School Libraries, A Gift to Students – or Thank you, Ms. Smith

By JuLe Maxwell

Thank you, Ms. Smith. Reading, books, librarians and libraries have meant everything to me, as a child, an adult and a parent.

I spent five of my elementary years during the 1970s in Special Education challenged by dyslexia. Back then, students with disabilities of any kind were segregated from the rest of the school population. Library visits were not part of my school experience until one day, Ms. Smith, our school’s new librarian, invited me to her library. Ms. Smith put in my hands A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman. This is the first book I read all by myself at age 10. Eventually, I read all the books in this series. Ten years later, I found myself reading aloud this same book to children during story hour at a small independent bookstore in East Dallas.

A librarian who repeatedly asked my daughter in middle school her thoughts about the book she just read empowered her to form opinions and express herself verbally. She became her ally in reading. Like all of you, this same librarian strives to be impartial in all topics of discussion and she is forever championing the right for unrestrictive access.

Librarians today teach our children how to discern credible sources in fact gathering and are constantly on the cutting edge of what is trending. When I attend the TLA conference every year, I’m amazed by the field of seminar topics a librarian can attend and how all of this continuing education works to make reading and research relevant to our children. Honestly, I don’t know of another profession that is so motivated in helping our kids.

My esteem for librarians is similar to Brazelton’s Touchpoints for infants. Librarians offer children that first entry of independent and group reading that can launch their love of reading for the rest of their lives and perhaps their careers.

To suggest that Ms. Smith is responsible for my thirty years as a bookseller and for my advocacy for reading is not an understatement.  Ms. Smith was my Mr. Falker (Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco), and I suspect that all of you, every day, make that difference in the lives of our children. So, thank you. Thank you all. School libraries are a gift to students.

Jule Maxwell,
Library volunteer at the Irma Rangel Young Women's Leadership School,
Dallas ISD


Embrace Your Inner Librarian - Tell Your Library Stories

By Jennifer LaBoon 

Politics are something many school librarians don’t embrace.  We don’t feel comfortable talking about them, and in some ways, it’s easier to just focus on our day to day work and not concern ourselves with how they impact us individually.  However, as we look back at the last few sessions, politics have had quite an impact on school libraries in Texas. 
The 82nd Legislative Session in 2011 was a disaster for most state agencies’ budgets, and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission took a $30 million dollar reduction.  TLA’s Legislative Committee knew we had to take a different approach to our work in advocating for statewide library programs in the future as any further cuts would decimate a statewide presence for libraries.  School librarians will remember that those cuts equaled the loss of the K-12 database program.  Cindy Buchanan, Carlyn Gray, and I represented school libraries on the Legislative Steering Committee tasked with making a plan to regroup. Led by current TLA President-Elect Susan Mann, we did a lot of reflecting.  We weren’t being effective.   We needed to make a change or we’d lose what little we had left after the devastating cuts.
We realized that we were fragmenting our message into too many issues.  It was not easy to succinctly state the legislative priorities for Texas libraries.  We had TexShare, K-12 databases, Lonestar Libraries, etc.  We had a hard enough time explaining to a legislator what one of those things was, much less a laundry list of things.  We needed one clear message: we needed statewide resource sharing. 
With this new clearer focus, we emerged from the 83rd  Session successfully.  We saw a new version of K-12 databases emerge as TexQuest.  And we see a renewed respect for TSLAC under new leadership of State Librarian Mark Smith. 
As we go into the 84th Session in the new year, we will have hope to regain a bit more of what was lost, and look for ways to continue to leverage the work of TSLAC to expand programs and outreach across the state.  You will see when you look at the list of our legislative priorities, that we don’t talk about types of libraries much.  We talk about the value of funding all types of libraries to ensure Texas residents have access to the resources they need to be lifelong learners, whether in school, at a university, or at a public library.  We continue to remind legislators that no, everything can’t be replaced by Google.  And no, not every book is available as an eBook.  And librarians are more important than ever.  But mostly, we tell our story of how access to statewide resources matters to our communities. 
This is what we need each of you to do.  Tell your story and embrace who you are as a librarian.  You don’t have to know political lingo.  You don’t even have to know what bill says what.  What you do need to be able to say is exactly the benefit to your student—access to rich content that they will use in college and career, and a huge savings to your campus via the purchasing power offered by a state negotiated rate.  Our position paper reads:
Shared Digital Content (TSLAC Budget Exceptional Item #2) – $6.4 million in state funds to build digital educational collections. Through TexShare (for public and college library users) & TexQuest (for K-12 public schools), libraries support homework completion, college preparation, research, job searching, test preparation & instruction.

