Changing of the guard–Farewell to Michael C. Waters and welcome to new and returning commissioners

Michael C. Waters

The new year has brought a change in the commission that governs the work of our agency. Yesterday, Governor Abbott announced appointments to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Michael C. Waters, who has been on the commission for over ten years and chair for eight will be replaced by Mr. Bradley S. “Brad” Tegeler of Austin. Commissioner Martha Wong of Houston has been appointed chair of the commission. And Commissioner David Garza of Brownsville, who had initially been appointed to fill an unexpired term, has been reappointed to a full term ending in 2025.We congratulate and welcome Mr. Tegeler to the commission, cheer the reappointment of Mr. Garza, and applaud the appointment of Madam Chair Wong. We have a strong and engaged commission and appreciate the guidance of these individuals along with Commissioners Lynwood Givens, Larry Holt, Arthur Mann, and Darryl Tocker. The State of Texas is fortunate to have this dedicated group of citizens overseeing the important work of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

That said, we will surely miss the leadership of Mr. Michael C. Waters as our chair. During his tenure, Chairman Waters presided over and helped staff navigate TSLAC through several key changes, advancements, and milestones. He helped the agency on the road to recovery after deep cuts in 2012. He guided the agency through the momentous exhibit of the Travis Letter at the Alamo in 2012. He managed the selection of a new director in late 2013, when I joined the TSLAC team. He worked to establish positive relations with key stakeholder groups such as the Texas Library Association. He attended the first meeting with Governor Perry’s staff that led to the transfer of that governor’s papers to the agency — the first governor’s papers to go to TSLAC since Gov. Mark White — a development that was critical to the establishment of the Texas Digital Archive in 2015. And Chairman Waters provided key support of the agency throughout the Sunset reauthorization process. These are but a few of the changes and developments to occur at TSLAC on his watch.

Chairman Waters was always willing to travel to Austin or Washington to meet with elected officials to describe the agency’s needs and ask for support. In 2017, following a meeting between Mr. Waters and the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, TSLAC went on to receive $1 million for broadband development in Texas public libraries. That same year, when Congress and the President were considering zero-funding federal support for libraries, the chairman flew to Washington with Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz and met with staffs of Texas Senators Cruz and Cornyn. That year federal funding for libraries was restored and increased. And when TSLAC went before the Sunset Advisory Committee in August 2018, Chairman Waters compelled most of the commissioners to attend the hearing. The Sunset Committee Chairman Senator Birdwell, upon seeing six of seven commissioners present, commented that he had never seen so many members of a governing body attend a Sunset hearing and how important and positive a sign that was for our agency.

As the era of Chairman Waters closes, we take a moment to consider his many contributions to our agency, his constant support, his strategic vision, and his good humor and easy-going demeanor. We thank Chairman Waters for his service to TSLAC and the libraries and archives of Texas, and we wish him and his wife Kathy all the best in their future adventures.

Pausing to reflect

As we near the end of the year, I like to pause and reflect on the work that our amazing TSLAC team has accomplished during the year. It is our pleasure and honor to, in the words of our Mission Statement, “provide Texans with the information they need to be informed, productive citizens.” 2019 has been a challenging year, but we have enjoyed progress and success in many areas.

Below are the highlights organized by categories in our TSLAC Agency Strategic Plan. This list fails to capture the work of our staff delivering the many ongoing services of the agency such daily reference services, circulation of Talking Book materials, consultation and support for records management in state and local government, and our ongoing training and consultation with the hundreds of public, school and academic libraries across the state.

Organizational

  • Sunset reauthorization of TSLAC until 2031 with new authorities
  • Addition of the position of General Counsel
  • Completion of comprehensive agency risk assessment and audit plan through 2022
  • Completion of a new events and programming space in the headquarters Lorenzo de Zavala building

Goal 1: To articulate and advance the value of Texas libraries as essential to our communities and state

  • Launched a new public library director orientation at the TLA 2019 Annual Conference
  • Awarded first-ever Library Technology Academy grants and conducted a second year of training
  • Implemented a new Grantsmanship Academy training and grants to encourage first-time participation in TSLAC competitive grants
  • Design and launch of the new Border Cities Grants as added by the Legislature
  • Redesign of the Small Library Management program and launch of two new certificate tracks
  • Onboarded new libraries to the Family Place program— a total of 79 libraries have participated in this program since 2015
  • Reimbursed Texas libraries $9 for every interlibrary loan to another Texas library

