Our thoughts are with Uvalde

As I type these words, I understand that the staff of the El Progreso Memorial Library in Uvalde are holding their regularly scheduled storytime. A safe space for children and families. That shouldn’t be difficult. Though today it seems remote, it is needed more than ever.

The unbearable loss of all those precious lives in Uvalde yesterday reminds me of the incredible responsibility we have for one another – to protect each other and nurture our sense of community and safety. We each have a duty to live respecting the life and rights of others; and we have a duty to shape a society that affirms this duty by creating a culture that values all our fellow citizens, calls out actions and behaviors that work against that value, and provides the tools and resources to help people participate holistically and productively within our society.

And here is where libraries have a special role. As organic bodies borne out of and for a community, libraries are a place of refuge, learning, and healing. They are places to find community and hope. I am not one bit surprised at the commitment and dedication of the staff of the El Progreso Memorial Library.

I cannot imagine the grief of our colleagues in Uvalde. Staff made the difficult choice to stay open today because they wanted to offer the community, parents, and children – children especially – a sense of normalcy. They wanted parents to know there was an option for them today, as school has been concluded for the rest of the year.

Mendell Morgan, the library director in Uvalde, told me that even if folks are unable to get to the library, staff wanted the community to know they were there for them, now and always. Some structures cannot be torn down by even the most heinous acts.

I realize that the community and our colleagues there are still in shock. These are the early days of what will be a lifelong burden. They will need support and kindness, as well as respect for what they are experiencing. I know all of my colleagues throughout the state join me in extending our bone-deep condolences to all of the people of Uvalde. We are all the less for this inexplicable loss of children and educators.

The staff of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission extend our hearts to the people of Uvalde.

Heavy Lifting… It’s What Builds Tomorrow

Computer terminals lined up in technology room in Brownsville Public Library

Brownsville Public Library Public Computing Center

Libraries are at time of incredible possibilities and incredible strain. The influx of attention and funding for broadband, infrastructure, digital inclusion and equity, and digital literacy is phenomenal—a major area of need for which the library community has been calling for investment for years. With great thanks to our federal partners at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), who awarded Texas $8.4 million to support pandemic relief and undertake digital inclusion projects, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) has been moving forward with many programs, including grants and training.

One new project we are happy to announce is a study to better understand digital literacy in Texas public libraries. We are excited to work with librarians and library workers across the state to identify, assess, and showcase the incredible value and role of libraries in supporting Texans’ robust and meaningful engagement in today’s digital world.

We are collaborating with IC² Institute at the University of Texas at Austin for this research project, Texas Public Libraries: Serving Communities to Enhance Digital Literacy. The purpose of this study is to

  • Collect data on the current practices of Texas public libraries in offering digital literacy training;
  • Assess the barriers to, and necessary resources for, expanded training and support of community digital literacy;
  • Develop cost estimates for enhancing digital literacy services;
  • Document digital literacy collaborations between libraries and community partners such as schools, institutions of higher education, local workforce development boards, and chambers of commerce; and
  • Identify areas of strength in digital literacy training and areas in need of support and programming.

We believe this research will provide much-needed, data-driven benchmarks to help us understand and communicate the work of libraries in this area; identify and articulate areas of need; and aid local and state stakeholders in assessing the impact and potential of this work. We expect the report and findings to be completed by the end of this summer, and we will make the information available to the public.

We need the help and participation of Texas libraries! Our partners at IC2 will be reaching out to libraries statewide to gather information. I urge you to participate in data gathering activities, especially if you have an existing program focused on digital literacy or if you have particular needs you want to share.

With many new funding sources for technology projects, infrastructure, and digital equity activities (which includes digital literacy), we want to ensure that TSLAC and your library are positioned with the data and assessment needed to move forward and make the case for libraries.

In Gratitude

We close 2021 with many of the same challenges as 2020 and some new ones. We are all united in our wish for healthy and healing communities, despite the many circumstances and issues that confront us.

For my own part, I garner strength and inspiration from those around me. I know I cannot solve problems alone; none of us can. But in the information field—libraries, archives, records management, and more—we have some of the very best professionals—individuals who are passionate about and committed to the public good.

Color photo of one of TSLAC's front doors, with the word "Library" above and a red banner with the shape of Texas and the words "Read, Y'all!"Today, I am especially grateful for librarians—for their no-nonsense approach to problems and their absolute and unstinting commitment to serve their students and communities. You all resolve to undertake hard processes few others would undertake, and you do it because you care about people and you want to make a difference. The only personal agenda you have is other people’s success.

Here is what I know about you all.

School librarians – I don’t believe I have ever met a school librarian who was not dedicated to the success, education, and safety of their students. You (often alone) serve the entirety of your campus and keep sight of the absolute need to foster lifetime literacy and a love of reading.

Public librarians – You all are advocates down to the marrow of your bones for your communities. I see librarians working tirelessly and creatively to make libraries trusted and responsive places. You understand the power of libraries, and you take great care with that responsibility.

Academic librarians – You are the behind-the-scenes masters. Eminently skilled and efficient, higher education librarians serve faculty and students directly while helping your institutions succeed—sometimes in ways that administrators don’t see.

The world of information that our Texas librarians manage and guide patrons through is enormous, complicated, and fraught with increasing complexities. Few appreciate the scale of the work you must do to make libraries the critical centers of information and learning that they are in the 21st century; so much of serving people comes down to kind, dedicated, and compassionate customer service. That human-centered approach is paired with a deeply-informed professionalism and serious, unflagging commitment to public service.

Librarians understand this, and throughout all these years, I continue to be impressed with all you do and how much you give.

You make this world a better, more informed place. It’s hard for me to think of anything better.

Thank you for all that you do.

Message to Library, Archives, Records, and Information Professionals from the New State Librarian of Texas

Information is power. To be informed is to have agency—the ability to think and to do for oneself, to exert influence, and to shape circumstances. Places that house information, preserve knowledge, and further research and learning are among the most powerful. Libraries and our allied information institutions are as vital as ever. Though the people who work in libraries, archives, and records management organizations may not always feel powerful, history teaches us repeatedly that information—the right to access it and the responsibility to share it—is fundamental to a robust and informed citizenry.

The mission of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is to help Texans lead informed and productive lives. Indeed, I believe that all knowledge organizations share this fundamental purpose. As the new State Librarian, I am incredibly honored to be in this work alongside the talented and committed people who staff and support libraries, archives, records management, and information organizations.

We are in an especially important time. Our communities, students, researchers, and publics are demanding the best of us: facts, truth, objectivity, respect for diverse viewpoints, responsiveness to learning needs, and safe environments where all are welcomed and able to find information that is valuable and meaningful.

One might imagine that little about libraries or reading could evoke debate, but then, anything with such enormous power often draws strong passions. I keep in mind the many difficult times in history when people had to fight for access to information—everything from making sure all people (the poor, the marginalized, minority populations, and so many others) had access to reading materials to the cases in history when totalitarian regimes attempted to wipe out viewpoints and histories through book burnings and eradication of historical and archival records.

Generations of Americans have fought to preserve our right to information among our most cherished liberties. We all take special pride and responsibility in our role protecting these rights. And, in our area of work—that of libraries, literacy, reading, history, and all forms of 21st century information resources—I am thankful to work alongside all of you to ensure that we continue to serve the public and support access to a broad array of resources, technologies, and viewpoints.

Thank you for all you do!