Digital content through our state’s libraries form an efficient and effective infrastructure that supports education and economic development throughout Texas.  With millions of Texans making hundreds of millions of searches and uses of these resources, we know that TexShare and TexQuest support learning and business activity at all levels. This program leverages the purchasing power of the state and reaps enormous savings.

I hope you’ll consider joining us for a PreConference in Austin at the 2015 Annual Conference: Taking the Capitol by Storm: Libraries, Legislation, and Leadership. Stipends will be provided to encourage the newer members of our profession to hone their skills and tell their own stories (applications are due by January 30th)!  We hope you’ll plan to attend!

Jennifer LaBoon is 2014-  Co-Chair of the TLA Legislative Committee, and of the TLA Legislative Steering Committee. She was for years the Chair of TASL’s Legislative & Advocacy Committee.

How I Developed a Crush on School Librarians

By Neva Kelly

Back in 2012, I was chairing a meeting of Aransas County ISD’s Curriculum Team when the district’s five librarians burst into the conference room with noise-makers and flowers.  “Congratulations, Dr. Kelly!” they cried.  “You’ve been named the 2012 TASL Administrator of the Year!”  Such an honor was completely unexpected and exceptionally humbling because of one somewhat embarrassing fact about me:  five years earlier, when I came to Aransas County ISD in 2007– with 23 years of experience in education at every level from early childhood to graduate school – I did not truly understand the critical role of school librarians.  One certainly would have been hard pressed to consider me an advocate.  I viewed librarians in the traditional light of managing a collection of books and making kids be quiet.  I always thought librarians were nice to have, but not necessarily essential.  After all, I had worked in schools that were getting by with a paraprofessional managing the library.

But those lovely librarians from my school district opened my eyes.  Two things happened in the spring of my first year at ACISD.  First, they used money from a library grant to have teachers attend the annual TLA conference.  How wise!  They had the foresight to know that teacher attendance at the conference would promote a partnership between librarians and teachers that would be long-reaching.   They all came home on fire and shared their desire to start a new grassroots team within the district – the Library, Media, and Technology Collaborative, or LMaT.  Inspired by their enthusiasm, I asked to be a part of the group, and was able to witness their leadership and innovative spirit blossom. Today, seven years after its formation, LMaT is a thriving collaborative that organizes an annual district-wide Media Fair and develops policies for ever-evolving technology use in ACISD schools. In addition to staff members from all campuses in the district, LMaT now includes high school student representatives. Media Fair consistently receives the highest evaluations of all professional development sessions within the district, and observation data reveal that teachers have increased both the quantity and quality of technology integration. 

The second thing that happened that spring was that I received from the librarians their Annual Report and Five-Year Plan.  This 25-page document floored me!  I had no idea what they truly did on their campuses!   I met with my superintendent and asked that the librarians be given the opportunity to present the document to our School Board.  I still remember that first presentation. The Board members were as shocked and impressed as I had been, and made several comments to the effect of “This is nothing like I remember from the library when I was in school!” and “Well, these aren’t my momma’s librarians!” Thankfully, this has turned into an annual report to the Board.  With each presentation, the librarians showcase their innovative practice and demonstrate to Board members the myriad ways they are supporting district academic goals.