Goal 2: To recruit and retain the knowledge-based workforce necessary to discharge the agency’s duties

  • Secured legislative appropriation for TSLAC staff increases
  • Held second Learning Engagement Opportunities all-staff development day for all TSLAC staff Friday, Nov. 8
  • Internal candidates were promoted to several key leadership positions
  • Workplace upgrades for staff, including Mamava nursing station, conference pod, and phone booth

Goal 3: To safeguard, preserve, and provide access to informational and historic assets

  • Progress on preservation of historical structures at the Sam Houston Center
  • Archives staff review, ingest, management, and provide access to many thousands of records
  • Growth of the Texas Digital Archive approaching 50 terabytes of data
  • Two Fellowships in Texas History awarded in partnership with FLAT and TSHA
  • Implemented the University Records Retention Schedule, culminating a six-year effort
  • “Women’s Power, Women’s Vote” exhibit and publication of commemorative calendar
  • Continued very successful project digitizing files for the Texas Department of Transportation
  • Added more activities to Local Government training classes to make them even more interactive
  • Another successful eRecords Conference attended by over 300 people on Nov. 15
  • Several Second Saturday workshops throughout the year
  • Secure and professional transfer of custody of legislative records to the Legislative Reference Library as mandated by the Legislature

Goal 4: To acquire the technology necessary to effectively, securely, and efficiently manage agency resources

  • Added new scanning equipment for imaging services
  • Added SFTP software box
  • ITS upgrades completed at the Sam Houston Center
  • Agency web servers upgraded
  • Technology enabling duplication on demand acquired and mastered in the Talking Book Program

Goal 5: To secure the state’s official records by addressing the immediate need for additional archival storage and provide for the growth of Texas records

  • Secured $4.4 million appropriation to add 20,000 square feet of records storage space
  • TSLAC working with the Texas Facilities Commission to complete that additional storage at Promontory Point
  • Completion of study of archives and records storage alternatives as mandated by the Legislature

Goal 6: To support efforts to ensure digital inclusion for Texas

  • Launched E-Read Texas statewide e-book program to provide e-book access to public libraries across Texas starting with small community libraries
  • Libraries Connecting Texas—Increasing broadband speeds by over 1000% in another 61 library locations
  • Implementation of over 80 new or renewing TexShare and TexQuest e-resources, with over 100 million uses per year
  • TBP continues transition to digital download and duplication on demand
  • Governor’s Broadband Council created with library representation
  • TSLAC co-presents K-12 Open Education Resource conference

Goal 7: Continue to refine our response to the informational needs of the increasingly diverse Texas population

  • Addition of new Inclusive Services Consultant position
  • TBP implements SB 2075 expanding access to students with reading disabilities
  • 53 libraries across Texas participate in “Know Your Neighbor: Cultivating Communities of Compassion” statewide reading program
  • 45 competitive grant projects funded
  • Hundreds of students statewide participating in Letters About Literature writing contest
  • Texas Center for the Book Literacy Awards to Books are GEMS and two other groups
  • TCFB secures Library of Congress literacy award for Women’s Storybook Project

We wish all of you a very happy, relaxing, and safe holiday season and we look forward to the opportunity to serve you in 2020.

Realizing the importance of K-12 libraries

In 1995, the Legislature added a provision to the Texas Education Code, section 33.021, that directs the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, “in consultation with the State Board of Education, to adopt standards for school library services.” The statute goes on to say that districts “shall consider the standards in developing, implementing, or expanding library services.”

The School Library Standards have been revised twice since they were first created in 1997, most recently in 2017, when many school librarians from across the state, led by Sonja Schulz of the Nacogdoches ISD and Donna Kearley of the Denton ISD and coordinated by TSLAC K-12 School Program Coordinator Liz Philippi, completed a major update and overhaul of the standards: School Library Programs: Standards and Guidelines for Texas.

While the standards are voluntary, there is ample anecdotal evidence that they are used widely across the state and over the past two decades, have been a driving force for better K-12 library services in many districts. Still, the standards are voluntary, and the State of Texas has seldom spoken forcefully to say that the standards should be considered a key guideline in developing excellent school services.

