April 1, 2003 Report to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission submitted by Himmel & Wilson
Himmel & Wilson, Library Consultants received a contract to conduct a study of library development in Texas in December 2002. Since that time, the consulting team, composed of seven experienced library consultants and practitioners, have had contact with approximately 700 members of the Texas library community in every region of the state.
The project began with a review of national level statistical data comparing Texas libraries to libraries in the rest of the United States. The Texas rankings on most measures tended to hover in the mid 40s among the 50 states and the District of Columbia. That is, the ranking of Texas libraries on both inputs such as "Total Library Income per capita (45th)" and "Collection Expenditures per capita (43rd)," and outputs such as "Circulation per capita (45th)" and "Library Visits per capita (43rd)" tend to be among the lowest in the United States. This is not to say that there are not individual libraries that perform exceptionally well. These statistics reflect statewide snapshots in time rather than local performance.
After some review of background documentation on various programs and services such as Texas' implementation of the Federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), TexShare, Loan Star Libraries, and the state's regional library systems, the consultants met with the project steering committee. This meeting took place in Austin on December 13, 2002. A summary of the findings of the background review was presented to the group and the consulting team sought the group's assessment of the major issues facing Texas public libraries.
In early January 2003, the consultants conducted a total of 42 focus groups with library directors, library trustees, lay representatives, and representatives of library "Friends" organizations in 21 locations across the state. These meetings were attended by a total of 476 people representing 242 different libraries. Following are the sites of the focus group sessions.
Abilene Lufkin Amarillo Lubbock Arlington McAllen Austin Mt. Pleasant Conroe Odessa Corpus Christi Pasadena Denton San Angelo El Paso San Antonio Garland Victoria Longview Waco Wichita Falls
The focus group sessions explored the opinions and perceptions of librarians and of laypersons who are highly involved with public libraries on topics ranging from strengths and weaknesses of local libraries to the effectiveness of regional library systems and of programs and services provided by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC). The consultants found widespread support for regional library systems. While it was very clear that the library systems are most important to small libraries, nevertheless, representatives of many medium- and large-sized libraries also indicated support for systems based either on direct value received by their libraries or on a belief that regional systems are necessary in a state with many small libraries scattered across a very large geographic area.
Some of the regional library system services that were mentioned as being highly valued included continuing education, collection development support and consulting assistance. The value of the systems in facilitating "human networking" was also mentioned frequently. It is clear that in many areas of the state, regional library systems and the opportunities for gathering together that they provide for their members represent important "connections" to the larger library community.
While the consultants found widespread support for regional systems, they also heard some criticisms and willingness on the part of the library community to consider some restructuring of systems to achieve even greater results. Concerns regarding the administrative costs involved in operating ten separate organizations, restrictions imposed on systems in some cases by host municipalities, the effects of system "buying power" erosion and shifting of funding from rural to urban areas were raised.
When the consultants explored Texas State Library and Archives services, we also discovered that several programs were widely valued. There was nearly universal agreement that both the quality of content and the implementation of the Small Libraries Management course are top-notch. Representatives of the library community also had positive opinions regarding the Loan Star Libraries program. In particular, libraries appreciated the flexibility of the program, i.e., the fact that Loan Star grants have few restrictions on how dollars can be spent. The TexShare databases were also seen as an important and highly worthwhile program. Support was particularly strong from medium-sized libraries that often cited what it would cost their libraries to license the databases available through TexShare directly.
The Technical Assistance Negotiate Grant (TANG) program was also highly valued, especially by small libraries. However, not surprisingly, TANG was most frequently seen as a service of regional systems rather than a TSLAC service since the TANG program operates out of the regional system offices. On a related note, very little credit is given TSLAC by the library community for ongoing support of regional systems through the LSTA program. In many ways, regional library systems in Texas are seen more as an ongoing entitlement rather than a grant program supported with "soft" money.
TSLAC also came in for some criticism in regard to the burden of paperwork. Some librarians, especially those from libraries receiving relatively small Loan Star grants, felt the paperwork involved was out of proportion to the size of the grants. Others felt that statistical reporting requirements are burdensome; however, others defended the State Library on both counts citing requirements for accountability and the usefulness of the comparative statistics that come from the data collection.
Some TSLAC staff members, including those providing reference support and information and resources from the State Library's "professional collection," were characterized as being highly cooperative and very responsive. However, overall, TSLAC was seen as being burdened by state bureaucracy and somewhat out of touch with its constituency. Often, comparisons were drawn to regional library system staffs, who were perceived as being considerably more responsive.
