The Alamo Area Library System (AALS) was visited on January 8, 2002. Interviews were conducted with the director of the San Antonio Public Library, the AALS coordinator, and a group of 11 library directors representing member libraries. Some of the library directors represented joint use (i.e. school and public library) libraries and county libraries. The TANG systems supervisor was interviewed in December 2001 by telephone prior to her leaving the System.

AALS is one of ten Library Systems in Texas created by the 1969 Texas Library Systems Act. AALS receives an annual System grant and the Technical Assistance Negotiated Grant (TANG) from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. The San Antonio Public Library is the major resource center (MRC) for AALS' area of service. The City of San Antonio is the fiscal and personnel agent for both grants. The System grant uses a combination of LSTA and state funding. The TANG grant is fully LSTA funded.

AALS' area of service consists of 21 counties. AALS has 46 member libraries. The San Antonio Public Library is AALS largest member library. AALS also has one non-member library (Eagle Pass); this library does not have a certified librarian. Most member libraries are small and serve primarily rural areas. Seventy-eight percent of the AALS member libraries serve rural communities. Over 59 percent of the member libraries serve areas with fewer than 25,000 people. The San Antonio Public Library serves 72 percent of the AALS population. Highway I-10 divides AALS service population into affluent (north of I-10) and poor (south of I-10). Twenty-six percent of the member libraries have librarians with MLS degrees. Three or four member libraries in the south of I-10 area have volunteer directors. Many of the libraries, according to the AALS coordinator, have only the minimum $5,000 funding.

Population Served


Number of Libraries

Percent of Libraries

1,000,000 or above



50,000 to 99,999



25,000 to 49,999



10,000 to 24,999



5,000 to 9,999



2,500 to 4,999



1,000 to 2,499



Less than 1,000






The library directors who participated in the group interview collaborate with a wide range of organizations and agencies, including public schools, other public libraries (one of the libraries collaborated with two other libraries in the county on automation), churches, the Region 20 Education Service Center, HeadStart, and the Migrant Council. One of the libraries collaborated with the high school library. Another library collaborated with four school districts and coordinates the summer reading program.

Some of the libraries are in the process of having their catalog and circulation system automated. Some are in the process of building new library buildings, adding parking, or wiring their building to be able to add more workstations.

AALS allocates funds to member libraries based on the following formula. AALS will distribute:

70 percent of total equally among all member libraries,

15 percent of total based on population served,

15 percent of total based on incentives for local materials expenditures:

$500 or more to libraries with materials expenditure per capita at $1 or higher

$1,000 or more to libraries with materials expenditures per capita at $2 or higher

The total amount is awarded to libraries according to meeting attendance:

40 percent of base for one System meeting

40 percent of base for one Geographic meeting

20 percent of base for one Program Committee meeting

Funds not distributed to libraries that miss a meeting are equally distributed among the libraries that meet the attendance requirements

Many of AALS member libraries require "a lot of basic instruction," according to the AALS coordinator. The small libraries are very dependent on the System's collection development funds. The libraries also experience a high turnover rate of library directors because of low pay and increasing demands. Library staff salaries are a big issue both for AALS and for libraries in the AALS service area. Per capita support for AALS is low. In addition, south Texas does not have a history of libraries or library services. Only two to three new libraries are established a year. AALS funding has not changed in the past few years although it has to serve more clients.

AALS staff consists of a coordinator, four consultants, an accountant, an administrative assistant, and an office assistant. AALS budget for FY2002 is $842,926, of which $764,627 comes from the System grant. AALS also receives $78,299 for the administration and implementation of the TANG grant.

AALS ranks below Texas and the U.S. on key library-related measures.

Library Measures




Salary expenditure per capita




Materials expenditures per capita




Total operating expenditures per capita




Total collection per capita




Visits per capita




Reference transactions per capita




Circulation per capita




Source: FY1999 data.

The AALS coordinator is responsible for administering the Systems grant and being in compliance with City of San Antonio guidelines. The AALS coordinator reports to the San Antonio Public Library assistant director. The AALS coordinator spends 75 percent of her time on administrative tasks, including applying for Systems, TANG and Interlibrary loan (ILL) grants.

The MRC director sees the primary mission of AALS as providing services to the large number of small and geographically spread out libraries. AALS mission is to give support to the smaller libraries through education or services. The MRC director recognizes that AALS' mission has changed, as technology has become more of an issue and the provision of technology-related training has taken precedence over collection development.

