Library Development and Networking staff highlight their favorite banned books!

Celebrate the freedom to read! Banned Books week takes place September 27 – October 3, 2020. The American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) has announced this year’s Banned Books Week theme  – Censorship is a Dead End. Find Your Freedom to Read. ALA suggests ways for libraries to participate in #BannedBooksWeek through literary actions, and it offers links to images and resources. Librarians have asked that we take a moment to highlight a few of Library Development and Networking staff members’ personal favorite reads that have been challenged.

The Hate U Give by Angie Tomas

Selected by Mark Smith, State Librarian, and Jennifer Peters, Director of Library Development and Networking

The book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
Mark Smith’s favorite banned book, The Hate U Give.

Mark Smith, State Librarian: One of my favorite books that has been recently challenged is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book is such an insightful and authentic exploration of the complexity of race in our society. For me this book provided perspectives that I have not seen in any other book. The main character is a Black teenager who lives in a lower income Black neighborhood but goes to school at an affluent, predominantly white school and so is torn between the values and conflicts of these two worlds. It strikes me as so misguided that at a time when we need to build compassion and understanding between people, there are those who would seek to keep this book from young readers.

Jennifer Peters holds The Hate U Give.
Jennifer Peters shares her favorite banned book, The Hate U Give.

Jennifer Peters, Director of Library Development and Networking: I have many favorite banned books, but the one that seems most relevant to me right now is Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, which shines a spotlight on a police-involved shooting and its impact on a family and community. Starr Carter, an African American teenager who code-switches between her largely white prep school by day and her close-knit family and working-class neighborhood by night, is the only civilian witness in the death of a childhood friend. In the aftermath, Starr is pulled in many directions as she processes a traumatic experience that leads to local protests. I believe the book is more nuanced than its “anti-cop” detractors would have you believe. I was particularly touched by Starr’s discussions with her family as she processes her experience. As with any sixteen-year-old, she hasn’t got it all figured out just yet, and the book reflects her uncertainty and evolving feelings as events around her take on a life of their own.

Valicia Greenwood reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Valicia Greenwood shares her favorite banned book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

Valicia Greenwood, Library Data Coordinator: When I was a librarian in a K-8 school, I used to keep a print-out of the Top 100 Banned Books, in small print like the one attached, on one of the shelf ends.  I have spent many long and wonderful hours reading books on that list and wanted to share!  Okay, it was maybe not the best idea:  I had many requests to purchase books that were not entirely age-appropriate! 

The Harry Potter series was first sold in the US the summer my oldest son turned 11. My children loved the fact that, as a librarian, I could order and receive four copies whenever the next book came out in the summer. The oldest and his three siblings would shut their doors and escape to that magical world, and I would get some peace for a few days!  I read the volumes as well, wishing I was not such a muggle, but could learn the magic arts, too.  We even threw a Harry Potter birthday party for my third child, complete with a sorting hat, potions class and a game of Quidditch! Attendees wore cloaks and hats and had a great time entering into the fun!  I am proud and pleased to see that Harry Potter topped the list of banned books between 2000-2009. Collectively, I believe these books challenge our ideas and help us expand our mind beyond its normal boundaries, and they are some of my favorite reads, no question.

Ann Griffith takes a photo of herself and the book, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.
Ann Griffith shares her favorite banned book. Did you know The Story of Ferdinand was a banned book?

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Ann Griffith, Electronic Resources Coordinator: My selection is the classic children’s book The Story of Ferdinand, written by Munro Leaf with illustrations by Robert Lawson. Like many, I like that the main character is calm and kind and remains true to his unique nature. I also admire Lawson’s witty etchings. Leaf published his book in 1936, a time of increasing global unrest. Ferdinand the pacifist bull was viewed by some as a subversive political metaphor.  Adolf Hitler called the book “degenerate democratic propaganda,” then banned and burned it in Nazi Germany.  Ferdinand was banned in Spain from the 1930s until after the death of the country’s dictator, General Franco, in 1974. Munro Leaf, surprised by the international controversy over a book he “thought was for children,” called it “propaganda for laughter only.”  It has never been out of print.

Here is a link to read more about the controversial history behind The Store of Ferdinand.

Kate Reagor holds a Captain Underpants doll and her son Nathaniel holds a Captain Underpants book.
Kate Reagor and Nathaniel share their favorite banned book series, Captain Underpants.

Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey

Kate Reagor, Resource Sharing Support Specialist: My son is getting started early on banned books with the Captain Underpants series! Both of the main characters, like my son (and the author!), have ADHD, and it makes him so happy to see himself represented in a positive light. Some perceive the series as encouraging disruptive behavior, but its main impact on him so far has been to encourage him to draw his own comics. The last book in the series was banned because when the two boys time travel to find their future “old” selves (they’re, like, 30!), one of them happens to have a husband. Nathaniel didn’t care about that, but he did have lots of ideas for how he would use a time machine!

