TSLAC Passes Sunset Review

After months of study of our agency, the Sunset Advisory Commission yesterday made final decisions on the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. The panel—which is comprised of five state senators, five representatives, and two public members—made several recommendations, the most important of which is that TSLAC continue to operate for another 12 years. There is no recommendation for any loss of authority or any combination with another agency.

In addition, the Sunset Commission also recommended that we:

  • Have specific permission to advertise services and to sell reproductions of archival materials the proceeds of which will benefit preservation and digitization efforts as well as educational operations
  • Work with other agencies to explore options for sharing space for curatorial operations as part of our requested expansion of the State Records Center on Shoal Creek
  • Develop a strategic plan for managing the state archives with particular emphasis on the processing backlog
  • Clarify processes for how we handle the transfer and confidentiality of legislator records
  • Discontinue the requirement that TSLAC approve local government retention schedules
  • Make changes to our grants management procedures to remove perceived conflicts of interest and to ensure broader participation

The Sunset recommendations represent a welcome vote of confidence by the state in the work TSLAC performs for the state. The Sunset Commission staff report spoke about the value of the agency to the state and the commission’s recommendations today underscore their appreciation of the importance of TSLAC’s work and the integrity of our staff and our processes in delivering that work.

I want to thank Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz for being the lead staff person in writing our agency self-evaluation and in leading our very strategic approach to the Sunset process. But this was a team effort that took work by many people inside and outside the agency including our commissioners, our division directors, key stakeholders such as the Texas Library Association, the Texas State Historical Association, and many of our staff.

Sunset review has been a long road over many months and the process is not over yet. The most important steps lie ahead in introducing and passing legislation to reauthorize TSLAC for another 12 years. But with these recommendations we will approach the session with confidence and an expectation of a favorable outcome.

All decision documents for yesterday’s meeting, including for TSLAC, can be found here.

Reading, libraries, thinking, and reliable information

Many apologies for my lengthy absence from this blog. I took an involuntary hiatus owing to October being a very busy month. Our team opened a new exhibit, presented two programs during the month, participated in Archives Month, prepared for the Texas Book Festival, the Legislative Session, the Sunset Commission meeting in November, and several other major activities.

But I have also been doing some thinking and reading about topics that reflect on the value of what we do as libraries and archives. Over the two days of the Texas Book Festival we watched as thousands of people gathered on the grounds of the Texas Capitol to attend dozens of author sessions, visit book vendors and other exhibitors, purchase books, and otherwise celebrate the power of the printed word. Every author program I attended was completely full with standing room only. I watched at the Gala as contributors donated over $108,000 in less than 20 minutes to support book grants to libraries and the Reading Rock Stars program. The ongoing overwhelmingly positive response to the Texas Book Festival speaks to the power of books and reading and a hunger for authentic information, thoughtful writing, and a faith in libraries as a catalyst and contact point for people seeking access to reliable information and the regenerative practice of reading.

Thursday evening before the Festival, we held our third annual Celebration of Texas Authors and presented the Texas Center for the Book Literacy Award to the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas, an amazing program that allows incarcerated women in Texas to record themselves reading stories for their children. That an act as simple and genuine and basic as reading to your child is so restorative and foundational for these women is further evidence of the power of books and reading to bind families and communities and to create lifelong opportunities for children exposed to books and reading at early ages.

Why are people turning to books and reading and libraries so enthusiastically? Perhaps part of the answer can be found in a report published this month by the Knight Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to exploring journalism and civic engagement. The report, entitled “Disinformation, ‘Fake News,’ and Influence Campaigns on Twitter,” provides the results of a highly granular study of the ways in which Twitter bots are employed to generate automatic posts. The slick interactive presentation of the report online belies the troubling implications for society, especially when, according to the Pew Research Center, 38 percent of people get their news online, including from social media and apps. Fortunately, only 4 percent of people trust the accuracy of news from social media. By comparison, also according to Pew, 74 percent of the public say they see public libraries as a place that helps them decide what information they can trust.