That all changed last month with the publication of a report by the Legislative Budget Board that contained a lengthy section about the TSLAC School Library Standards. The report, Houston Independent School District Management and Performance Review, is an overall assessment of school services in the Houston ISD. On page 59 of the report and following, the report discusses the TSLAC K-12 Library Standards and systematically measure Houston ISD performance regarding library services against the TSLAC Standards.

This in itself is a welcome validation of the value of the Standards. But the report does something even more exciting: it goes on to state the importance of school libraries to student achievement:

Libraries are considered effective and efficient resources in improving student achievement. Campuses that do not have high-quality library programs are not providing the same opportunities for students to learn as campuses that do. (p. 61)

The report also states:

Nationwide, research suggests that reading, writing, and graduation rates improve where campuses employ certified school librarians. (p. 61)

And finally:

Library variables, including library staffing and items per student, outweighed the effects of other campus variables, including computers per student, teacher experience, and even teacher turnover rates.(p. 61)

These are evidence-based conclusions that school library advocates have been trying for years to impart to school administrators. There are ample studies (see in particular the many school library impact studies of researcher Keith Curry Lance) that consistently demonstrate the positive correlation between full-time, qualified school librarians and higher student achievement on standards-based tests in reading, writing, and language-arts, even after correcting for socio-economic variables.

This has been a message that too often has fallen on deaf ears as school librarians have seen their programs be the first cut, school library budgets reduced, and library staff positions eliminated.

We hope that with this important recognition by the Texas Legislative Budget Board, more districts will understand the key role that libraries dedicated K-12 librarians can play in student achievement and meeting district goals.

Links included in this post:

Education Code, Section 33: https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/ED/htm/ED.33.htm

School Library Programs: Standards and Guidelines for Texas (TSLAC, 2017): https://www.tsl.texas.gov/sites/default/files/public/tslac/ld/schoollibs/sls/Texas%20School%20Library%20Standards%20E-Version%20FINAL.pdf

Houston Independent School District Management and Performance Review (Legislative Budget Board, 2019):  http://www.lbb.state.tx.us/Documents/Publications/School_Performance_Review/SPR/houston/4986_Houston_ISD.pdf

Keith Curry Lance and Debra E. Kachel. “Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us.” Phi Delta Kappan (March 26, 2018): https://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/ 

Nor Is This All

On Friday, November 8, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission held its second Learning Engagement Opportunities, or LEO, Day, a day of in-service training and staff development for all TSLAC staff in our three locations. As with other libraries, LEO gives TSLAC staff an opportunity to come together in a day of learning, networking, and team-building.

The keynote speaker for this year’s LEO was Dr. David B. Gracy II. Dr. Gracy is one of the most famous archivists in the U.S. He is the former State Archivist of Texas and the former Director of the Archival and Records Enterprise Program at the University of Texas School of Information. He is the former President of the Society of American Archivists and the Academy of Certified Archivists.

The title of Dr. Gracy’s talk was “Nor Is This All,” which derives from comments by Cadwell Raines who was the director of the library and archives functions of Texas for eleven years from 1891-1895 and 1899-1906. Raines wrote of the state library of his day that “By its relation to the state government, the agency is the office of record for everything issued by the several departments; not only the printed books, pamphlets, maps, etc., but also the manuscript records of historical value after they are no longer necessary to the current duties of said departments.” Then Raines added the words, “Nor is this all.”

Dr. Gracy uses these words of Raines to frame the importance of the library and archives to society. “How important is having an agency of government with this mission?” asks Dr. Gracy? “In my view—essential. It couples the two information functions that form the bedrock of democracy and are the foundation upon which civilization in the age of literacy rests. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Dr. Gracy then went on to decry the erosion of archival collections and to obscure the transparency of public access to government information. “Essential to democratic government is transparency—the ability for citizens to monitor the actions taken in their behalf by government leaders. Transparency is vital to trust in government.”

Dr. Gracy went on:

“What other reason than obscuring transparency and compromising trust in government would there be for a legislative enactment excluding legislative records from being treated as all other agency records under the state records act. . .

“Archives are information as accurate, factual, truthful in historical context as we Americans, we Texans, we human beings have.”