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Laura Tadena, Equity and Inclusion Consultant: One of my favorite banned books from my childhood is Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. This horror series became the most challenged book of the 90’s because of the controversial material. People challenged this book because they claimed it had terrifying illustrations and was “too mature” for the intended audience. Fortunately for me, these books were available in my middle school library and was the reason I fell in love with reading. I remember being drawn to the scary covers and then reading and re-reading them all weekend. When I was a school librarian, scary books were the most requested items in my school library, and I was more than happy to add these to my collection.

Banned Books Week is offered every year to recognize the ongoing commitment to protecting everyone’s right to read. We celebrate the invaluable– and often brave–work of librarians and communities as they support reading and readers, especially in challenging times. For more information about Banned Book Week, please visit the Office of Intellectual Freedom’s Banned Books Week webpage.  What is your favorite banned book? Let us know in the comments!

Censorship is a dead end. Find your freedom to read. Logo of ALA.org/bbooks.}

New technology training and grant opportunity for small and rural Texas libraries

black and white graphic of school with computer monitor showing a heart in the doorway

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission is excited to announce that applications for a third year to apply for Library Technology Academy are now open! This opportunity is a training and grant program for libraries serving populations of 30,000 or less.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, access to technology and the internet is vital to living a robust and connected life and libraries have always been at the center of ensuring community connection. But many libraries struggle with keeping technology updated, communicating its value to stakeholders, and ensuring technology purchases meet unique community needs. This is where Library Technology Academy comes in!

What is the Library Technology Academy training grant?

Taught by nationally renowned library technologist, Carson Block, participants will go through an 8-week online training program, at the end of which they’ll devise a technology project that meets their community’s unique needs. Each library will then receive up to $10,000 in the form of a reimbursement grant to implement their proposed project.

Recent projects have included:

  • Implementing a self-service checkout station
  • Developing a WiFi hotspot lending program
  • Creating a digital memory lab
  • Engaging teens with gaming
  • Implementing a mobile classroom
  • Engaging the ESL community with translation technology

What will I learn at Library Technology Academy?
Participants will:

  • Learn how to consider their community’s needs when purchasing technology
  • Learn how to be strategic in maintaining and sustaining library technology using tried and true technology practices, templates and procedures;
  • Learn how to craft data-informed grant project proposals;
  • Connect with other small and rural libraries in Texas to learn and share successes and challenges

Testimonials from past participants:

“The Library Technology Academy was instrumental in guiding my limited knowledge of technology to a higher level. Although I was meeting online with many technologically savvy librarians and their colleagues, I never felt inadequate.  From a small, rural library, one-person view, I knew that this class would give the small community in which I work the opportunity to come into the 21st century. Thank you both for this invaluable opportunity, and I continue to grow in knowledge and understanding because of this.” Marianne McGinnis, Director of the Charlotte Public Library, Charlotte, Texas (pop. 3,965)

“The Library Technology Academy has been a game changer for our Library! Like most libraries we have always tried to look to the future when planning for the best technology to meet the needs of our community but have hesitated to try anything to new. My favorite part about the tech academy is that we were counseled by “experts” in both technology and library services. This program really taught us to dig deep and think about solutions and technology possibilities that we would have been too scared to consider before. Having colleagues to bounce ideas off was such a fun part of the program.”  — Andria Heiges, Director of Nancy Carol Roberts Memorial Library, Brenham, Texas (pop. 16,951).

How to Apply:
Applications are open from August 31 – September 28, 2020.
For more information, including requirements and eligibility, please refer to the  Library Technology Academy webpage!  Or take a virtual tour of the resources by watching this video.

When does it start?

The online training will run from mid-October – early December 2020. It will consist of the following:

  • Intensive LIVE introductory training:
    • Monday, October 19th: 10am – 4pm and Friday, October 23, 10am – 1pm
       
  • Weekly LIVE one-hour trainings during the following weeks: October 26 through December 14.
    The day and time of the training will be decided by participant consensus after attendees meet for the introductory training.

Contact Information:

If you need assistance with the application process or have further questions, please contact Cindy Fisher, Digital Inclusion Consultant and Library Technology Academy program manager, at cfisher@tsl.texas.gov

This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to TSLAC under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.

2019 Texas Public Library Statistics Available

We are truly grateful for the tremendous effort made by Texas public librarians this year in submitting their 2019 Annual Report! Amidst library closures and staff working remotely, reports were submitted on time and accurately. These statistics provide the best picture of library service and funding, which is vitally important for stakeholders to know!

Libraries which met the minimum criteria for accreditation will receive formal accreditation letters by email soon. Accredited libraries have access to statewide interlibrary loan (ILL), the federal telecommunications discount program E-rate, TexShare Database and TexShare Card programs, and any funding opportunities through this agency. Any library submitting an Annual Report will be able to order Summer Reading Program materials at no cost. 