1. Needs Assessment

The AALS coordinator assesses needs of member libraries by meeting with members in geographic meetings, reporting on activities performed in the past year and plans for the coming year. During these geographic meetings the members start developing the plan for the next two years. AALS has set up committees for each of its programs. At the meetings, members evaluate each program and specify their needs. For example, in the last meetings members asked for more large print and Spanish language materials. Members are expected to serve on at least one committee but are asked to sign up for five committees. AALS has committees for collection development, continuing education, technology, disadvantaged populations/literacy, and library advocacy. The committees help identify priority areas. The coordinator analyzes the priorities expressed by the members and takes the data to the Planning Committee and subsequently to the Advisory Council for a vote. AALS funds are allocated to the different areas based on the set priorities. For example, marketing was designated as a low priority, so fewer funds were allocated to this function. The AALS coordinator recognizes the different needs of the Systems' members and the areas of interest or strength of Systems' staff and seeks to allocate funds to services in a way that combines members' priorities and tradition. Traditionally, members have spent funds on collection development. The Special Services consultant was strong in children's literature, so the System focused some services on children's literature.

The library directors who participated in the group interview offered different opinions on the needs assessment process that AALS uses. Some appreciated the geographic meetings that allow all libraries to provide input and prioritize needs. One of the library directors preferred a focus group process rather than the current process for brain storming and sharing information.

AALS set up biennial statistical targets last year and is monitoring the extent to which these targets are being met. AALS took the targets to the geographic meetings to have members' prioritize them. Having to plan biennial budgets makes it difficult for the System, according to the coordinator, to project demand or use with a reasonable degree of accuracy in fast changing areas such as Internet use. Internet use in libraries tripled in one year.

2. AALS Services

AALS provides a wide range of services to member libraries. These include:

  • Collection development (the largest budget item).
  • Continuing education.
  • Services to disadvantaged populations (i.e. literacy).
  • Networked resources, including web page design, software training, consulting on hardware and software, on-site assistance.
  • Consulting: library board, management, adult collection, automation, children's collection,

In FY2002, AALS plans to offer 28 workshops from September to April. Six of the workshops include satellite broadcasts. Workshop topics range from "How Safe is your Library?" "Introduction to Cataloging," and "Customer Service with a Smile" to "E-rate Coordinator Training," "EBSCO Database Training," "Using Search Engines Effectively," "Virtual Reference Program I and II," and "Alternative Funding Sources."

All consultants help with grant preparation. The coordinator would like to hire a grant writer.

In spite of funding limitations, AALS provided some new services in the past two years, focusing on technology.

  • As part of TANG, AALS offered in-depth classes on networking.
  • AALS consultants did database training during site visits to libraries.

The coordinator considered continuing education to be AALS' strongest service. Consulting is also a strong service but is hampered by staff turnover. The library directors who participated in the group interview reported that they received a wide range of services from AALS. Services mentioned included:

  • Literacy grants.
  • Continuing education.
  • Collection development.
  • Support for summer reading programs.
  • Consulting.
  • Promotional materials.

Library directors did not experience any difficulties in getting services from AALS but noted that because AALS is thinly staffed, it is limited in the help it can provide to member libraries. Libraries need help because most of them are very isolated and cannot count on assistance from other member libraries in close proximity.

Libraries' satisfaction with services that AALS has provided varied because of AALS' difficulty in providing services in all areas due to staff turnover. Library directors reported that AALS services were of high quality in some areas and lower quality in other areas. Overall, libraries would rate AALS assistance as a 7.5 on a 10-point scale.

AALS only has one non-member (Eagle Pass) but extends benefits to that library. The coordinator consulted with their board and the City of Eagle Pass on how to find an MLS librarian. Representatives from the non-member library can attend workshops offered by AALS or by the San Antonio Public Library. As the Eagle Pass library is not automated, it can benefit from assistance on automation. AALS helped the library apply for e-rate and TIF grants, so it too can have access to the Internet.

3. Assistance Member Libraries Need from Library System

Librarians identified a variety of needs, including:

  • More collection development funds.
  • Continuing education in technology use and maintenance.
  • Assistance with writing grants such as TIF, e-rate.
  • Assistance in deciding what (technology-related) equipment to purchase for the library.
  • On-site workshops so that the entire library staff can participate.
  • Customized on-site assistance.
  • More one-on-one consulting.