Since system coordinators and TSLAC staff were asked not to participate in focus groups in order to ensure that participants would feel free to express their opinions, separate interviews were scheduled with both of these groups of individuals. The consultants have interviewed all ten of the regional system coordinators. Most of these interviews took place on site at the system offices. A few of the interviews were held at focus group sites and two were conducted by telephone. Two of the consultants spent two days at the State Library interviewing staff individually and in small groups and collecting background materials and data.
In both instances, the consultants were able to gather new information, secure answers to questions related to specific programs, and gain insight into the differences and similarities between and among systems. While both groups (system coordinators and TSLAC staff) demonstrated high levels of commitment to the improvement of Texas libraries, it was also apparent that relationships between the State Library and the systems has been somewhat strained. Differences range from honest disagreement over specific policies to personality conflicts. Fortunately, the consultants also sense that all parties agree that these are differences that need to be addressed and ultimately solved and that everyone seems willing to work toward resolution of some longstanding differences.
The consultants also believed that it was important to visit as many libraries as possible to observe conditions and services firsthand. As of the time of this writing, the consulting team has logged nearly 5,000 miles on the ground visiting libraries in every region of the state. In addition to touring the libraries that hosted focus groups, we have toured 85 libraries from El Paso to Longview and from McAllen to Pampa. Another eight site visits are scheduled for the week of March 24th and, in the end, the consultants expect to have been in over 100 Texas public libraries.
The consultants have documented their site visits with digital photographs in all but a handful of locations. A compact disc containing well over 500 photographs taken at Texas libraries has been distributed to steering committee members and to the State Library. An updated version of this CD will be given to the commissioners as part of the final report. Consultants also did "drive-bys" of other libraries that were not open on a schedule that allowed for actual visits. Over a dozen libraries have been seen in this manner, but were not actually visited. A list of libraries visited to date, arranged by the system area in which they are located is included at the end of this narrative report. Libraries at which the consultants did a "self-guided" tour (libraries at which the director or another staff member was not available to conduct a formal tour) are designated with an asterisk (*). Those at which only a drive-by was conducted are designated by a double asterisk (**).
The site visits have had several important results. First, and perhaps most important, through the site visits, the consultants have had the opportunity to talk to many librarians who did not participate in focus group sessions. Due largely to the fact that small libraries have very limited staffing; the smallest libraries in the state were underrepresented in the focus group sessions. The site visits have enabled the consultants to pursue some of the same areas explored in the focus groups in one-on-one conversations with library directors in small communities.
A second major advantage of doing far more site visits than was originally envisioned is the fact that the consultants have had a chance to see the libraries "in context." That is, to have an opportunity to understand the nature of the communities served, to observe indicators of economic health firsthand, and to understand the sparseness of population in some areas and the density of population in others.
For the most part, the input received from librarians during site visits was very consistent with what the consultants heard in focus group sessions. However, a few additional pieces of information did emerge. One relates to the very high level of fund-raising activity by libraries in Texas. In fact, this activity seems to be higher in Texas than in any other state in which we have conducted statewide studies. A second area in which the site visits have been helpful has been the opportunity to gather more specific information regarding the benefits and drawbacks of a variety of different governance structures. Among the libraries visited have been joint school/public library facilities, district libraries, and libraries organized as non-profit entities.
We would like to mention one final effort that has been added to our data-gathering activity. The consultants have now completed interviews with the directors of 19 of the 21 libraries serving the largest populations in the state. A service population of 150,000 was used as the minimum in determining who should be included in these interviews. While a few of the interviews have been conducted in person, most were held via telephone and typically were 20-30 minutes in duration. A couple of things became clear in these conversations. First, the funding situation for the majority of the largest libraries in Texas is very tenuous. Many have already sustained major cuts and anticipated cuts are likely to be even larger. Second, the recruitment and retention of qualified staff is a difficult issue for these libraries.
We are still in the process of collecting information. Some additional site visits and interviews and a series of Internet/Web-based surveys will take place between mid March and early April. We'll be presenting our findings and some initial recommendations during the first two weeks of April. Team representatives will be making presentations to the library community gathered at TLA on April 4th. The following week, we'll be holding a series of "Town Meetings" for the purpose of presenting draft recommendations and receiving comments from the library community. Several of the sessions will be conducted via video teleconference. Two live/on-site sessions have also been scheduled in locations designed to achieve maximum exposure from the geographic standpoint.