Also in October, I read a book that helped me understand how we interact with information and why it might be a good idea to rethink some of those patterns. Bored and Brilliant: How spacing out can unlock your most productive and creative self, by Manoush Zomorodi (whose excellent podcasts “Note to Self” and “Zig Zag” might be the subject of a later blog post), explains how Americans’ obsessive use of cell phones, screens, apps, and other conveniences of the modern world, is disrupting not only our relationships with other people and our environment, but even the way we read and take in information. Zomorodi describes how many people have trouble even reading a book because online apps train the eye to hop around the page so that the linear act of reading becomes much more difficult. This writer is not anti-online-information (after all, she hosts podcasts), but she does see problematic implications for a loss of sustained reflection, thinking, and deeper understanding.

Libraries and archives offer a path out of the confusion, distraction, and craziness. Through books, reliable online sources, or even something as refreshingly analog as a print newspaper (favored now by only 20 percent of the public, according to Pew), people are finding a way to disconnect with the frantic, stressful, and often unreliable deluge of online information and connect to information sources that encourage thoughtful reflection.

URLs included in this post:

The Women’s Storybook Project of Texas can be found here at https://storybookproject.org/

The Knight Foundation report, “Disinformation, ‘Fake News,’ and Influence Campaigns on Twitter,” can be found at: https://knightfoundation.org/

The Pew Research report on journalism can be found at: http://www.journalism.org/2016/07/07/pathways-to-news/

The Pew Research “Libraries 2016” report can be found at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/americans-attitudes-toward-public-libraries/

“Bored and Brilliant” was featured on an episode of the NPR program All Tech Considered. That program can be found here: https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/01/12/376717870/bored-and-brilliant-a-challenge-to-disconnect-from-your-phone

Setting the Texas Table

By Gloria Meraz, Assistant State Librarian

On October 1, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission will open “Setting the Texas Table,” an exhibit about the history of Texas foodways featuring artifacts from the Texas State Archives. From produce parades to the floor of the Texas Legislature, Setting the Texas Table showcases the influence of state government and industry on Texas food culture. An array of historical photos, state promotional materials, and other artifacts highlight the farms and ranches, celebrations, laws and promotions that help define what goes on the Texas table. The exhibit opens Oct. 1 and runs through April 2019.

Opening Event

Attend the exhibit opening event on Oct. 11 from 6 to 8 p.m. for an opportunity to check out the new exhibit, which includes armadillo preparation techniques, a letter from former H-E-B CEO Howard Edward Butt Sr. and Red Cross ration recipes from a prisoner of war diary. Industry experts, including John Lash of Farm to Table and Mark Hyman of Llano Estacado Winery, will talk about how Texas food culture today fits in to their professional endeavors in the food industry. There will also be Texas food and drink, a one-night-only display of food-themed artifacts from the archives, and a pumpkin decorating contest with prizes for the best decorated version of Texas’ state squash. For more information on the exhibit and the Oct. 11 event, visit www.tsl.texas.gov.

Exhibit Overview

What we serve on our table is not only a product of our own history and taste but the culmination of a vast and complex enterprise. From the farmer, rancher or fisherman to the industry promoter and state official, the people and organizations behind the scenes are all part of a thriving system of food production, transportation, marketing, sale, regulation and state support.

Setting the Texas Table serves up a hearty helping of favorite dishes and documents how state government influences the foodways of Texas. The exhibit features archival records from the Texas Department of Agriculture, Texas Tourist Development Agency, the State Legislature and governors.

The exhibit is organized into 6 sections. Cooking Up Texas shows how Texans connect with their history and each other by sharing recipes. Featured items include publications of the Texas Department of Agriculture with industry data and cookbooks, such as The Texas Wild Game Cookbook, which offers impressive recipes for barbecued and stuffed armadillo.

The Lean Table segment focuses on the experience of food hardship during the Great Depression and WWII. Items include documents on rationing, such as a letter from
H.E. Butt to Governor Stevenson on July 8, 1943.

