The importance of small community libraries

It has been a very busy few weeks so I got behind on my blog. But a comment to me this week brought me back. This week three friends — longtime Texas library leaders — were visiting in my office. Knowing that they were particularly concerned with the plight of small community libraries, I made a comment that of course small community libraries are our most important clientele. It was a little joke because all of our client groups — which include libraries of all types and sizes, this historical community, local government, researchers, persons with disabilities, the general public, and state agencies — are really of equal importance and are equally valued.

My guests laughed, but it is true to say that small community libraries do occupy a very important position in terms of our array of services and many of the resources that we provide–particularly through our Library Development and Networking Division–are geared to benefit small community libraries. I thought it might be a useful to review a few of those:

  • Continuing Education – through programs such as the Small Library Management program, which has been in operation for over 20 years, the Family Place program, and youth services workshops we devote significant resources to ensuring that libraries of all sizes, but especially small community libraries, have the training and grounding they need to provide the best possible library service. Our online webinars are particularly suited to librarians who do not have the funds or the back-up staff available to travel.
  • Technology Support – TSLAC supports small library technology challenges in a variety of ways such as in-person training via the You Can Do IT Technology Training program, online training WebJunction, support for E-Rate access, and through our broadband project, Libraries Connecting Texas. See our Library Technology Resources page at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ld/tech for more information.
  • TexShare – This longstanding program has the capability to level the playing field and deliver to the smallest and most geographically isolated areas the same information resources enjoyed by large academic and urban public libraries. And for folks with few other ways to access these resources, access via their local libraries is more crucial than in more populous areas.
  • Interlibrary loan – Via statewide ILL, it no longer matters that the book that a customer needs is not on the shelf. It is available for loan from another library somewhere in the state or nation.
  • Edge – TSLAC purchases membership in Edge for every public library in the state. This is an outstanding tool that allows libraries to assess their technology readiness, benchmark against other libraries of similar size, and identify the gaps that need to be addressed.
  • United for Libraries – TSLAC also purchases a membership for every library in Texas to United for Libraries. Formerly known as Friends of Libraries USA, UFL is a division of the American Library Association that provides training and assistance to library board members and Friends groups and contains much very interesting material about library management and operation for involved laypeople and staff.
  • Library grants – Every year, TSLAC gives between $1.6 and $2 million in competitive grants for a variety of projects such as early literacy, STEM, workforce development, and digital preservation. Each year many of the libraries that participate in the competitive grants program are small community libraries.
  • Library Science Collection – This longstanding program is Texas’ premier “Library for Librarians” providing access to professional reading and technical support materials for continuing education and to help with any project.
  • Public Library Accreditation – The accreditation process for Texas public libraries has set minimum criteria for their operation, creating a floor upon which to build local service and support, which has been of particular value to small community libraries. Approximately 93% of Texas public libraries meet the minimum criteria and are accredited public libraries.

We salute the small community librarians of Texas who work valiantly against sometimes overwhelming odds and overcome great obstacles to bring library services to their communities. The work you do is so important and we will continue to seek ways to support what you do.

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