Aspen comes to Houston Public Library

We all go to a lot of meetings. We sit in dark rooms sneaking glances at our phones and e-mail while someone runs through a power point deck and then we go back to work, hopefully with some new information to help justify the time away.

Participants in the Houston Dialogue on Public Libraries held at Houston Public Library, Thursday, November 16, 2017.

But this week I participated in a totally different type of meeting. All day Thursday at the Houston Public Library, the Aspen Institute under the leadership of Amy Garmer, convened a powerful group of community stakeholders from organizations across the city and county. The topic of conversation at this Aspen Dialogue, was how the library can be a catalyst to help create the building blocks of a resilient city. This was a particularly timely task as the City of Houston and Harris County along with other communities along the coast continue to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. In fact, in September, Aspen convened a meeting in Houston to bring local agencies and organizations together just two weeks after the floods, to consider and process what had happened. It was a powerful moment that led to intense conversation about the need for cities to work through a process that moved along a line of “Recovery, Rebuilding, and Resurgence.” That first dialogue also revealed what many already knew, that in times of crisis, it is the most vulnerable — including the poor, the elderly, and those with physical disabilities — who will be most impacted and who need the most help.

This week’s dialogue featured the broad range of exciting and transformational services offered by HPL Director Dr. Rhea Lawson and her outstanding team of professionals. The stakeholders present — representing city agencies, the K-12 community, business leaders, philanthropic groups, and others — acknowledged the great work that the library is already doing, and worked together to generate ideas to offer Dr. Lawson and staff in how to leverage those services in ways that help build partnerships for new services and help create the building blocks for a resilient city.

It was a day of affirmation for the power of libraries, confirmation of the great work already being done by Houston Public Library and other Texas libraries, and an expression of confidence that the library is very much part of the solution for creating sustainability and resilience to help communities better prepare for and cope with future challenges.

As HPL Assistant Director for Community Education, Outreach and Cultural Initiatives Nicole Robinson so eloquently stated, “It’s not enough to just BE at the table, we need to OWN the table.” Yesterday all day long, the library literally owned the table.

And no one was reading their e-mail.

TSLAC and TLA step up

This week the Texas Library Association and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission announced grants to Texas public, academic, and school libraries recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

TLA announced grants totaling $102,600 to 25 libraries from its Disaster Relief Fund in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $15,000. These funds were contributed to TLA by librarians and library supporters across Texas and the nation.

On Monday, November 6, The Texas State Library and Archives Commission met in Nacogdoches and approved a total of $194,071 in “Rebuilding Texas Libraries” grants to 25 libraries (coincidentally, though most do not overlap between the two lists) in amounts ranging from under $5,000 to $25,000. These amounts are small, but we hope will be some help to libraries attempting to recover from one of the worst storms in Texas history. We thank the Houston Chronicle for their story today about the TLA and TSLAC grant programs and the efforts of gulf coast and Houston area libraries to recover.

Also at this week’s meeting, the Commission approved the posting of the proposed revision to the School Library Program Standards. These voluntary standards–the product of many hours of work by a committee of school librarians across Texas–are the first major revision to the standards since 2005. We look forward to final adoption of these new standards at the Commission meeting in February. I will provide more information about these standards in a subsequent post on this blog.

FEMA and TSLAC application deadlines

FEMA deadline:

Borrowing from a post on our Library Developments blog at

The FEMA Request for Public Assistance (RPA) deadline is now 5:00 pm, Oct. 31, 2017.

This is a critical deadline and supersedes any previous deadlines provided by the State. If your arts organization, cultural institution, or government entity misses it, you miss the opportunity to be considered for, and possibly receive, federal disaster assistance.

The FEMA News Release about the October 31 RPA deadline can be found at

Rebuilding Texas Libraries deadline:

Next Monday, October 16, is the deadline for applying for our Rebuilding Texas Libraries grants. These grants provide $5,000 for single-location libraries or up to $25,000 for multi-branch locations for Harvey-related recovery in the impacted counties. For eligibility and application information, please visit

In yesterday’s Houston Chronicle:

Great article on the value of libraries as an essential service after a disaster, focusing on the efforts of Houston Public Library and others in the Houston are to provide basic services to the community. Harvey has highlighted once again that libraries are a critical element of the community infrastructure. That article can be found at:

Powered Up Libraries and New Harvey Resources

This week we are celebrating Power Up at Your Library Week, a celebration sponsored by the Texas Library Association to highlight the innovation they bring to communities and campuses across the state. TLA has provided a variety of ways to that libraries can participate in Power Up Week and ways to showcase the exciting work that is happening in libraries across our state at  Also available on this site is a toolkit of resources libraries can use to Get Powered Up! Be sure to also check out the video tour of powered libraries conducted by TLA and TSLAC in various libraries in West Texas. Those videos as well as a promotion of Power Up at Your Library by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, are available on Twitter at #poweredlibraries.