The practice of Farm to Market was essential in maximizing access to local products. The development of roads (physical and promotional) ensured thriving foodways. Archival records include maps of agricultural food regions and photographs of state produce operations, such as the Stugard Ranch, which grew irrigated citrus and vegetables in the Rio Grande Valley.

States often proclaim foods as “official” to promote a local product and state industries. The exhibit’s Making It Official celebrates peaches, the essential component of the official state cobbler.

No Texas food exhibit is complete without beef. The Land and Cattle section highlights elements of the industry, from branding to fencing and images of Texas stock.

Celebrating the Taste of Texas brings people together in a purposeful way to build community. The Texas State Fair, established in 1886, is perhaps the best-known state event for promoting Texas products. One of the artifacts featured is J.R.’s Secret Sauce, which was served up in the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial.

Visit the exhibit online at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/lobbyexhibits/txtable and watch the exhibit video featuring TSLAC Archivist Halley Grogan and many vintage film clips from the TSLAC collection at https://youtu.be/KToEc-jr_3E

We hope you will come enjoy the Setting the Texas Table exhibit and join us for our informative (and nourishing!) program Thursday evening, Oct. 11.

Sunset and Budget

This week and last week we attended two hearings at the Capitol that represent milestones for TSLAC. Last week, on August 29, the Sunset Commission (the governing board of which is comprised of five senators and five representatives) held a hearing to discuss agencies under review. As most of our stakeholder groups know, TSLAC has been undergoing a Sunset Commission review for the past several months. In July, the Sunset Commission Staff issued their Report on TSLAC. That report contained a number of recommendations including that the agency should continue to operate for another 12 years and should not be combined with another agency.

At the August 29 hearing, TSLAC Chairman Michael Waters, Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz, and I testified on behalf of the agency and answered the Commission’s questions. Chairman Brian Birdwell and other committee members asked a number of questions about various topics, including how we manage the records of state legislators and how we ensure equity in the award of competitive grant funds. Chairman Birdwell also asked questions regarding the accreditation of public libraries in Texas and expressed a concern that local governments be able to retain maximum flexibility in determining how the locality taxes itself for library service.

Senator Dawn Buckingham asked about the Talking Book Program and any impediments to the service. I described the program and noted as a significant impediment that we lack the authority to advertise the service and, as a result, not enough eligible Texans are aware of and use the service. She noted that should be an easy fix.

Six of the seven TSLAC commission members were present and Chairman Birdwell thanked and praised the commission for being in attendance and for their careful stewardship of the agency on behalf of the people of Texas. Also in attendance were Texas Library Association members Leah Mann, Edward Smith, and Susan Mann who spoke about the value of the services provided by TSLAC. We are very grateful of the support that TLA and other stakeholder groups have given TSLAC throughout the Sunset process.

The next step in the Sunset process is the Commission’s decision meeting on November 14 and 15 when they meet to take action on TSLAC and other agencies.

Yesterday we presented our 2020-2021 Legislative Appropriations Request before the Joint Budget Hearing, a meeting of staff representing the Legislative Budget Board, the office of the governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the house, and the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees. We described our budget and our seven exceptional items, including funding for a two-part facilities project that will ensure the agency will have adequate room to store materials for up to the next 25 years.

We are also requesting $4.2 million for new funds for TexShare and TexQuest to purchase e-book materials to complement the resources in those very heavily used and much-beloved services.

We are looking forward to the start of the legislative session and the conversation about the resources we need to best serve the information needs of all Texans in all parts of the state.



In case you missed it. . .

Libraries have been getting some great press coverage lately. Ironically some of it started with a piece in Forbes magazine all about how libraries are obsolete and all anyone ever needs is on Amazon (I always wonder when I hear someone say that type of thing if they have actually been in a library anytime in the last 20 years). The article drew such a huge avalanche of negative reaction, that Forbes actually pulled it from their website, which magazines and newspapers seldom do.