Dr. Gracy ends with stirring praise for the work of the staff of TSLAC, and by extension, all archivists and librarians:

“In the end, your job is you—your pride in your profession, in your performance of your job, in your service to all comers.  That you have this pride is a given.  Without it, you wouldn’t be in this line of work.  You wouldn’t be here.  And no malignant action or initiative from outside can ever take it from you.”

Nor is this all: Dr. Gracy suggests that the scope of what may complete the public’s right to know will sometimes—perhaps always—extend beyond what is found in the public archives of the state.

We were grateful to Dr. Gracy for his remarks that served to remind our staff of the important service this agency has been providing for the state since its founding 110 years ago and, in fact, back to the first days of statehood. That service has been to preserve, protect, and make available to the public the archival record of the state of Texas, work that our staff has done and will continue to do with dedication and professionalism.

Dr. Gracy’s entire speech to the staff of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission can be read here.

In other news

Last week the Texas State Library and Archives Commission began transferring to the Legislative Reference Library all legislative records of the state of Texas. These records include all bill files, committee minutes, photographs, audio files, and other documents extending from the first legislature to present, as well as the records of all members of the legislature and the Lieutenant Governor. The full transfer of these materials is expected to take until the early spring, at which time the archival record of the legislative branch of Texas will be housed at the Legislative Reference Library, which now has custody of those materials per the terms of HB 4181 as passed in the last legislative session.

 

 

 

Meeting with Mr. Sargent

I am in Hartford, Connecticut, for the annual fall meeting of the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, or COSLA, the state librarians of the 50 states and several territories.

This morning, a group of ten state librarians and the Executive Director of COSLA met with Mr. John Sargent, CEO of Macmillan Publishing Company. The meeting came at an interesting moment: this week marked the beginning of Macmillan’s controversial new pricing/availability policy for library e-book purchase. Under the policy, each library (regardless of population size) can purchase one copy of every new e-book and that copy will be perpetual use and is sold at the consumer price for the book. However, after that copy, Macmillan will not sell any further copies to the library for an eight-week period. After that, the library will pay the library cost, which is much higher than the retail cost of the item. This policy has provoked a huge negative reaction–including calls for boycotts–among libraries across the U.S. The American Library Association, COSLA, and many others have urged Macmillan to reconsider this action.

I was one of the ten who met today with Mr. Sargent and the meeting lasted over two and a half hours. He explained that the Macmillan policy arose from his belief that the amount that librarians are spending on e-books is ever escalating as they try to keep up with demand for front-list (bestseller) titles, allowing no funds to purchase mid-list titles. Meanwhile, the circulation of library e-books is rising exponentially, and, in Mr. Sargent’s view, causing a corresponding decrease in revenues for authors and publishers. He posited that not only is the policy good for small libraries that typically would purchase only one copy of an e-book, it would potentially help all libraries along with authors and publishers. Without any other model, he says, the publishers would have no choice but to continue to raise prices to libraries, causing more pressure on library budgets.

We appreciate Mr. Sargent’s time and his thoughts, but the state librarians did not buy his argument. While it is undeniable that the cost of e-books is untenable, that use is tending to increase, and that library budgets are pushed to the max, we expressed skepticism that a reader who cannot borrow a copy of a library e-book will purchase the item. We also doubted the assumption of an inverse correlation between library circulation and publisher revenue. We questioned the data upon which Macmillan’s decisions have been based. And we noted that many libraries are going to discontinue purchasing materials from Macmillan, though Mr. Sargent seems confident that the impact of the boycotts will be offset by greater revenues to authors and publishers. He commented that he had heard from few authors with concerns about the new policy.

Libraries have several options for how to respond to the embargo. They can, of course, continue to do business with Macmillan, buy the initial item, then buy further copies once the embargo is lifted. Or, they can opt not to purchase Macmillan titles.

While TSLAC does not have an official position or recommendation to libraries about how they should respond, libraries may want to consider that other publishers are watching the results of Macmillan’s action. If those publishers see that in fact, the embargo is successful, there is little library reaction, and if author and publisher revenues increase, then other publishers will likely follow Macmillan’s lead. That would mean that black-out periods on new materials could be imposed by other publishers, greatly impacting libraries’ ability to provide new and popular e-books to the public and, ultimately, making libraries much less relevant to their users and communities.

