in the current crisis. But some libraries are learning to scramble to provide services in new ways. Libraries are exploring partnerships with community organizations to help people connect to information sources, and even devices. Cindy Fisher mentioned the National Cristina Foundation, which helps refurbish and redistribute laptops).

Beyond that, now more than ever, we need to restate, through stories and other effective messaging, the roles that libraries play now and as we emerge from this crisis. Funding for all public services is going to be very competitive, and library leaders are going to need to articulate the importance of libraries to society as a mission-critical asset for disaster management and recovery.

We learned during Hurricane Harvey why libraries are considered essential social infrastructure by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The Coronavirus epidemic is teaching us a new lesson: that it is imperative that we accelerate our movement to a knowledge-based economy that can operate remotely via high-speed broadband connections. Libraries are uniquely situated to achieve these goals by supporting workforce development, economic sustainability, remote access to resources, and broadband access and deployment.

One very practical thing that librarians can do right now is to study the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the two-trillion-dollar stimulus bill passed by Congress last week. The bill contains over $377 billion in aid to small business, funds that will run through the Small Business Administration and can be of huge value to local communities. Libraries can be a source of information for their communities in how to access these funds and should explore partnerships with the Chamber of Commerce, Workforce Solutions, and other economic development organizations to help move those funds to their communities. Also, the CARES Act sets aside $50 million for library technology programs for projects such as device lending, wifi hotspots, and library broadband access. We will be watching closely to see how those funds can be used in Texas. I am including some citations below to sources of information on the CARES Act to get you started.

Here’s wishing safety, good health, and strength to all Texas library workers and patrons. TSLAC, and especially our LDN team, is committed to helping provide whatever support we can to allow you to serve your communities during this time of crisis. We look forward to continuing to be in touch and to provide assistance with resources and messaging during and after the crisis.

Links:

Covid-19 Statewide Discussions with Texas Library Staffs, https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/regionalcheckins

Pew Research Center, “Libraries 2016,” https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2016/09/09/libraries-2016/

National Cristina Foundation, https://www.cristina.org/
Sources of information on the CARES Act:

U.S. Department of Treasury, ”CARES Act,” https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/top-priorities/cares-act

Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, “Guide to the CARES Act,” https://www.sbc.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/guide-to-the-cares-act

National Public Radio, “What’s Inside the Senate’s $2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid Package,” https://www.npr.org/2020/03/26/821457551/whats-inside-the-senate-s-2-trillion-coronavirus-aid-package