In the meantime, in reacting to the article, a number of people came across our Return on Investment Report for Public Libraries in Texas, the one that demonstrates that every one dollar invested in public libraries yields $4.64 in investment. That report is on our website at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/roi. In fact, an article in the widely circulated U.K. newspaper, The Guardian, about the Forbes article, cited the TSLAC ROI study: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jul/23/twaddle-librarians-respond-to-suggestion-amazon-should-replace-libraries?CMP=share_btn_tw

On August 7, the Texas Tribune ran my article also referencing the Forbes article, titled, “Public Libraries Offer a Great Return for Texas Taxpayers”: https://www.tribtalk.org/2018/08/07/public-libraries-offer-a-great-return-for-texas-taxpayers/ Thanks to our amazing Communications Officer Macy Hurwitz for placing this article in the Texas Tribune, a source widely read by Texas decision makers in state and local government.

Earlier this week, the Texas Observer ran a tribute about the late great Texas Senator Babe Schwartz who died a few days ago at the age of 92. https://www.texasobserver.org/stalwart-battler-for-justice-remembering-babe-schwartz-1926-2018/ This article contains a nice audio clip of Senator Schwartz in his typically sharp and entertaining style provided courtesy of TSLAC’s Texas Senate Recordings (available on our website at: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ref/senaterecordings/about.html.)

And then today USA Today published an article that extolls the virtues of the modern public library:  https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/komando/2018/08/17/free-ebooks-audiobooks-wi-fi-how-get-more-your-library/1009853002/ This article does not directly mention Texas libraries, but it certainly pertains to the wonderful range of services and materials available at public libraries in Texas and across the country.

TSLAC 2020-2021 Legislative Appropriation Request

It is once again budget time and visitors to our agency lately might have seen some rather dazed senior staff wandering the halls, including our Chief Operations and Fiscal Officer, Donna Osborne, who is the point person on pulling this monster document together. Every two years we are called on to submit our Legislative Appropriations Request. This year we were happy to see that we were not instructed to start at an automatic reduction (though we were directed to produce a 10 percent reduction plan should it be needed).

We also were not directed not to submit additional funding requests. So we have and they are rather large this time. On Wednesday of this week our commission met (with three new members: Commissioners Darryl Tocker, Arthur Mann, and David Garza) and prioritized the so-called exceptional items, or additional funding items, as follows:

  1. Storage for State Records – $36,016,600 – No, there isn’t an extra zero in this item. It is a very large request, but the need is huge also. This item represents both a short- and long-term solution to the fact that we are running out of space for the storage of records and archives, a situation made immediate and much worse because of several factors. This item will allow retrofitting of a site in South Austin for a short-term solution and the construction of an expansion of the Records Center on Shoal Creek for a 25-year solution. Without some funding for this item we will be of room to store state records by the end of fiscal year 2019.
  2. Cybersecurity for State Resources – $1,209,942 – For the second biennium, we are requesting the resources to adequately protect our automated systems.
  3. TexShare and TexQuest E-Book Resources – $4,545,988 – Providing access to online information through these signature programs continues to be the number one priority for our library clientele statewide. This item would expand the availability of e-book resources to public, K-12 and college and university library users across Texas.
  4. Targeted Salary Increases – $400,000 – For the third biennium in a row, we are asking for additional funds to help us bring our salaries to levels that will allow us to recruit and retain a qualified agency workforce. When we first asked for this in 2015, 89% of our staff were working below the mid-point of their salary range. That number has dropped to 71%, which is an improvement, but we still have a long way to go.
  5. InfoPower for Texas Communities – $554,524 – This is a new request that would allow our agency to conduct a more concerted and coordinated plan of outreach to take our information, training, and services to libraries, local governments, and citizens in all parts of the state. This project would provide a coordinator for this project and a driver for a vehicle we plan to purchase in FY 2019 to travel the state disseminating our services.
  6. Agency General Counsel for PIA Requests and Contracts – $484,184 – Between our much-higher-than-average PIA requests and our extensive contracts, we really need a dedicated attorney to assist our agency. We are a large agency not to have our own General Counsel. This item would streamline our processes and take burden off of staff who are currently managing PIA responses and contracts.