4. Barriers

Funding is a big barrier, according to the AALS coordinator. The Texas State Library kept the annual funding for Library Systems at $8 million for several years, not taking into account higher salaries that Systems have to pay staff and increased costs of services. Consequently, Library Systems are in a bind. As salaries increase, less money is left for services. AALS had to cut two positions and provide fewer services to its members. AALS also eliminated several programs. For example, AALS reduced marketing and eliminated automation grants to its members. AALS also dropped the Circuit Systems program. The program entailed a large collection of large print books and audio materials that moved from library to library. The program was dropped because it incurred high postage costs and required significant administrative time.

The AALS coordinator recognizes that building a strong staff is critical to the effectiveness of the System. Providing technical help to member libraries is also critical. Libraries need more direct technical help, especially with e-rate applications, technology equipment, and the use of technology. Libraries, according to the coordinator, rely on TIF funds both for purchasing and upgrading their technology.

The MRC director also recognized staff turnover as a major issue for AALS and its ability to serve member libraries.

5. Library Size

Library size affects the dependence of libraries on AALS assistance. AALS member libraries are skewed toward small libraries and those require the most from AALS. Ninety-five percent of AALS' member libraries serve fewer than 50,000; 63 percent have legal service populations smaller than 10,000. AALS has one library in the 100,000 range. In the coordinator's judgment, the System is not doing enough for small libraries. These libraries need AALS assistance the most because they typically do not have other resources. The medium size libraries are less dependent on AALS. The San Antonio Public Library, in spite its size and other resources, used System funds for collection development. The San Antonio Public Library justified using System funds because it provides materials to its member libraries, thus benefiting them. All members of AALS can purchase materials through the San Antonio Public Library, thereby receiving significant discounts. In addition, the San Antonio Public Library opens its programs and computer training classes to all members of AALS. AALS collaborates with the San Antonio Public Library in training programs.

Three of the 11 library directors interviewed represent libraries serving 5,000 or fewer people. Library directors indicated that these libraries have different needs from libraries serving between 5,000 and 15,000 people. These very small libraries, according to some of the members, could not have stayed open without assistance from AALS. AALS has been very helpful to small libraries, many of which serve poor and high minority areas. To small libraries, AALS provides direction and acts as a catalyst. One of the library directors stated that "AALS got me jump started."

Five of the library directors represented libraries with 5,000 to 15,000 people. These library directors found AALS always responsive to their questions and that the System sponsored meetings and committees of great relevance. Some also received on-site visits and help from System staff. They valued the assistance AALS provided in identifying grant opportunities and assisting them with preparing the grant applications.

Three of the library directors represented larger libraries. These library directors admitted that they do not need AALS assistance at the present but remember how important the assistance they had received from AALS was to them when they first got started.

All library directors recognized that AALS' high turnover rate affected its ability to provide services and assistance. "AALS tends now to be more theoretical than hands-on."

6. Planning and Trends

Three of the 11 libraries that participated in the group interview had long-range plans.

In the next three to five years the following issues will emerge and need to be addressed, according to the coordinator:

  • Technology looms as the biggest need.
  • The role of the library in the community.
  • Funding for member libraries; how to keep them viable.

With regard to the future of AALS, staffing is a key issue. Staff turnover is high as a result of low salaries and salaries that are not competitive. This situation makes it difficult to keep staff and to fill positions requiring highly skilled staff, especially in the area of technology.

The trends library directors identified were similar and included:

  • Rapid growth of technology. Library staff have to keep pace with technology. The need for additional workstations to meet demand makes libraries run out of space, even in relatively new buildings.
  • Control over Internet information sources.
  • Growing population in the library's area of service puts additional demands on libraries. Libraries run out of space; their collections do not meet the population needs. Libraries want to address this either by opening branch libraries or by establishing more public libraries in the area.
  • Expansion of patron base. A library located in an area that was primarily a retirement area wants to increase the number of children as patrons. The library is accomplishing this by targeting middle school and high school children, adding a teen room in the library, and using teenage volunteers on the circulation desk. The library also started two story time programs, one in the library and one in the day care center; the elementary school after-school day care center comes to the library.

7. Membership Benefits

Member libraries clearly benefit from their association with AALS. They receive collection development funds, continuing education, access to TSLAC online databases, and consulting services. Member libraries decide which continuing education classes they need and AALS develops classes accordingly.

AALS helped its member libraries enter the computer age and use technology, according to the coordinator. AALS is in the forefront in this area: all its members have access to the Internet.