Reports are now locked, and the data is publicly available on our website. The collected statistics from all libraries is available in downloadable Excel files. In addition, there are other statistics at your fingertips:

  • Individual Library Statistics and Comparison Charts for 2019. This workbook tool allows a library to view individual library information, as well as view it against averages within their population group and across the state. In addition, it can be compared to up to four other libraries, for a customized report. These are displayed as vertical bar graphs in an Excel workbook. We acknowledge the amazing team at Connecticut State Library for the original work.
  • Statewide and Individual Library Trend Charts for 2019. These Excel workbooks provide a look at the library’s activity for a variety of measures during 2014-2019. A statewide summary is also available.
  • Every  library has access to additional reports once they log in to the data collection portal, Texas LibPAS (https://tx.countingopinions.com/):
    • Annual statistics
    • Library Snapshot brochure
    • Two-Year Comparison Reports

For log-in information, or assistance in creating or customizing statistical reports, please contact Library Data Coordinator Valicia Greenwood (vgreenwood@tsl.texas.gov).

Feedback on Training Needs Sought through Survey on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Topics

The Continuing Education and Consulting Team at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission is gathering information on current practices and issues surrounding accessibility, inclusion, equity, diversity, mental health, and social justice topics in Texas public libraries. We will be developing training opportunities and resources library staff can use. Please help us inform our next year of training by completing our TSLAC Training Survey Related to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Topics. Your input is valued and greatly appreciated.

Here is a direct link to the survey: https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/5799978/Public-Library-EDI-Training-Needs-Survey

The survey closes on Friday, October 9, 2020, at 5:00 p.m. CDT. All library staff are invited to take the survey; please share this survey within your Texas library networks.

If you have questions, please contact Laura Tadena, TSLAC’s Equity and Inclusion Consultant, at ltadena@tsl.texas.gov.

Upcoming Webinars on School and Copyright Resources

As the 2020-2021 school year gets started, we are hosting two webinars that may be of interest to both public and school library audiences. Registration information can be found below.

Stack of books
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/lUaaKCUANVI)

Resources for the 2020-2021 School Year: TexShare, TexQuest, and more!

Tuesday, Sept 15 at 2: 00 p.m. Central

Register here: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2890745121447530255

The 2020-2021 school year is shaping up to be uniquely challenging. Some students will be in the classroom, and some will be at home and exploring online learning. Public and school libraries will need to work closely with each other and with families to ensure all students are able to equitably continue their education. During this webinar, we will explore TexShare and TexQuest databases, as well as additional resources, to help assist families both at home and in their classrooms.

We will be hearing from Kyla Hunt, Youth Services Consultant; Laura Tadena, Inclusive Services Consultant; Liz Philippi, School Program Coordinator; and Russlene Waukechon, Networked Information Coordinator.

This webinar will be recorded; however, for maximum benefit, including the ability to ask questions in real time, we strongly encourage you to attend the live session.

Copyright and Creative Commons resources for patrons, students, and library workers

Tuesday, Sept. 22 at 2:00 p.m. Central

Register here: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/3252325017821180941

More than ever, libraries need resources for free, including copyrighted images and other online content. In this webinar, we will be exploring resources to help you find information on copyright issues involving remote learning and other services, as well as online repositories of content you can use with patrons and students.

We will also be taking a deep dive into Creative Commons, which allows content creators to create licenses to share their creations with the world while holding on to their copyright. They also provide searching tools for students, teachers and the public to find content to use for free.

In this session, Kyla Hunt, Youth Services Consultant with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and Liz Philippi, TSLAC’s School Program Coordinator, will explore ways to locate Creative Commons licensed materials and to promote their use in your library. Please note that the presenters are not lawyers and cannot provide legal advice.

This webinar will be recorded; however, for maximum benefit, including the ability to ask questions in real time, we strongly encourage you to attend the live session.

TSLAC CARES – Cycle 2 Opening for Application August 28, 2020

On Friday, August 28th from 10-11:30 am CST, join Bethany Wilson, TSLAC Grants Administrator, and Erica McCormick, TSLAC Program Coordinator, to learn about the TSLAC CARES grant program for libraries in response to the COVID-19 emergency. Register for the webinar here.  

The TSLAC CARES Grant Program funds community needs identified by Texas libraries in areas of digital access and inclusion to include programs, training, and tools necessary to increase community access to vital digital technologies and services. Additionally, funds may be utilized for library initiatives that support prevention, preparation, and response to the COVID-19 emergency. 

This reimbursement grant program will fund operating expenditures such as library supplies and materials, technology, furniture, and contractual services. All grant expenses must be designed to respond directly to the COVID-19 emergency. 

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) will begin accepting grant applications on August 28, 2020. Public and academic libraries in Texas who have identified community needs arising from or highlighted by the COVID-19 emergency are encouraged to apply. Please visit the TSLAC CARES webpage for more information about this funding opportunity.

We encourage you to bring your questions to the webinar on Friday, May 8th. We look forward to seeing you there. Contact Bethany Wilson, bwilson@tsl.texas.gov or Erica McCormick, emmcormick@tsl.texas.gov with questions.

