TSLAC reaffirms its longstanding commitment to equality and opposing racism

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission has by practice, tradition, and professional ethics long stood for racial equality, tolerance, and democratic ideals. In the 1920s, State Librarian Elizabeth Howard West, the first woman to run a state agency in Texas, opened the library’s reading room to Blacks and Latinos and introduced services to the blind. West’s actions—at a time of widespread discrimination and segregation–recognized the right of persons of all races and abilities to equally access library books and information.*

West understood, as have generations of librarians and archivists that have followed her, the vital need of all persons, regardless of circumstance, to avail themselves of information resources in books and historical records that have the power to transform and enrich their lives.

Even before West’s tenure, this understanding caused the Texas State Library to partner with the Texas Library Association as long ago as 1909 to begin pushing to form local libraries in all parts of the state. That conviction later drove decision making in the 1970s that created library systems to support, develop, and encourage those libraries;  in the 1980s to introduce grant programs to address underserved populations; and in the 1990s to create shared access to online information available to virtually every person in the state. From 1931, when the State Library became one of the first to join the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (now the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled), until today, TSLAC has actively worked to ensure access for persons with disabilities to reading and information resources. 

In 2014, the Commission adopted operational goals for the agency that speak to the need of all Texans for library and information services, and in 2019, the agency created the position of Inclusive Services Consultant. The TSLAC mission is to “provide Texans access to information needed to be informed, productive citizens.” Implicit is that all Texans regardless of their race, whether they live in an urban or rural area, their abilities or disabilities, sexual orientation, or any other factor, have the right to and need for these services.

This is in our DNA as librarians and archivists. Our partners and colleagues at the Texas Library Association this week adopted a resolution that “condemns racism and violence against black people and all people of color.” That statement calls on “library and information services leaders, staff and advocates of all races and backgrounds to abolish racism against people of color.”

State Librarian West, a former president of the Texas Library Association, would approve of that statement. Current administration of TSLAC will continue to make the internal and external progress necessary to ensure that our services are fairly and equitably delivered and that we do our part to ensure that all Texans are treated equally and fairly.

* For the full history of Elizabeth Howard West’s efforts to democratize the services of the Texas State Library, see David B. Gracy’s excellent history of the agency, The State Library and Archives of Texas: A History,1835-1962 (University of Texas Press, 2010), pp 40-41, as well as West’s papers in the State Archives at TSLAC.

3 thoughts on “TSLAC reaffirms its longstanding commitment to equality and opposing racism

  1. Thank you, Mark Smith, for continuing on the right path, the same path as E H West. It’s great to have that DNA, isn’t it!

  2. Beautifully expressed. I know that all sorts of TSLAC staff members contribute to these shared goals of equitable access. I want to express my gratitude that the Texas State Library values the preservation and conservation of the materials in their care, has outfitted and staffed a lab for on-site work, and teaches library users how to carefully consult all sorts of primary source materials, so that these resources have the longest possible useful life.

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