Speaking of TLA, this week we welcome Dana Braccia, the new Executive Director of the Texas Library Association. Dana comes to her position with a rich background in library service as well as business and association work. She is the past president of the Mountain Plains Library Association and former ALA Councilor. Dana was VP of Library Operations at Library Systems and Services and before that worked at the Scottsdale, Arizona, Public Library. We welcome her to her new duties at TLA and very much look forward to working with her.

On the Harvey front, we continue to collect and disseminate information to Texas libraries about their status and resources they may find helpful. We appreciate information that came to us yesterday from Lori Foley, Administrator of the FEMA Heritage and Emergency National Task Force, on how to apply for federal disaster assistance in Texas. That information in its entirety can be found on our Library Developments blog at The following is excerpted from that post:

In a Nutshell: File, File, File

  1. File a claim with your insurance company immediately. Follow all the deadlines set by the insurance company, and submit all documents and information requested within the deadlines set by the company. FEMA will want to see a settlement or denial letter from your insurance company to ensure that benefits are not duplicated, so be sure to file an insurance claim promptly. If you still have unmet needs or damages that the insurance company does not cover, then FEMA may be able to provide you with assistance.
  2. File for FEMA Public Assistance. Don’t dither about your eligibility; let FEMA determine your status. Be aware of the filing deadline. If you miss the deadline, which varies based on your county disaster declaration date, you will not have access to this federal disaster assistance. (See the attached PPT for deadline dates.)
  3. File for a Small Business Administration disaster loan as well. Complete and submit the application as soon as possible. Returning the application does not obligate you to accept an SBA loan, but it is a necessary step to being considered for other forms of federal disaster assistance, including FEMA Public Assistance.

See also the blog post by Craig Kelso, Director of our State and Local Records Management Division on documenting the destruction of public records damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, an article of great interest to records managers in the various departments and units of local government.

Humanities Texas has announced Hurricane Harvey Recovery Grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities available to libraries, museums, colleges, universities, and other cultural and historical institutions affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. More information on those grants is available at:

We have also provided information to both House and Senate committees of the Texas Legislature on the impact of Harvey on Texas libraries and archives, our efforts to support those libraries, and the remarkable ways that Texas libraries support their communities in times of crisis, truly earning their FEMA designation as “essential services.”

Libraries, Archives, and Harvey Relief

We are now ending the fourth week since Hurricane Harvey devastated the Texas coast from Rockport to Beaumont. We have been engaged in Harvey-related activities in a number of ways:

  • On September 18, we opened our Rebuilding Texas Libraries disaster relief grants, to provide small grants to public, academic, and school libraries in restoring services and programs in the aftermath of Harvey. The grants provide up to $5,000 per location, multi-branch libraries can apply for $5,000 per location up to $25,000. We are committing $300,000 in LSTA funds and could possibly commit more depending on demand. We are grateful to the Institute of Museum and Library Services for providing the approvals necessary to offer this grant program. I also thank our TSLAC staffers LSTA Coordinator Stacey Malek and Grants Administrator Erica McCormick for launching this project so quickly. I also appreciate the information from former State Librarian Peggy Rudd who informed me about grants TSLAC provided following Hurricanes Katrina, Ike, and Rita.
  • On September 14, I attended a convening by Amy Garmer of the Aspen Institute and Houston Public Library Director Dr. Rhea Lawson held at HPL, gathering together a number of local agencies and responders to discuss the emergency in Houston and the status of the ongoing recovery. Present at the meeting was Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards, Stephen Williams, Director of the Houston Department of Health and Human Services as well as Assistant Director Judy Harris; Peter Beard, Senior Vice President of the Regional Workforce Development, Greater Houston Partnership; Tammy Kahn, Executive Director of the Children’s Museum of Houston; Laura Murillo, President and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Edward Melton, Director of Harris County Public Library; and the list goes on and on with representatives from Houston ISD, Rice University, Ernst & Young, the Chinese Community Center, and many others. I had the very strong sense that this was one of the first opportunities many of these people had been able to sit down with other community leaders and actually consider what had happened, what they experienced, and what they had learned. We often speak of the role of the library as a convener of community dialogues, but it was striking to see exactly how impactful and transforming a meeting of that type can be.
  • I attended another gathering on September 21, organized by Michael Gillette, Executive Director of Humanities Texas at their office in Austin. This meeting was an opportunity for representatives of a number of organizations to meet with Lori Foley, FEMA Administrator of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force. Lori’s unit of FEMA is responsible for coordinating relief and recovery among cultural heritage institutions including libraries, archives, and museums. Also present was Jon Parrish Peede, Acting Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. This meeting was attended by persons such as Mark Wolfe, ED of the Texas Historical Commission; Rebecca Elder of the National Heritage Responders and the UT Austin iSchool; Wendy Woodland, Director of Communications for the Texas Library Association; Olivia Primanis, Board Member of TX-CERA; Gary Gibbs, ED of the Texas Commission on the Arts; Jennifer Coleman of the Texas Association of Museums, and many others. Each organization shared what they are doing to assist with Harvey recovery and the list is significant. Organizations such as National Heritage Responders, TLA, and TSLAC, are tracking damage; some such as THC and TSLAC are providing grant funding. All are committed to working together to provide whatever support is needed as the Texas gulf coast recovers.