Certainly library patrons want to read the New York Times bestsellers. But there are many thousands of books published in all genres every year, especially in this exciting new era of small publishing and self-publishing. Libraries could consider the Macmillan embargo as an opportunity to explore ways to encourage readers to discover other writers who they may enjoy as much or more than those that publish with Macmillan. TSLAC has begun ordering e-books for Texas libraries. We will be favoring publishers who provide library-friendly terms, including books with perpetual use.

We may have one point of agreement with Macmillan: it might be time to disrupt the model of our book purchasing. We should take this opportunity to flex our book-buying muscle, favor publishers that give us the most favorable terms, and use our considerable expertise in readers advisory service to discover and crowd-source new authors. The alternative could be to find ourselves unable to effectively serve avid readers who have comprised one of our most dedicated customer groups.

Links

ALA Press Release regarding Macmillan price policy: http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2019/07/ala-denounces-new-macmillan-library-lending-model-urges-library-customers

Open Letter from John Sargent: https://d1x9nywezhk0w2.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/29160131/A-Letter-from-John-Sargent-.pdf

Voice and Vision

Last night, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission held a very special program: Voice and Vision, the fourth annual Texas Authors Celebration. This program, created by Texas Center for the Book Coordinator Rebekah Manley, is held each year the Thursday evening prior to the Texas Book Festival. Consistent with our mission to provide Texans with the information they need to live informed and productive lives, the Texas Authors Celebration, a project of the Texas Center for the Book, brings together the worlds of authors, publishing, literacy, research, archives, and libraries. The event emphasizes the ways in which archives and libraries support the literary endeavor.

Becka Oliver of the Writers’ League of Texas, moderates a panel of illustrator Ekua Holmes and authors Chris Barton and Michael Hurd.

The program — the first to be held in a newly redesigned event space created for programming on the second floor of the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building — began with the presentation of the Texas Center for the Book Literacy Awards to Books Are GEMS, a project building literacy and a love of reading for children in El Paso, Texas, and runner-up awards to Inside Books, providing books to the incarcerated in Texas, and Teen Bookfest by the Bay, based in Corpus Christi.

Following the presentation of the Texas Center for the Book Literacy Award was a panel discussion featuring Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes, the author and illustrator of What Do You Do with a Voice Like That: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan (Simon and Schuster, 2018), and Michael Hurd, author of Thursday Night Lights: The Story of Black High School Football in Texas (University of Texas Press, 2019). The panel, moderated by Becka Oliver, Executive Director of the Writers’ League of Texas, explored various aspects of the craft of writing and illustrating books, including a lengthy discussion of the value of archives to writing books such as these which document important aspects of our shared history. By way of complimenting the valuable work done by archivists and librarians and how helpful they have been to his work, Chris Barton commented, “I might choose my next book based on what will allow me to spend the most time in this building.”

But Becka Oliver and Michael Hurd also hinted at the dark side of archival research, the phenomenon known as “archival silence,” when the archives of a particular experience, often that of underrepresented people, does not exist. This lack of coverage in itself tells a valuable, if discouraging story, but it also serves to point to the urgent need to keep and maintain the archival record.

The role of archivists and librarians — the keepers of the record of our common experience — becomes more important and more noted every day. We hope that some of the authors who visited with us last evening will return to continue their research in our collection and avail themselves of the expertise of our outstanding archivists and librarians.

For researchers working on research in our collections, TSLAC, in cooperation with the Texas State Historical Association, is making available for the third year, $2,000 Fellowships in Texas History, a stipend to support travel costs to work in the TSLAC archives. These fellowships are made possible by the Friends of Libraries and Archives of Texas with generous funding from the Edouard Foundation. For information on the Fellowship, visit the TSHA website at https://tshaonline.org/awards-and-fellowships/2422. The deadline for application for the 2020 Fellowship is December 28, 2019.

Links in this post:

Texas Center for the Book Literacy Awards: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/literacyaward

Books are GEMS: http://www.booksaregems.org/

Inside Books Project: https://insidebooksproject.org/

Teen Bookfest by the Sea: https://sites.google.com/site/teenbookfestbythebay/home

2020 Fellowships in Texas History: https://tshaonline.org/awards-and-fellowships/2422

October is Archives Month–Let’s celebrate!