Providing Socially Distanced Computer Help

Curious how other Texas libraries are providing technology assistance these days? Join Henry Stokes and Cindy Fisher for a facilitated interactive discussion on using technology to provide contactless library service in the age of COVID-19? Register here

The urgency of providing computer help in the aftermath of the pandemic has meant that many library staff are finding creative solutions that ensure their own safety while also providing essential connectivity for citizens to do vital activities like filing for unemployment, booking telemedicine appointments, taking online tests, or maintaining social connections with friends or family. 

Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Peter Sime, Library Services Supervisor of People at the City of Grand Prairie Public Libraries in Grand Prairie, Texas. Peter and his team developed a way to provide one-on-one technology assistance to customers using the library’s public computers while also ensuring that library staff are at a safe social distance. And, because we knew other libraries have similar questions, with the help of his communications office, he created a video demonstrating just how this service works. You’ll find that embedded below.

Peter and I also spoke about the realities of offering in-person technology help in the age of Covid-19, and how the pandemic helped them shift some of their pre-existing practices to ensure a more user-centered approach.

Describe how patrons currently access the public computers? How does this differ pre-pandemic life?

The City of Grand Prairie has three libraries and at each location we have regulated computer access by limiting the number of computers that can be used at a time. We’ve done this by taking away existing furniture to ensure six feet of distance. In some cases, we provided more than six feet of distance because there may be multiple people sharing the same computer. We’ve recently added sneeze guards in between the computers and that has actually allowed us to add a few more computers back into the rotation. 

As we were planning to reopen, it was really important to us to make things as normal as possible because the last thing people need right now is more change. We wanted people to know it’s still their library and it still works the same way. They still use the same reservation system to reserve computers. We do have a 45 minute time limit on the computers, as we did before, but there isn’t a big waiting list for computers because most people have been very efficient with their time. 

We also added a way for customers to sign up for a computer using a future reservation one day ahead of time. This is to accommodate customers that need to have access to a computer for taking a test; these reservations are for two hours. The future reservations also ensure that people don’t have to stand around waiting for a computer to become available while in close proximity to others. We have limited the number of future reservations available to ensure that there are still computers available for walk-in customers. We are really busy from 12pm (when we first open) until about 3:00 p.m. A lot of the things we’ve learned and processes we’ve put into place, we want to keep after the pandemic subsides. Sometimes we’ve asked ourselves, “Why didn’t we do this before?”

You all are using specific software to help assist computer users. Tell me a little bit about it. How does this help you keep a safe distance?

One of our biggest challenges upon allowing people back into the library to use the computers was how we help people. Pre-pandemic, our staff had been great with helping people on the computers, talking through what they need and assisting them side-by-side, but that’s obviously not doable now. 

Our IT department uses TeamViewer to work on library staff computers remotely so we asked them if it could be configured on the public computers so library staff could assist customers remotely, and they did. They installed it on one staff computer at the main branch and another one at our Warmack branch, as well as our public computers.

The host computer is the library staff computer and this enables staff to access any of the public computers that the software is also installed on. In order for a customer to get help, they click on the TeamViewer icon on the public computer’s desktop, and it generates a code. In order for the staff member to access their computer, the patron has to give them permission and the code. Once the customer provides the code, we can then log into their computer and basically see the screen the customer is working on. We can move the mouse, we can type things in for them, and we can show them how to do things. 

All of our computers have a sign on top of the monitor advertising a live helpline, so the customer dials the number on their cell phone, and the library staff member is available to help both over the phone and through viewing their computer screen. 

Though the length of time varies, the average time that a customer needs help is between 8-10 minutes though we have helped people for upwards of 30 or 40 minutes.

What is the cost of the software?

The library pays for a specific license for each staff computer about $500 per license for one PC. However, there are set-ups where one license would enable three people to help at the same time. We didn’t go this route at the time because we didn’t have three people at main branch that we could dedicate to doing this at the same time as I needed staff on the floor to monitor and clean. 


Which staff are trained to use the software and how difficult is it to use?
It’s a very intuitive software. We have multiple people trained at our Warmack branch, so the service rotates. At Main, we have one person who mainly provides assistance. They are actually working from home using a laptop to remote into the PC at the library. It’s been a great way to provide work for those at home. 

If the helpline is busy, the calls automatically roll over to the reference desk. We have a floating staff person who helps clean the computers when customers leave, and this person will also provide assistance if they can from six feet away or they will let the customer know that if they can hang on for a few minutes, the helpline will be free again and they can try calling back. We can extend their time on the computer to ensure that person gets the help they need. Additionally, the library staff at Warmack branch could also log in to the main branch and assist customers if we had a large number of people needing help all at the same time.

How have patrons received this service and what kinds of assistance have you been providing?
It has been a really well received service; when people use it, they love it. We’re able to provide direct hands-on instruction, but no one’s in danger of getting sick.

One of the hurdles that we had to overcome early on was convincing folks that there was a real person on the other end of the phone, not an automated robot or a personal assistant like Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. When some of our regular customers figured out that it was a library staff person they recognized, they used it more frequently. 

We’ve been helping customers with so many different things like downloading and uploading resumes; many drivers license renewals and navigating the DMV website to find driving records, and even some job application websites. For those who are not computer familiar, these job application websites can be really daunting. It really helps to have someone walking you through it.