We continue to gather information on recovery information from various sources:

  • TX-CERA – The Texas Cultural Emergency Response Alliance has been a key partner in providing valuable information to the array of organizations. Their website contains much great information about how to deal with damaged collection materials.
  • Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Disaster Relief Hotline – This group provides access to low-income Harvey survivors with post-disaster legal issues, such as accessing FEMA disaster aid, legal questions, landlord-tenant problems, and replacing vital documents. (Thanks to our friend Charlotte McCann for this referral.)
  • National Library of Medicine – The NLM has activated their “Emergency Access Initiative,” a collaborative partnership between NLM and publishers to provide full access to full-text from biomedical journals and e-books for libraries affected by Harvey.
  • National Endowment for the Arts – the NEH is making $1 million available to cultural institutions impacted by the natural disasters of Harvey and Irma. Museums, Archives, Libraries, and historical societies can apply for grants of up to $30,000. More information can be found in this press release on these grants.

We look forward to providing more information as we get it. Many thanks to everyone who has sent information to us. We also urge you to visit the TLA Texas Library Recovery Connection if you want to log a need for assistance or an offer of help.

Recovery update and resources

We are reaching the end of the week monitoring the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Throughout the week we have been working on various fronts to monitor the situation and plan our part of a response. We have had dozens of libraries report in on the status of their libraries and we are tracking those reports. Thankfully, the majority of libraries emerged with relatively light damage, mainly leaking roofs, light flooding, and some wind damage. Others were not so lucky. A few libraries sustained heavy damage as did the homes of many library staff.

We have also received many offers of support from various groups. We are also recording those offers and in some cases, have matched offers with libraries seeking assistance. Offers of help have come from all over the country, including California, New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Louisiana, and elsewhere. We have responded to every offer of support with gratitude and that we will be back in touch when we have a better idea what we need.

Our staff has also been working to launch an emergency grant program to help libraries offset some of the cost of recovery, or to help libraries serve individuals and families who have been displaced by the disaster. We have been greatly assisted in moving forward with that project by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, our federal partner agency. We look forward to sharing more information on the availability of those grants next week.

The Texas Library Association has put together a great selection of disaster recovery resources available here. We thank TLA Director of Communications Wendy Woodland and TLA Executive Director Patricia Smith for their great work during this crisis.

For archival and other special collections, the National Heritage Responders is a resource that can offer assistance. This group is a team of highly skilled conservators and other collections professionals with expertise in emergency response. If this pertains to your collection, you are urged to contact the NHR hotline at 202-661-8068 or e-mail

Another interesting development is Principals Helping Principals, a network of school administrators from around the country that has come together to help schools in need. School libraries can keep this in mind as a way for their principals to reach out to others for assistance.

And for archival collections, of which there are many in the disaster area, the Society of American Archivists has posted information on how to assess damages and recover collections as published by the Heritage Emergency National Task Force (HENTF). Thanks to State Archivist Jelain Chubb for that link and for working to assemble information on the status of archival collections in the affected areas.

Finally, the definition of heroism is to extend a helping hand when you have your own challenges. The Houston Public Library, which is no doubt reeling from the impact of Harvey on its own system, has posted a set of disaster relief resources on its website. Thank you to Dr. Rhea Lawson and her team for this great resource.