As always, we look forward to keeping our stakeholder groups apprised of the progress of these items. We will have our first hearing before the Joint Budget Committee on September 6. And we look forward to an important session for our agency as we approach reauthorization and these many important projects bringing information resources to Texans in all parts of the state.

Good news from the Sunset Commission staff

Last week TSLAC got some very good news in the form of the Sunset Commission Staff Report. Among other recommendations, the Report stated that “The State has a continuing need for the Texas State Library and Archives Commission” and that the agency should be continued for another 12 years.

Every dozen years, all state agencies must be reviewed and specifically reauthorized or they will cease to exist. Our turn is up in 2019. Preparatory to that, the Sunset Commission conducts a months-long review and study of the agency. In connection with that process, Sunset staff spoke to many TSLAC stakeholders across the state in libraries, archives, and local government. They conducted surveys, they met with staff, they attended our conferences and meetings, and they paid attention to what they do.

Apparently, and for the most part, they liked what they saw. The Staff Report starts with this statement: “The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) zealously performs its mission to provide Texans with the information needed to lead informed, productive lives. The agency’s professional and dedicated staff support libraries throughout the state, manage the state archives, help government agencies properly manage records, and directly circulate audiobooks to thousands of Texans with disabilities.”

The report is not without constructive criticism. In particular, the report focuses on several aspects of archival management, in particular, the large backlog of archives, as needing strategic direction and planning. The report also makes recommendations about the management of legislator records, public information requests, and competitive grants. We gratefully accept the suggestions and will take the opportunity to strengthen our operation in those key areas.

In late August, we will appear before the Sunset Commission to answer questions about our agency and to speak to the report. We expect that in the opening days of the session, legislation will be introduced to reauthorize the agency. We are very grateful to the many people across Texas who took the time to express their thoughts about TSLAC to the Sunset Commission. We were proud and humbled by the many statements of support that came from librarians and library supporters, the historical and research community, from state and local records managers, and from the general public. We look forward to being reauthorized and continuing to providing access to information to Texans in all parts of the state.

Thank you for your support and we look forward to talking to all of you about how we can continue to improve our services.

Thank you, Texas Library Association

This week our staff joined librarians from across Texas at the Texas Library Association Annual Assembly meeting here in Austin. This annual meeting is an opportunity for library leaders from all parts of the state to come together to plan association activities that will advance outstanding service and resources for libraries of all types. We very much enjoy meeting our colleagues from across the state and participating in discussions about how we can strategically advance great library service for all Texans.

While at this meeting, Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz and I were able to present a “Hot Topic” session regarding the TSLAC Sunset Review. In that gathering, we heard many positive and helpful ideas about how we can improve our services to libraries.

Also at this Assembly, TLA adopted two resolutions of key importance to TSLAC: to support our agency’s reauthorization in the Sunset Review and the other to support the TSLAC Legislative Appropriations Request for 2020-2021 which will be submitted on August 3. The resolution supporting our sunset review specifically speaks to the cooperative relationship between TLA and TSLAC. I appreciate this note and will say that strengthening the relationship between our organizations has been a priority of mine while at TSLAC.

We appreciate and applaud the great work that TLA does for Texas libraries and commend TLA President Jennifer LaBoon and TLA Executive Director Dana Braccia and the wonderful TLA members and staff on a very successful 2018 Annual Assembly.

Welcome New TSLAC Commissioners

Senator Brian Birdwell (l), swearing in new TSLAC Commissioner Arthur Mann of Hillsboro.

We were very excited to learn last Friday that Governor Abbott has made four appointments to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Commissioner Lynwood Givens of Plano was reappointed to a second term on the Commission. The governor also appointed three new individuals: David Garza of Brownsville, Arthur Mann of Hillsboro, and Darryl Tocker of Austin.