What have you learned throughout the process that would be helpful for other library staff interested in implementing this.

They’re kind of simple things, but we put the number to call on top of the monitor right at eye level. And I did not anticipate that we’d have to sell people on the service and to explain that the help being provided is a real person from the library. If you’re going to implement this, think about ways to address that ahead of time. We phrased the card at the top of the monitor with the following: “For direct library staff assistance, contact this number”. We think it helps customers really understand this is not a machine, it’s a staff person.

Big thanks to Peter Sime and the computer assistance team at City of Grand Prairie Public Libraries for sharing their expertise.

Do you have a technology assistance tip or service that you’d like to share with other Texas libraries? If so, contact Cindy Fisher, Digital Inclusion Consultant, at cfisher@tsl.texas.gov or share your comments below.

Yes, We’re Open: Talking with the Nueces County Keach Family Library

Nueces County Keach Family Library staff on the front steps of the library.

We have received many questions regarding how libraries throughout the state of Texas are providing services to the public. To help answer these questions, we are continuing a blog post series titled Yes, We’re Open, which will interview library directors and workers throughout the state to provide snapshots in library response. In this third installment of the series, we interviewed Ida Gonzalez-Garza , Director of the Nueces County Keach Family Library in Robstown, Texas.

In Part 1 of this series, we interviewed Marisol Vidales, Director of the Hector P. Garcia Memorial Library in Mercedes. In Part 2, we spoke with Michael Hardrick, director of the Forest Hill Public Library.

In what ways is your library open to the public?

Our librarians and staff are providing virtual online services to our patrons via Facebook Video (Live). We also created Facebook groups for our Summer Reading Program and Family Place families to provide LIVE videos and important information, as well as the Nueces County Public Libraries YouTube page. Our staff has been providing our patrons an online calendar of events for all our virtual programming. Our services and activities include:

  1. Virtual arts and crafts activities
  2. Virtual Storytime
  3. Kahoot!TM online trivia
  4. Virtual Sensory Storytime
  5. “Goodnight” Storytime
  6. Virtual escape room
  7. Nintendo Switch Mario Kart tournaments
  8. Mr. Kippy’s Storytime
  9. Science and Discover online program
  10. Bookmark contests in July and August 
  11. Curbside services – books and audiovisual materials for patrons and free books giveaway 
  12. Conducting inventories at two libraries and weeding library collections
  13. Online book display– Patrons can place these books on hold for curbside delivery 
  14. Book A Librarian – Virtually. Ask a Librarian for help finding books, movies, audiovisual materials; basic technology questions; research guidance for business and finance; legal resources; and more
  15. Nueces County Public Libraries Monthly Newsletter
  16. Free Wi-Fi at both county libraries, accessible from the libraries’ parking lot
  17. Promoting Nueces County Online “Art Gallery”. Patrons are submitting artwork and promote on our library website to the community.
  18. Summer Reading Program virtual: We use READsquared (online reading program) and have great success with our numbers. During this time our librarians’ and staff held virtual events, missions on READsquared, writing prompts on READsquared they submitted to our librarians to request codes, and Zoom programs such as Austin Reptile Show (Registration Required) and held live videos on our Facebook Group with Magician John O’Bryant.
  19. We are promoting our ONLINE database resources. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we decided to utilize our book and audio-visual materials budget to subscribe to new online database resources. Our county judge is knowledgeable in the services that libraries are providing and the technology we have to offer and wanted us to subscribe to more online databases, making them available to our patrons.
  20. Sesame Street – Ebooks
  21. World Book online (distance learning) Pre-School to High School databases (FY2020)
  22. Hoopla Digital Resources
  23. RB DIGITAL / Hoonuit, Universal Class and Transparent Language (FY2020)
  24. Libby Overdrive
  25. SimplyE
  26. KHAN Academy – 1,800 video tutorials, math, science, history, finance, and test prep.
  27. Ebsco Flipster Online Magazine Subscription
  28. Proquest Ancestry (FY 2020)
  29. READsquared  – Reading program to promote children, teen, and adult programming.
  30. TexShare Databases
Flier advertising that curbside services are available now.

How have your library’s policies and procedures changed?

We did NOT have a pandemic policy in place, so we created one and then revised twice with changes that we did not expect. But I have been fortunate that we have supportive county governing authority and our emergency management department has also been very supportive during this pandemic. Of course, I have a very young staff who have been adaptive to the changes and are trying to cope with the strain of the challenges in the workplace.

How have you adapted your library space?