We will continue to keep you apprised of resources in the coming days.

Bracing for Recovery

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission, in cooperation with the Texas Library Association, has been working to identify disaster recovery resources and options for use by libraries in the Houston and gulf coast area.

First, it is important to be aware that libraries are considered essential services by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and, according to FEMA Recovery Policy, they are given priority for relocation if they are severely damaged in a natural disaster. Today I spoke with Lori Foley at FEMA. Lori is the administrator of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force and is responsible for recovery of cultural heritage institutions. She was generous to allow her name and contact to be published here. To get started recovering your collections and buildings, start with Ms. Foley:

Lori Foley
Administrator, Heritage Emergency National Task Force
Office of Environmental Planning & Historic Preservation
Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration
Mobile number: 202-826-6303

Yesterday, we had a conference call with Susan Quinn, Director of the Ocean County Library in New Jersey, and her staff along with Michele Stricker at the New Jersey State Library. Susan and her staff generously shared with us their experiences in coping with Hurricane Sandy and the aftermath. Based on that conversation, Katherine Adelberg of our staff has put together a blog post, “Lessons from Superstorm Sandy,” on our Library Developments listserv.

We are compiling a database of Harvey-related damage to Texas libraries. If you have damage to report, please send it to Valicia Greenwood at and please copy me at

Our State and Local Records Management Division offers webinars on disaster recovery for records managers. This will be helpful to librarians, archivists, county clerks, and others responsible for such collections. Those webinars can be accessed at:

We look forward to providing more information in the coming days.

Saying goodbye to two TSLAC leaders

This month marks the retirement of two leaders at our agency who have provided outstanding service to TSLAC and the libraries and archives of Texas for many years.

Deborah Littrell

Today is the last day on the job for Deborah Littrell, Director of the Library Development and Networking Division at TSLAC. Deborah has been with the agency since 1999 and served as division director since 2000. In that time, Deborah has managed admirably through good times and lean times. She has presided over the expansion of TexShare and TexQuest resources, the addition of key projects such as community engagement, the BTOP grants, the introduction of peer-to-peer interlibrary lending, the Edge assessments, You can Do IT, and many other special projects that have expanded the capacity of Texas libraries to better serve their clientele. Following the massive budget cut in the 2012-2013 biennium, Deborah managed through painful reductions of staff and services statewide, including the elimination of the Lone Star Libraries program and the statewide library systems program. Since 2013, however, as some resources have returned, Deborah has built back services in new and strategic ways and assembled an outstanding team of professionals to help libraries take on the challenges of a new era of library and information services.

We will very much miss Deborah’s deliberate and thoughtful approach to her work and her deep commitment to the ability of libraries to help their communities. On September 1, Jennifer Peters, formerly assumes her new role as Director of Library Development and Networking and will build on Deborah’s good work to lead the agency’s support of libraries forward into the future.

Manuel Alvarez

Also this month we say goodbye to Manuel Alvarez, Director of Information Technology Services for TSLAC. Manuel may not be well known to the external customers we serve across the state, but he has been an integral element of our success. Manny’s huge technical expertise, his vision for technology services, his understanding of organizational dynamics, and his wise counsel in all matters of management have been a great benefit to us over the years. In the last year, even as health issues kept Manny from working full time, he soldiered on to provide us the guidance and structure necessary to manage through several difficult IT situations. Under Manuel’s tenure, the agency has modernized key legacy systems, updated security measures, and ensured flawless implementation of the increasingly technological applications that comprise our library and archives programs. One case in point being the many steps required to secure state approval for the launch of our Texas Digital Archive repository of state government electronic records (see post below).

Manuel will be missed by his staff, his colleagues, the commission, and many people in the field who never knew him, but enjoyed the benefit of his good work.

We are fortunate to have a very strong team at TSLAC and our directors like Manuel and Deborah have assembled talented and dedicated teams and motivated them to deliver the highest quality service. Our agency and the state of Texas owes them a debt of gratitude for their service.

Celebrating the growth of the Texas Digital Library

It is now two years since the Texas Legislature appropriated the funds to allow TSLAC to create the Texas Digital Archive. We had proposed for over a decade to create a repository for the archives of Texas government in electronic formats. When we asked the Legislature for these funds in 2015, we were one of only 8 states that did not have a program to preserve permanently valuable electronic records.