October is Archives Month and in honor of that event each year, the Texas State Library, in collaboration with the Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB), creates a poster commemorating the many ways archives impacts our lives. This year’s poster: “The Power of Water” provides a timely reminder that while archives of Texas preserve the historical record, including the nature and history of water and weather in the state, they are also subject to the impact of this vital element.

Also this month, TSLAC announced the recipients of the THRAB 2019 Archival Award of Excellence. This year’s awards go to the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections at the University of Texas at El Paso Library, and to Brenda Lincke Fisseler, former volunteer with Lavaca County. This award is given annually to recognize significant achievements by individuals and institutions in ensuring the preservation and access to the permanent historical records of Texas.

As I wrote in my last blog, archives are having a moment right now. We welcome what we observe is a heightened interest in the importance of primary source materials in documenting the history of individuals, families, communities, organizations, states, nations and the many thousands of stories that comprise our shared human history.

Archives Month provides an excellent opportunity to begin your own exploration in primary source research. You can start with “Ideas for Celebrating Texas Archives Month” on our website. You can also follow the work of our amazingly talented team of archivists on our archives blog, Out of the Stacks or of our Summerlee Conservation Lab on the TSLAC Conservation blog.

We also encourage you to dig into our rich trove of online archival materials. We maintain a page of very interesting online exhibits that will take you to fun, notable and high interest treasures in the TSLAC Archives. Or check out the Texas Digital Archive, our repository containing 50 terabytes of archives in digital format from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of Texas government.

You may also choose Archives Month to start or continue researching your own family history, starting with genealogy research materials at TSLAC. Or you might want to attend our Personal Digital Archiving workshop on Saturday, October 12, to learn more about how you can manage your own digital archive.

Archives connect us to our individual and shared past and they create a permanent record of our society and our achievements. Archivists and archival institutions are dedicated to accomplishing the dual roles of preserving and making available these vital materials. We hope you will take time during October to consider and explore the rich and varied world of archives at TSLAC and across the state.

Links in this post:

Texas Historical Records Advisory Board 2019 Archival Award of Excellence – https://www.tsl.texas.gov/node/67237

Ideas for Celebrating Texas Archives Month – https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/thrab/archivesmonth.html

Out of the Stacks Blog –
https://www.tsl.texas.gov/outofthestacks

TSLAC Conservation Blog – https://www.tsl.texas.gov/conservation/

Online exhibits – https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/index.html 

Texas Digital Archive – https://tsl.access.preservica.com/

Genealogy research materials at TSLAC – https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/genfirst.html

Register for Personal Digital Archives Management workshop October 12 – https://www.tsl.texas.gov/node/67176

Why Archives Matter

Public fascination with archives continues to run high.

Every year this time, the Man Booker Award announces its list of nominees for this prestigious award for the best work of fiction in English from any country. This year’s Booker long list contains two novels that use archives not only as an essential plot device and metaphor, but also as a point of reference in the title.

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli (Penguin Random House, 2019) is the story of a mother and father who are archivists of a sort, and their children, on a road trip across the U.S. collecting and recording as they travel. Each member of this family has at least one archival box that they fill with sound recordings, lists, memoirs, oral histories, transcriptions, maps, drawings, and photographs. As they make their way in their combined and individual journeys, their personal archives grow and merge with other primary materials in ways that suggest how profoundly each of us is linked to and extend the permanent public record. Luiselli writes, “I suppose an archive gives you a kind of valley in which your thoughts can bounce back to you, transformed.”

In The Testaments (Penguin Random House, 2019), Margaret Atwood revisits the dystopian theocracy of Gilead first created in her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale. The Testaments is comprised of various fictional archival transcriptions that (spoiler alert!) weave an account of the unraveling of Gilead. And not only do the personal histories that are the testaments make up the narrative of the novel, truths preserved in the “Bloodlines,” or archival history of Gilead, serve to alert the world to the corruption of that culture and lead to its downfall.

Atwood’s admiration for the power of archives is tempered by recognition of how easily history can be erased by disappearing the permanent record, especially in the era of digital preservation. Speaking from a hypothetical year 2197, she refers to, “The Digital Black Hole of the twenty-first century that caused so much information to vanish due to the rapid decay of stored data–coupled with the sabotage of a large number of server farms and libraries. . .”