The first thing that we did was request plexiglass for our circulation desks. We didn’t have any problems getting this request filled for our libraries. I have also submitted a capital outlay request for permanent glass to be installed at the main branch and small branch areas for aesthetic pleasing purposes, but I know that this is going to be an expensive request. Due to time and funding, I chose to ask for this separately for next year’s budget. The plexiglass is a little flimsy, and it may secure enough to last the whole year. We received distance markers for the floor and our public works department has provided signage for the patrons to see that it is mandatory to wear face masks on premises. We have also moved our furniture and we will NOT be providing seating for patrons to sit and lounge in Phase I-III. We will NOT allow patrons to search for books in the stacks either. We will have all these areas inaccessible to the patrons.  We are using our multi-purpose room to quarantine our books. Our library staff enters the library after picking up the books from the book drop boxes, and they immediately quarantine the materials. We have also removed all our chairs for our seating areas so that when we open to the general public, they do not stay. We do not have any idea when this is going to happen. We still have a high rate of COVID-19 cases being reported and many deaths. We will be ready when this happens. We keep getting messages from patrons who want to know when we are going to open, and we tell them that we don’t know.

What services are you providing to vulnerable populations?

Our libraries are in the rural northwest and south, so we don’t have any homeless population at this time. Our service population is small, but we still communicate with all our school districts and offer our services to them. We have been trying to partner with our county community senior services department that delivers homebound meals to the elderly population, but it has been challenging. We are providing services to rural school districts that do not have the technology for their students. Our county judge had purchased iPads for the libraries to use while providing STEM technology training, and she asked us to allow the students in these rural areas to check them out the latter part of the spring semester. We may have to loan these out at the beginning of the school year to the schools that do not have any iPads.

How are you helping your staff during this time?

Nueces County is COVID-19 testing all of our staff for free, and they are also providing counseling. Our human resources department is very supportive, and they have sent us emails telling us to contact them if anyone needs help coping or referrals. The county is providing incentives to keep up morale, and try to keep a low-stress environment. 

Not all of our staff can work from home because of their job duties, and, since we are still technically open and trying to fill book requests, some of our staff has to stay in the library and work. The Keach Family Library librarians are working from home one or two days out of the week. All our other staff stays here at the library working.

Describe your decision-making process.

Our service population is 31,530, but the rural counties that do not have libraries may receive a free library card with restrictions. Our governing authority has never questioned our decision to allow people from other counties to use our libraries without assessing a service fee. The county judge and commissioners decided to close our libraries. We stayed working at the libraries, conducting inventory of all our materials at both libraries. Our libraries have been closed since March when the pandemic started. We are providing curbside services and virtual Storytime and arts and crafts for patrons. At the end of June, I contacted the emergency management department and asked if we could re-open for enhanced services and they said, “NO.” The numbers at that time were barely going up. At this time, we may be closing in a few weeks and going back to Phase 1 due to a HUGE increase in positive COVID-19 cases in Nueces County. I am very fortunate to have great support from our Commissioners Court administration and our County Judge.

How did you communicate with your governing authority?

I have a great communication with our County Judge and Commissioners, and they listen to our concerns. We receive directives regarding closures and re-opening stages from the Commissioners Court. We also have an emergency management department that is under the directive of the county judge, offering guidance to our department.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Nueces County Keach Family library Summer Reading winners sitting outside in front of yard signs that say “a library champion lives here.”

Accreditation and the Pandemic: The 2020 Texas Public Libraries Annual Report, an FAQ

We acknowledge the hard work that public libraries did under very trying circumstances to submit their Annual Reports for 2019. Five hundred and forty libraries completed their reports, only three fewer than last year. We know that this was a challenge for many of you, and we appreciate your efforts to provide this important information to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC). As State Librarian and Director Mark Smith published recently, we feel your pain; we are all in this together.

Having anxiety about potential loss of accreditation due to circumstances beyond your control is understandable. We recognize that this year’s circumstances are extraordinary and will require a considered approach to both reporting and accreditation. There are legal requirements relating to accreditation that our agency must follow. It is our intention to bring together our agency leadership and in-house counsel to review these requirements and determine the best way to proceed.

We do not have all the answers yet but hope to have a plan that we can share with you by the end of the summer. We have your concerns in mind and will be working on providing some concrete information as soon as we can. Be assured that we will work on a broad solution to help libraries the best way possible.

There have been many questions about the 2020 Annual Report and accreditation. Here is where we stand on those issues at present: If this FAQ does not answer your question, contact us at accreditation@tsl.texas.gov.

Q:  Our expenditures this year will not meet the library’s maintenance of effort (MOE). How can the library stay accredited?

A:  This issue is in discussion with staff here at TSLAC. Rules for accreditation are in Texas Administrative Code, so we must weigh in with in-house counsel as well as our commission. We hope to develop solutions and guidance over the next few months, including review by the Library Systems Act (LSA) Advisory Board in the fall.

Q:  We are facing budget cuts for the coming fiscal year or years, due to loss of tax revenue during the pandemic. How can the library stay accredited?

A:  Continue to submit the Annual Report. There may be indirect costs that can make up the difference. Alternatively, city- or county-wide cuts can form the basis of an appeal to the LSA Board.

Q:  Our library is closed for an indefinite time. Should we still submit an Annual Report?

A:  YES! The annual communication from your library to ours is vital for so many reasons. Outside of accreditation, the statistics we generate form a state- and nationwide picture of the role and value of libraries that should not be lost, even if our facilities are closed.