AALS divided the benefits it provides to member libraries into six areas:

  • Collection development:
    • - Funds distributed according to a preset formula
    • - Subscription to one book selection journal

  • Continuing education:
    • - Workshops presented by AALS, San Antonio Public Library and TSLAC
    • - Hands-on training on Internet topics, electronic databases and Microsoft Office
    • - Live satellite training programs in four locations
    • - Technical workshops and training through TANG
    • - Customized training by AALS staff

  • Consulting service:
    • - Library Science collection
    • - Consultation on library automation systems
    • - Individual consultation with library professionals and computer personnel
    • - Presentations by AALS coordinator and consultants to library boards or governing bodies
    • - AALS web site and newsletter
    • - Assistance with grant writing and project development
    • - Collection evaluation

  • Networked resources:
    • - Access to San Antonio Public Library online catalog and full text databases and to TSLAC web site
    • - Access to Baker & Taylor's Title Source II On the Web
    • - Access to San Antonio Public Library reference staff
    • - Electronic library offered to underserved areas for access to the Internet
    • - Technical assistance on computer use and local area networks

  • Publicity services:
    • - Loan of equipment
    • - Access to poster maker, laminator, digital camera, and Ellison lettering machine
    • - Publicity materials
    • - Publicity materials for national library events
    • - Subscription to Copycat

  • Services to disadvantaged populations:
    • - Funds for materials for library-based GED, ESL, and adult education classes
    • - Subscription to a Spanish language journal
    • - Loan of kits and materials such as story time kits, children's videos, flannel-board kits.

Library directors reported many benefits from their membership in AALS. Benefits ranged from:

  • Funds.
  • Continuing education.
  • Library System helped with starting the library.
  • Library System helped with the design of the new library, weeding the collection and turning the library into a more professional organization.
  • Library resources were greatly expanded through ILL.
  • Story time programs.
  • Library System staff came to talk to the City Council about the need for a new building for the library.
  • AALS provided free shelving.
  • AALS always responds to library's questions.
  • Not feeling so isolated because of communications with and assistance from AALS.
  • Meetings organized by AALS helps librarians see the big picture and share information with other librarians

Member libraries highly value their Library System. Membership is crucial to the viability of the libraries, according to one of the library directors. She credited the Library System with helping libraries become automated and use technology. The Library System was also credited with identifying grant sources for libraries. Members also appreciated the training and continuing education the Library System provided to them. Member libraries stated that they had received many benefits from the Library System, including collection development funds. Member libraries recognized that the assistance AALS provides to them has been affected by the System's high staff turnover. As a result of this turnover, the System can not provide assistance as frequently or send a consultant to help.

8. Special Populations

AALS awards literacy grants to its members. It used to award 10 grants and now awards 11 grants. AALS has a disadvantaged services committee. The literacy programs that member libraries offer vary and may include: high school GED, ESL, basic literacy or all three together. Members wanted literacy programs because many of the member libraries have a high percent of Hispanic populations. AALS uses LSTA funds for these programs. AALS dedicates 25 percent of the collection development funds to disadvantaged services. These serve older adults and children and provide audio and hard copy books in Spanish. In 2001, AALS spent 40 percent of it funds on services to special populations.

9. Impact

AALS assistance affected libraries in different ways, according to the library directors.

One of the library directors reported that AALS did not provide any help with technology.

Another librarian reported significant impact because her level of technology-related knowledge was minimal before her library was assisted by AALS. Staff skills' improved and staff is eager to participate in AALS workshops.

Another library director found ILL to be helpful as were the story time kits. Library directors appreciated the services to the special populations including the Spanish language materials, the materials for seniors, HeadStart, and home schoolers (a growing population). Library directors also appreciated the technology for individuals with disabilities.

10. Technical Assistance Negotiated Grant (TANG)

Library directors and staff identified the need for technology-related training and assistance and rated it as number two in priority behind continuing education in the June 2001 planning questionnaire, according to the AALS coordinator. The need for technology-related assistance stems from the addition of technology to libraries. With Gates Foundation, TIF, Tocker and other grants, member libraries continue to add computers, network and automation systems and upgrade Internet connections and request e-rate discounts. Libraries need technology-related training both at the beginning and advanced levels so that library staff can use and manage the equipment, and maintain it.

AALS' TANG plan for FY2002 called for training in a classroom, on the Internet, or one-on-one in the areas of network design, installation, and management, computer hardware, operating system and application installation, troubleshooting, telecommunications and security. The training, according to the plan, includes workshops on networking essentials, computer security, disaster preparedness, basic computer hardware, and computer peripherals.