Commissioner Mann is the administrator of the Hillsboro Economic Development Corporation and is known to many in the Texas library community as the husband of former TLA President, library advocate, and Hillsboro Library Director Susan Mann. Commissioner Tocker is the executive director of the Tocker Foundation, which has long been a driving force in the development of small community libraries across Texas. Commissioner Garza is a law partner at Garza & Garza, LLP, has served for over 20 years on various state boards, and is a devoted fan of Texas history and a user of TSLAC information services.

Our excitement over these excellent appointments is tempered by the departure of Commissioner Sharon Carr of Katy. Commissioner Carr has served since 2005 and, as a former school library administrator, was often a valuable subject matter expert regarding library operations on our commission. We thank Commissioner Carr for her dedicated service to our agency, her leadership, and wise counsel over the past 13 years.

We journeyed to Hillsboro Wednesday afternoon for Commissioner Mann’s swearing in by Senator Brian Birdwell. Senator Birdwell welcomed our new commissioner and reminded him that he is appointed to serve the people of Texas, not the agency. It is an important point and we as TSLAC staff look forward to receiving the benefit of that valuable leadership from our new and returning commissioners.

The full press release on the TSLAC appointments can be found at: https://gov.texas.gov/news/post/governor-abbott-appoints-four-to-texas-state-library-and-archives-commission

In memory of Peter Rogers, TSLAC mural artist

We received sad news this week that our friend, New Mexico artist Peter Rogers, who in 1964 painted the mural titled “Texas Moves Toward Statehood” in the lobby of the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building, died on May 28.

Peter Rogers, left, in 1964, painting “Texas Moves Toward Statehood,” and in July 2014.

Peter Rogers returned to TSLAC 50 years later in the summer of 2014 to revisit his mural, to meet current staff, and to recount the history of painting the mural. He dispelled a number of colorful stories about the mural while relating others that we had not heard before. Over the course of a day of meetings with staff, an oral history interview, and a public lecture on July 31, 2014, Peter Rogers left a personal impression as indelible and eloquent as the painting he left on the lobby wall in 1964.

Peter Rogers was born in England in 1933. In 1963 he met his wife, Carol Hurd, in Spain. Carol is the daughter of well-known American artist Peter Hurd who was married to the daughter of another great American artist, N.C. Wyeth. Peter Hurd had received a commission from the State of Texas to paint the mural in our lobby, but he passed the commission on to his new son-in-law in 1963. Relying on a standard Texas history book — Lon Tinkle’s 13 Days to Glory — and working at the kitchen table of his parents’ home in Sussex, England, Peter Rogers created a sweeping and dramatic panorama of Texas history from the days of the conquistadors to the 20th century.

Peter Rogers speaking at TSLAC, July 31, 2014.

While visiting with TSLAC staff, Peter dispelled some myths such as that the eyes of Sam Houston are painted so as to follow you as you walk through the lobby, or that he had painted his wife (the pioneer woman with the baby) and himself (the fallen Alamo defender) into the mural. All false, said Peter, and mostly the product of the “fertile imagination” of one Mrs. Golden who presided over the lobby in the building’s early years.

Peter also related a particularly vivid story that did in fact happen. Having intentionally left Mirabeau B. Lamar out of the mural, he found himself besieged by the Daughters of the

Peter Rogers signing prints of his mural with Archivist Rebecca Romanchuk.

Republic of Texas, one of whom appeared at the foot of his scaffold and pleaded tearfully to restore Lamar to his rightful place beside Anson Jones, third of the presidents of the Republic. “How could I not put him in,” said the artist and Lamar was eventually included.

Much of Peter Rogers’ later artwork was quite different from the mural, but it is the mural for which we and many Texans will remember him. To have Peter visit us and tell the story of the mural was to have a nearly mythological figure appear in our midst. He was a unique, fascinating, and thoroughly enjoyable gentleman. We will cherish our meeting with him and the part of him that will permanently remain central to the experience of all who work in or visit our building.

The obituary of Peter Rogers in the Santa Fe New Mexican: http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/local_news/english-painter-became-part-of-new-mexico-tradition/article_da238d1f-fa24-5f15-a793-7d37236a9ff6.html