Q:  Our facility is not open to the public, but staff are working. Is the library open?

A:  Yes and… We expect to see fewer open hours on the 2020 report. Everyone is aware of the impact the pandemic has had on businesses, government, recreation, the economy, etc., so this will be reflected in the Annual Report. When reporting “hours open,” this is the number of hours the building is open to the public. You will have the opportunity to report the actual service hours–the hours that the staff has been answering questions, providing curbside delivery, cleaning, and weeding–at another place in the Report.

Q: How do we count library visits?

A:  Follow the current definition. These will be down since the library building is not open to the public. Curbside service will be reflected in the library’s circulation numbers, staff responses to questions will be reported in reference transactions, programs and attendance counts will be reported, as well.

Q:  All of our programs are now virtual. Will this be counted differently?

A:  Yes! For live programs that are held online count total or peak views. Recorded programs do not follow the existing definition but should be tracked and tallied for the library’s stakeholders. More information on this will be published on the Annual Report webpage, https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ldn/annualreport.

Q:  We now leave our Wi-Fi on 24 hour and have expanded its range. How do we report this?

A:  Wi-Fi sessions must be tracked using software on the library’s router. More information on how to do this can be found here:  Count Your Wi-Fi Usage.

HHH: Fiber

Logo for Henry's Hightech Highlights

I’ve highlighted a lot of exciting technologies in this blog series, but there is one out there right now that I believe libraries should be making every effort to acquire and take advantage of, if they haven’t already. Harnessing it will ensure that both the library and the community it serves will continue to thrive in the future. The technology I’m talking about is fiber optic cable connectivity.


Today’s highlight: Fiber


Social media giant Facebook announced earlier this month that they’ve been collaborating with a number of partners to develop a robot that can deploy fiber optic cables quickly over power lines. This dramatically reduces the cost of fiber construction.

 [Nerdy fun fact that I personally love: they nicknamed the robot “Bombyx”, scientific name for a silk moth. Get it?]

Computer-generated rendering of cylindrical robot on powerlines above an inhabited rural area.
Source: Facebook

Why is Facebook making an acrobatic silkworm robot? Around the world, 3.5 billion people are still not connected to the Internet. And for those who have access, average data usage per person is growing 20 to 30 percent annually, pushing current capacity to its limits. To address these issues, Facebook says, “fiber must be brought from the backbone closer to the end user.”  For them, that means pursuing innovations like Bombyx.

I, for one, welcome our new robot fiber deliverers.  


What is fiber?

To put it poetically, it’s light-filled glass connecting us to a better tomorrow. I’m inspired to describe it this way because of the book I’m currently reading: “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution―and Why America Might Miss It” by Susan Crawford. In her book, Crawford sings fiber’s praises and makes excellent points about why fiber deployment is the key to the nation’s success.

Cover image of the book, Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution―and Why America Might Miss It, by Susan Crawford

On her love of the technology of fiber, Crawford writes:

“Inventors have found ways to encode stunning amounts of information on pulses of light vibrating billions of times per second, and then send that light on its journey through a channel made of the purest glass on earth.”

Fiber, Crawford explains, is a physical connection that needs to be distributed to each individual building for it to be harnessed. The same is true for copper and cable, of course, but fiber is more flexible and doesn’t require recipients to be close to a central physical hub. Perhaps the biggest advantage of fiber is one doesn’t have to dig the existing cables back up to make an upgrade. Those cables can stay where they are, and they last for decades. One just has to “swap out the electronics that encode and power the pulses of light,” which are easily accessible above ground. This means that fiber is almost infinitely upgradeable, and it’s why so many consider it a future-proof technology, unlikely to become obsolete any time soon.


Needed for the future

Many of the emerging technologies I have highlighted for HHH are ones we expect to be a big part of our lives in the future. And here’s the truth: they require fiber infrastructure to work in the first place.

So many of us use our smartphone in the outside world away from our homes, and we might be forgiven for thinking that wireless connectivity is a wholly separate technology from a wired connection. But they’re actually complimentary―WiFi requires a fast wired connection for it to work. Fiber, plus advanced wireless capability, as we’d see with the predicted 5G revolution, is, as Crawford writes, “central to the next phase of human existence as electricity was a hundred years ago.

5G means that enormous amounts of data can be shipped to whenever and wherever they’re needed. This allows the Internet of Things (IoT) to be implemented in our towns and cities to improve citizens’ lives, solving problems like traffic and the handling of fires and accidents, among many other things.

Fiber also enables Augmented Reality (AR). All that visual annotation occurring in real-time, or the piping in of live video feeds into our field of vision while we are out in the world―these features require fiber-enabled 5G connectivity. In her book, Crawford asks us to imagine an apprentice training in a remote factory using directions from AR, rather than having to go to the physical central training location. It means those in rural areas will have equal access to the same privileges as their urban counterparts.

Fiber/5G also allows for artificial intelligence (AI), driverless vehicles and personalized transportation, neural interfaces, persistent recognition systems, esports, and wearables.