Following the "Town Hall" sessions the consulting team will start work on a draft of the final report. However, the draft report will be just that, a draft report. This report, which will include background data, our findings, and our draft recommendations, will be posted on the Himmel & Wilson website in interactive form; that is, text boxes will be built into the report at strategic intervals to allow for comments, reactions, and ideas. The comment period will last a minimum of two weeks. All comments will be carefully read and considered in the preparation of the final report to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Site Visits Completed or Scheduled for the Week of 3/24/03:
Barksdale (Neuces Canyon Public Library)**
Boerne Public Library
Camp Wood Public Library*
Castroville Public Library**
Comfort Public Library**
Fredericksburg (Pioneer Memorial Library)*
Hondo Public Library
Kerrville (Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library)*
Leakey (Real County Public Library)
New Braunfels Public Library
Rocksprings (Claud H. Gilmer Memorial Library)*
Sabinal Public Library**
San Antonio (Central Library)
San Antonio (Bazan Branch)
Uvalde (El Progresso Memorial Library)
Abilene Public Library
Ballinger (Carnegie Library)*
Cisco Public Library**
Colorado City (Mitchell County Public Library)
Comanche Public Library
Eastland (Centennial Memorial Library)
Eldorado (Schleicher County Public Library)
San Angelo (Tom Green County Library System)
Sweetwater (County-City Library)
Austin Public Library
Bastrop Public Library
Bryan (Bryan College Station Public Library)
Bryan (Carnegie Center of Brazos Valley History)
Buda Public Library*
College Station Public Library
Hewitt Community Library
Kyle Community Library*
Rockdale (Lucy Hill Patterson Memorial Library)
San Marcos (San Marcos Public Library)
Waco (Waco-McLennan County Library)
Waco (R.B. Hoover Branch)
West Lake Hills (Westbank Community Library)
Cleveland (Austin Memorial Library)
Conroe (Montgomery County Memorial Library System)
Lufkin (Kurth Memorial Library)
Pasadena Public Library Shepherd Public Library
Daingerfield Public Library
Garland (Nicholson Memorial Library - South Garland Branch)
Longview Public Library
Mt. Pleasant Public Library
Noonday Community Library (no photos)
Palestine Public Library
Tyler Public Library (no photos)
Arlington Public Library System (Main Library)
Crowell (Foard County Library)**
Crowley Public Library
Denton (Central Library)
Denton (South Branch)
Denton (North Branch - under construction)**
Ft. Worth Public Library
Mansfield Public Library
Mineral Wells (Boyce Ditto Public Library)**
Paducah (Bicentennial City-County Library)
Quanah (Thompson Sawyer Public Library)
Roanoke Public Library
Saginaw (John Ed Keeter Public Library)
Wichita Falls Public Library
Beeville (Joe Barnart - Bee County Library)
Corpus Christi Public Library
Goliad (Goliad County Library)
La Joya (La Joya Municipal Library)
Laredo Public Library McAllen (McAllen Memorial Library)
Victoria Public Library
Amarillo Public Library
Canyon Area Library
Childress Public Library**
Clarendon (Burton Memorial Library)
Friona Public Library
Hereford (Deaf Smith County Library)
Pampa (Lovett Memorial Library)
Panhandle (Carson County Public Library)
Quitaque (Caprock Public Library)
Turkey Public Library**
Tulia (Swisher County Library)
White Deer (White Deer Branch - Carson County Public Library)**
Clint (Clint ISD Public Library)
El Paso Public Library
Fort Hancock (Ft. Hancock ISD/Public Library)
Tornillo (Tornillo Media Center)
Earth (Springlake-Earth Community Library)
Floydada (Floyd County Library - Main Library)
Hale Center Public Library, Inc.
Lamesa (Dawson County Public Library)
Lockney (Lockney Branch - Floyd County Library)
Lubbock City-County Library
Matador (Motley County Library)
Muleshoe Area Public Library*
Odessa (Ector County Library)
Plainview (Unger Memorial Library)
Visits tentatively scheduled for week of March 24:
Alpine Public Library - TTPLS
Big Spring (Howard County Library) - WTLS
Fort Davis (Jeff Davis County Library)** - TTPLS
Fort Stockton Public Library - TTPLS
Imperial Public Library** - TTPLS
Marfa Public Library - TTPLS
Midland (Midland County Public Library) - WTLS
Monahans (Ward County Library) - WTLS
Pecos (Reeves County Library) - TTPLS