Why this sudden popularity and awareness of the power of archives? I would suggest that the interest springs from a collective impulse and imperative to establish and preserve a permanent and indelible record. As we find ourselves in uncertain times when truth itself seems to become more subjective each day and once-authoritative sources of information are increasingly called into doubt, primary source materials are valued now more than ever. Many people today recognize that the answer to the question — posed in perhaps a year or ten or two hundred — “What really happened?” will depend on how well we preserve and protect the records of government and our public agencies today.

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission was founded by the State of Texas in 1909 (though there has been an official state library and archive since the beginning of statehood) and charged with preserving the records of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of Texas government. TSLAC takes seriously the charge to gather, preserve, protect, and make available the permanent record of the State of Texas now and for future generations.

October is Archives Month, a great time to learn more about rich world of archives and archival work. To find out more about the exciting work being done by our TSLAC archivists, visit our blog, Out of the Stacks at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/outofthestacks/

Texas Great Read 2019

Once again this year, our Texas Center for the Book has selected an outstanding book to be featured as the 2019 Texas Great Read. This year’s Texas Great Read is What Do You Do With a Voice Like That: The Story of Extraordinary Congresswoman Barbara Jordan by Chris Barton, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Simon and Schuster, 2018).

This beautifully told and illustrated book tells the story of the legendary Barbara Jordan, who, in 1966, became the first African-American woman ever elected to the Texas legislature and, in 1972, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Chris Barton and Ekua Holmes relate the inspiring story of this woman of courage and determination, one of the great public figures of the 20th Century, in a way that appeals to all ages.

Texas Center for the Book Coordinator Rebekah Manley greets visitors at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, Saturday, August 31.

Each year, the Texas Center for the Book selects a Great Read to represent Texas at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC. Last weekend, Center Coordinator Rebekah Manley and TSLAC Communications Officer Susan Floyd traveled Washington to greet the public and share information about TSLAC programs and Texas books, authors, and illustrators.

The Texas Center for the Book encourages a love of books, reading, literacy, and libraries for all Texans and highlights the role of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission as a source of the information that Texans of all ages and in all parts of the state need to live informed and productive lives. As an example, for over 100 years, researchers and historians have used the holdings of the Texas Archives to find information on Texas leaders and legislators such as Barbara Jordan. You can listen to Barbara Jordan speaking in this 1969 clip from the Texas Senate Recordings digitized and available on the TSLAC site.

Welcoming Sarah Swanson

Sarah I. Swanson, TSLAC General Counsel

We are happy to welcome to the TSLAC team our new General Counsel, Sarah I. Swanson. Sarah comes to TSLAC with an impressive track record of service to state agencies, most recently at the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles where she served as the acting general counsel.

The position of General Counsel for TSLAC was approved and funded by the Legislature during the session that just ended in May. TSLAC urged the addition of the position specifically to assist with Public Information Act (PIA) requests and agency contracts. Because TSLAC holds the archives of the state of Texas, PIA requests have been a complex challenge for the agency and was the subject of several recommendations in the TSLAC sunset review. Similarly, because of our e-resource contracts for TexShare and TexQuest, as well as many agreements with other agencies for records storage and local governments for competitive grants, TSLAC contracts are complicated. Sarah will be helping the agency develop processes to more effectively manage both PIA requests and contracts.

Sarah is also joining the agency at a moment when other issues are at play. Changes in the last session will require attention to agency property, the management of legislative records, and other matters. Sarah’s expertise in state government work will ensure that TSLAC continues to effectively serve the state and our clients within all legal and ethical requirements.

In other news, TSLAC has signed a contract renewal with E-Rate Central to continue to assist public libraries across Texas in completing their applications for E-Rate, the federal broadband discount. In the 2017 session, the Legislature provided TSLAC with $1,000,000 for the 2018-2019 biennium to assist libraries in securing broadband Internet connections. Over the last two years, and with the support of E-Rate Central, TSLAC’s Libraries Connecting Texas project has helped 145 community libraries increase their internet speeds by an average of over 900%. The last Legislature allowed TSLAC to carry forward over $400,000 in unused funds to continue this important work during the 2020-2021 biennium.