It is a hard time to be library worker.
When much of society went home to shelter in place in mid-March, most library staff did the same. By late March, most Texas libraries were closed. TSLAC closed its public reading rooms on Tuesday, March 17.
Since then, libraries have struggled with multiple challenges in their valiant efforts to serve the public. Many instituted curbside pick-ups, others ramped up their online offerings, while others boosted their wifi signals, even taking wifi into the communities or onto vehicles. Some libraries circulated devices or wifi hotspots and many offered virtual story hours, summer reading programs, and other online programming.
The public have used these services fully, especially remote access to online services while they too are home, often with children who they are trying to keep entertained and tracking to reading and learning.
These services have proven the value of the library as an essential service, even when closed to walk-in patrons. But this effort has taken its toll on library workers. Library directors and their staffs had to pivot literally overnight to new ways of providing services under emergency conditions. For many, the demand increased dramatically. Those who remained open, or in some way interacting with the public, had to scramble to find the PPE necessary to keep staff and the public safe.
On April 27, Governor Abbott declared that libraries and museums could open at 25 percent capacity. He emphasized that his guidance would be permissive for city and county libraries but required for state libraries. That order began the process of many libraries returning to some on-site services. That movement has left many libraries with dilemmas regarding how far to push face coverings. Librarians in some locations face a choice of hostility from customers who feel face coverings limit their individual liberties and legitimate worries about keeping staff and the public safe from the virus.
On May 4, TSLAC began accepting researchers in the Archives reading room at the downtown Austin Lorenzo De Zavala Building and at the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty. TSLAC is the only library operated by the state that has opened to visitors and throughout May and June staff have served a succession of researchers in the reading room. TSLAC strongly encourages – but cannot require – the use of face coverings by patrons. To-date, all researchers coming to the De Zavala building have been willing to wear masks and observe our safety and distancing protocols as a matter of mutual consideration and respect between the public and our staff.
Even as library staffs continue to cope through the crisis, the next hurdle looms: budget reductions. We fully expect that the economic impact of the virus on cities, counties, and the state will be huge. TSLAC, along with all other agencies, has been asked to make a five percent reduction to the current biennium with further reductions all but certain for the future. Being as essential to Texans – as libraries are in both good and difficult times – should ensure that they are the last cut, but we all know that it doesn’t work out that way. Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz is currently at work on a document that will provide strategies for library directors and managers facing the looming specter of funding reductions.
TSLAC feels the pain of local library managers and workers who have valiantly and selflessly served their communities throughout the Coronavirus epidemic. We are struggling with the same challenges that you all are, both in terms of maintaining public service while also preparing ourselves for inevitable budget cuts.
It is a challenging time to be in public service. But we will get through this together and we will survive. I am confident that while we may take more than our share of the impact of societal crises and funding reductions, the public has an enduring need for what libraries offer: a stable and beloved social institution, open to all on equal terms, providing authoritative access to life-saving, life-affirming information.
Please let me know how the Texas State Library and Archives Commission can help your library as we navigate together through these difficult times.
Resources for libraries:
Library Developments Blog: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ld/librarydevelopments/
COVID-19 Information and Resources for Library Workers: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/covid-19
Resources for records managers:
The Texas Record Blog: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/slrm/blog/
TSLAC Plan for Services during the COVID-19 Health Situation: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/services