And of course, telehealth. Crawford writes, “Every part of the health care system could be vastly improved by eliminating distance, bringing data, doctors, and counselors where they’re needed via communication networks, rather than making 330 million Americans travel to where these specialists and databases are.

Finally, Crawford thinks we may not fully grasp the value of having even faster speeds with fiber―particularly with regard to interacting remotely. Currently when we video conference with one another (an activity many of are having to do a whole lot more of), there are still lags when virtually communicating. Crawford points out that this delay means eye contact between people is not genuine. It’s something we humans actually notice, and subconsciously the interaction doesn’t fully satisfy us. It feels virtual, inferior. With the fiber-enabled higher speeds, we can overcome this dissatisfaction and unease. The closer we make our remote, virtual interactions feel like we are physically present with each other, the better the social connection, which could make a big impact in how we embrace the technology and use it in the future. Crawford writes, “Fiber will allow us to be present in others’ lives in ways we cannot now imagine.” 


Needed now

The truth is we can’t wait for the future to come.

The current crisis is revealing just how much of a digital divide we have in the United States. The alarm was raised long before the pandemic when it was pointed out that students who lacked Internet access at home were unable to complete their mandatory online homework, causing them to lose valuable educational opportunities and fall behind their classmates. Called the “homework gap,” this discrepancy and inequality of access created immediate disadvantages for many people. But in the times we’re living in now, with schools closing and having to switch to virtual classrooms, it means these same kids can no longer even participate in school activities at all. And, it should be pointed out, it’s not just Internet access that’s needed, but fast, affordable and reliable Internet access. Students may have an Internet-enabled device at home, but it may not be connected to the higher speeds needed to handle the video conferencing technology school use for their classes. What we’re seeing is that it’s not just a homework gap any more; it’s a learning gap. And we need a solution now. We needed it yesterday.

When public library buildings closed, similar issues were faced by many adults, who lost access to crucial services and opportunities. So many paths to success in life rely now on having online access: job search and training, healthcare information, communicating with loved ones, etc. Many people’s sole computer is their smartphone, and they must pay for data to access the Internet. Free available WiFi found at public libraries is a way to not only access the needed services but also to save money. Taking away the library’s Internet revealed just how many folks relied on it. Closing the library building and stopping the transmission of its Internet access is self-destructive. The community is stifled and starved, lacking in its source of nourishment to grow. This is why so many libraries are trying to lend out wireless hotspots and extend their WiFi into their parking lots. 

It’s not just the schools or libraries. A BroadbandNow report released in February said that only 25 percent of American have access to fiber, versus 87 percent for China’s 1.4 billion population. We are way behind. Everyone has a right to fast Internet speed right now. And those who don’t have it may suffer and become further disadvantaged.

Getting fiber to the library is a good start.  


How are public libraries getting fiber?

If a library isn’t receiving fiber, and no service provider is offering it at an affordable cost to the area, consider the following:

  • Advocate for fiber infrastructure to be brought to your community, either locally or nationally. 
  • Apply for federal E-rate discounts to afford the costs not only for special construction to build out the fiber to the library building, but for the cost of the Internet access itself.
  • Look for any existing fiber infrastructure in your community that can be leveraged. State appropriated funding in Texas helped support school districts in building expensive fiber rings across the state. We’re now seeing public libraries partnering with those same school districts to start taking advantage of their fiber connectivity. In many cases, the fiber ring was built so physically close that the cost to connect the library is minimal. Often in these partnerships, libraries join forces with the schools as part of a single consortium to apply for federal E-rate discounts.

Library Fiber for Victory!

Back in January, for this Highlights series, I created a set of updated World War II posters to empower library staff about using technology. 

For this month’s post, I’ve fashioned a new poster to drive home the need for more fiber in our efforts to close the digital divide as COVID-19 challenges us further:

On the left, original poster shows  soldiers carrying lumber beams to a bridge that's under construction over a river in the background. Other soldiers are defending an attack and an explosion has occurred in the river near the bridge. One soldier is facing the viewer has his hand up to his open mouth. Caption below says "KEEP THAT LUMBER COMING!".  On the right, new poster shows same soldiers now wearing the safety helmets and vests of public utility workers, and instead of carrying lumber, they're carrying fiberoptic cable which is being laid on the bridge.  The explosion in the water is labeled "COVID-19" and the gap in the bridge on the river is labeled, "DIGITAL DIVIDE". The yelling soldier facing the front now sports a badge with the library symbol on it.  Caption below says "KEEP THAT FIBER COMING!"
On the left, the original war-time poster; On the right, my modern update. Note the librarian issuing the clarion call.
Bigger version of new poster (Soldiers now wearing the safety helmets and vests of public utility workers carrying fiberoptic cable which is being laid on a halfway constructed bridge over a river.  The explosion in the water is labeled "COVID-19" and the gap in the bridge on the river is labeled, "DIGITAL DIVIDE". The yelling soldier facing the front  sports a badge with the library symbol on it.  Caption below says "KEEP THAT FIBER COMING!")

Additional resources