I am glad to report that in those two years, our Archives staff under the direction of State Archivist Jelain Chubb, has not only created the digital archive we proposed, but has become a best-practice example for other states in the potential for such a project.
This project, directed by Laura Saegert, Assistant Director of the State Archives, and managed by TSLAC Electronic Records Specialists Mark Myers and Brian Thomas, and Digital Asset Coordinator Steven Kantner, along with the contributions of many others on the Archives staff, have created a resource of huge potential value to the state.

And they are just getting started.

The genesis for the project were the electronic records of the office of Governor Rick Perry. Researchers and citizens can now access a number of finding aids, including for Gov. Perry’s Appointments Office records, budget and planning, and much more.

The TDA also includes a significant collection of digitized manuscripts, prints and photographs, and recordings of Senate hearings, among many other materials. The born digital records of longtime Representative Sylvester Turner (D-Houston) are the first legislator’s records to be added. (This is especially fitting as Rep. Turner was instrumental in supporting the appropriation for the TDA in his role as Vice-Chair of the House Appropriations Committee last session).

Most recently, the TDA has begun to grow its collection of state agency archives. A particularly rich collection of such material is the file of resources for the Texas Historical Commission, specifically the History Programs Division, which includes historical marker files from 2007-2016. Other agencies in the TDA holdings include files of the Secretary of State, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and several others. These files will continue to grow as other agencies make their historically valuable electronic records available for storage in the Texas Digital Archive.

The TDA represents a huge leap forward for state government, citizens, researchers, librarians, and others across the state. This centralized repository of materials, preserved and carefully maintained, and made available to every citizen, represents a treasure trove of resources on the state of Texas. Without the TDA and the vision of the Texas Legislature in making this repository possible, these materials of permanent value to the state would be lost and scattered or, at the very least, inaccessible.
We hope you will visit the TDA, use the resources, and keep checking back to see what’s new.

Because this project really is just getting started!

The long hot summer at TSLAC

It has been a busy several weeks at TSLAC. It seems as though as soon as the legislative session ended, many other activities developed in quick succession.

As I reported in my last post, we received an additional $1 million from the Legislature to assist public libraries across the state in securing broadband connections. Our strategy is to incentivize and assist libraries in applying for E-rate discounts to bring the high cost of high-speed Internet down to affordable levels. We aspire to bringing 100 libraries to higher Internet speeds by helping them to apply for E-rate discounts in FY 2018 and paying a portion of their telecomm bills in 2019. So that we can start promptly at the beginning of FY 2018 on September 1, we have issued an RFP for a contractor to work with libraries in FY 2018 and FY 2019 to assist in applying for E-Rate discounts. If you are interested in this program for your library, please watch for announcements on the PLD listserve and elsewhere regarding participating in this opportunity.

We are also recruiting for a director of the Library Development and Networking Division. After over 17 years of faithful and dynamic service to the state, Deborah Littrell is retiring as LDN Director on August 31. We salute and honor Deborah for her commitment to Texas libraries, and her management of LDN through very tough times. We will miss Deborah’s unique blend of logic and compassion in the management of TSLAC’s extended portfolio of services to Texas public, academic and school libraries. We conducted interviews for this position last week and we look forward to making a selection in the coming days. We are confident that Deborah’s successor will carry on her great work and help guide library services in Texas to new levels.

The process to draft the next version of Texas Public School Library Standards has been proceeding under the able guidance of Standards Committee co-chairs Donna Kearley and Sonja Schulz and coordinated by our own School Library Coordinator Liz Philippi. The committees have issued three successive versions of the proposed new standards, first at TLA in April, then at the Texas Association of School Library Administrators meeting in June, and finally at the TLA Annual Assembly last week in Austin. Helped along by excellent and substantial comments from the field, these standards have evolved to the point where we feel we can send them to the Texas Education Agency for comment. Our intention is to have these formally approved by our Commission by April 2018.

In June we recognized the amazing volunteers of our Talking Book Program, in particular the narrators and monitors who work together to record hundreds of books in our recording studio for use by persons throughout Texas and even nationally. We greatly value our wonderful volunteers and honor the countless hours they devote to our agency and the folks we serve across Texas.

And the other major initiative that is occupying our time is our approach to Sunset Review, which will happen for our agency in the 2019 legislative session. Under the able guidance of Assistant State Librarian Gloria Meraz, we have drafted an agency self evaluation. Following submission of that document to the Sunset Commission in August, the Commission will begin reaching out to stakeholder groups across the state to collect feedback about the agency and how we serve the needs of libraries and archives of Texas. We hope and expect our agency will be recommended to continue in the 2019 session.