Libraries once again rise to the occasion

The snowpocalypse of 2021 was a shock to the state of Texas. Many TSLAC staff, like many other people across the state and in neighboring states faced the worse winter weather in several generations. Temperatures in Austin went to 7 degrees, the coldest since 1949, and we had more than 140 consecutive hours of sub-freezing temperatures, a new record. But the real ordeal for most was not the weather, but the power and water outages. And many people were out of power or water for days.

Yet once again, libraries rose to the occasion.

The Austin Public Central Library, like many libraries across the state, served as a warming center for people who needed to come in out of the cold. And in Pottsboro, Texas, in far north Texas near the Red River, the library and their dynamic Special Projects Librarian, Dianne Connery organized a drive to get drinking and flushing water to residents across the town. That library also put a porta-potty in its parking lot and distributed more than 130 hot meals to residents.

This is a typical reaction for Pottsboro where Ms. Connery led the library’s response to the pandemic by expanding WiFi access for residents, including in the library parking lot and via WiFi in a car parked in another part of town. In Pottsboro, as in other towns and cities in Texas, the library has served as a convener, connecting people and resources, and bringing groups together to create a collective impact to moving the community forward.

But while Pottsboro is always a leader in these types of acts of community sustainability in times of crisis as well as more normal times, many libraries across the state have risen to the challenge.

The snowpocalypse was a crisis within a crisis, a lockdown within a lockdown. And throughout the pandemic, libraries have repeatedly demonstrated that they are essential services even when they are closed. Three weeks ago, I delivered testimony on the TSLAC budget to the Texas Senate Finance Committee and told them this:

The pandemic has demonstrated that in times of crisis, people need libraries more than ever. Throughout the COVID crisis, libraries provided remote access to online information and services that sustained millions of Texans at home, as well as students attending school remotely.

As I pointed out in my last blog, at TSLAC, our staff have been welcoming researchers both at the headquarters building in Austin and at our Sam Houston Center in Liberty, since early May. TSLAC is still the only library operated by a state agency that has been open to the public during the pandemic. And TSLAC programs such as TexShare, TexQuest, E-Read Texas, the Texas Digital Archive, and the Talking Book Program, ensure that throughout the pandemic–as always–Texans are able to remotely access the information they need for school, work, and personal enrichment.

We are nearing one year of working remotely, but TSLAC, like most libraries and archives across Texas, has continued to bring services to patrons in both traditional and innovative ways. The pandemic–and more recently, the snowpocalypse–have tested the readiness of certain aspects of the infrastructure to withstand times of crisis, but they have also demonstrated that libraries are a part of the infrastructure that have provided a vital link to key information and resources for Texans, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

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