AALS indicated in its FY2002 TANG plan that the TANG staff member will provide network and PC support, perform site surveys to document the current network libraries have, and be a resource for all member libraries on technology. The TANG staff person will assist member libraries by e-mail, fax, telephone, or in person. The TANG staff member will also help libraries with disaster preparedness and the development of technology plans.

The AALS TANG systems supervisor who had an MLS and Cisco certification left AALS in December 2001 after 10 months. The systems supervisor provided hardware and networking assistance to AALS' 46 member libraries and helped libraries to set up computers and local networks. She also was planning to offer a security policy seminar.

The systems supervisor did not have a plan of service. The systems supervisor conducted a library technology survey in September 2001. The survey asked for a technology inventory, databases, technology-related staff competencies, technology grants the library has, the status of library automation, and the library's security plan and procedures. Thirty of the 46 member libraries completed the questionnaires by mid October 2001. Although AALS did not develop a TANG plan, the systems supervisor used the survey results to identify the technology status of the member libraries and their greatest areas of need. The systems supervisor considered the survey data to be a basis for a services plan.

According to the technology survey, all libraries have computers; typically they got the computers in 1995 or later. All have scanners and printers. Nearly 90 percent (26 of the 30) of the libraries that responded have high speed access lines. Many of the libraries also have web pages. However, very few of these libraries have the skills and the knowledge to maintain their technology equipment. Overall, the libraries are not technologically self-sufficient. The systems supervisor considered only five of the 30 libraries technologically self-sufficient. The systems supervisor estimated that 10 to 15 of the libraries have local consultants or contractors that help them with the technology. Others rely on the AALS systems supervisor or on their local school district.

One of the difficulties in assisting the libraries is the lack of technology standardization. AALS can not set technology standards for its libraries, so libraries purchase a wide range of equipment. Their greatest need is to sustain and maintain the equipment they have.

Libraries' lack of technological self-sufficiency is based on several factors. Some libraries do not train their staff. Libraries also experience a high rate of staff turnover, so even when staff are trained they do not stay long, especially in the small libraries. Consequently, libraries need technology training on an ongoing basis. Because of the high staff turnover, training library staff is not a viable solution at present, according to the TANG systems supervisor. Even staff that attend training do not fully benefit from it because they have difficulty implementing it, as they lack important technology skills.

The systems supervisor offered assistance as requested, responding to library needs. She helped build a network for a library; designed a network and cable infrastructure; purchased cable and network equipment for the library; maintained computers, and provided one-on-one computer training. She also replaced computer monitors, set up Internet service, and fixed printers. In addition, the systems supervisor arranged several networking classes and a computer security class at a central location. AALS also got a TIF grant for "see you - see me" cameras and the systems supervisor planned to install these in the libraries and train the staff in their use.

The systems supervisor provided critical assistance to the Del Rio Library, the last member library that was not connected to the Internet. She designed and installed a network for the library that should serve them for at least ten years. She connected the library to the Internet, increased the number of the library's Internet connected computers (they have 17 workstations), and met the objective of giving the public access to the Internet.

The systems supervisor recognized that some of the services she had provided to member libraries were essential, because some of the libraries, like the Del Rio Library would not be networked without her help. Some libraries cannot afford to pay a contractor to provide these services. Some of these libraries do not even have a paid director.

The systems supervisor planned to develop online tutorials, in order to reduce the amount of travel to individual library sites.

The TANG-funded services AALS offered to libraries have had a significant impact on the libraries and on AALS. The call rate to the systems supervisor declined from 260-300 calls for a three-month period to 80 calls in September, October and November 2001. The systems supervisor attributed the decrease in calls to the stabilization of technology in member libraries. The nature of the calls had also changed. The calls became more sophisticated, showing knowledge of technology and networks.

Several libraries do not depend on AALS for assistance with technology. They get assistance through the TIF grants or through contracts with local consultants. Libraries associated with school districts or specific schools get assistance from the district or the school. One of the library directors has a relationship with two volunteers who are technologically skilled and another library director reported getting help from the head of the Computer Science department in a nearby junior college. Library directors who participated in the interview indicated that they do not call AALS for assistance with technology since the departure of the systems supervisor because AALS currently does not have any staff who can help member libraries. AALS has recently filled this position.

Part Three, Section Two | Part Three, Section Four

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