After that first year, everything snowballed.  The librarians invited me into their world, and I began to pay attention to their role in our schools:  providing monthly professional development to staff, securing resources for teachers, teaching research skills, advancing technology integration, planning and facilitating parent education, providing enrichment experiences for students, networking with colleagues in other districts, presenting at conferences, spending hours and hours staying abreast of children’s and young adult literature so that they would have that just right book for every student…  This was not the school librarian I remembered from my childhood.  These professionals were constantly challenging themselves to do more to support teachers and contribute to student achievement, to ensure that the library is truly the hub of the campus, and to help every student and every adult be an effective user of ideas and information.

In short, over the next few years, I developed a huge crush on our school librarians. It really was their fault, because they were passionate and talented, and they were willing to step up and make themselves indispensable.   I became an advocate for our librarians and their programs because they were just so incredibly good.  So good, in fact, that our library programs were recognized as a model for others in the region.  So good that, in the midst of difficult staffing decisions, administrators and school board members continue to confirm their value by maintaining all professional and paraprofessional library positions in the district.

There are far too many people out there who are just as ignorant as I was seven years ago.  The evidence of this is seen in the number of school librarians who were reassigned to teaching positions and replaced with paraprofessionals when school budgets were slashed in 2011.  I strongly believe that school librarians must advocate for themselves as we face an upcoming legislative session in Texas that could once again impact public school budgets.  This is not the time to be modest!  You must educate others – your school board, your central office administrators, your campus administrators – so that they too will really come to understand the vital role you plan in the success of our students.
Neva Kelly, Ed. D, served as the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Aransas County ISD from 2008-2013. She currently works as an educational consultant. In 2012, Dr. Kelly won the TASL Distinguished Library Service Award for School Administrators in recognition of her continued support of ACISD library services.


What You Can Do Now that the Election is Over

by Dorcas Hand

Now we know who is governor and who will be working in the state legislature; we have our work cut out for us. As you see below, from the timeline TLA’s Gloria Meraz posted to the TLA website ( ) earlier in the fall, there were things we should have done before now. But there is even more we should do – and can still do. Those photos you took in October for Snapshot Day – you can use them now as well. Between now and January, contact your legislators, the ones that have direct impact on your school district and on your residential district.  Use this time as an opportunity to make friends with elected officials. Help them understand school libraries as assets to their communities. Building relationships with these folks will help us know how to keep the conversation going into the future.
You have several goals:
  • You want to remind them how important the students in your schools are to the future of the state of Texas – from your perspective as their librarian. I’m thinking of the Jon Green quote, “So let me explain why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in school; it’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.” How do school libraries contribute to the community?
  • You want them to know why TexQuest resources matter to your students. Yes, to your students – via your teachers and curriculum. For details,
  • You want them to know why school librarians and libraries matter to student test scores and academic achievement. They need stories that illustrate the data. The data is out there from various states, but the stories that demonstrate the connection for particular students and groups in your Texas schools have a greater chance of getting through to our legislators.
Remember last week’s post? Stand Up, Speak Out, Recruit; Repeat. Well, the RECRUIT piece is even more important when you start reaching out to legislators, especially new ones. Ask your parents and your students to write letters and send copies of projects; having voices beyond our professional ones is really important. The more we can predispose legislators before the budget process begins, the more likely they will vote our way. Just keep those cards and letters moving in the right direction, towards individual legislators all across the state!

  • Fall 2014:  Introduce yourself to your state representative, senator, and candidates and talk about the importance of supporting library issues.
  • October 1 – October 31: Use Library Snapshot Day (you can select any day in October) as a PR and advocacy forum.
  • November 4: General Election
  • January 13, 2015: First Day of the 84th Legislature
  • January 14 – beginning of February: House and Senate leaders appoint committees for the 84th Legislature.
  • February: State budget hearings on Appropriations Bill (HB 1/ SB 1) begin.
  • February 12: Library Virtual Action Day. Plan activities that you and your library supporters can undertake to promote statewide funding for library programming.


Good News – Spotlight Shines on Texas Librarians

by Susi Grissom
First came the news in August that school librarian Irene Kistler, librarian at Northeast ISD’s Ed White Middle School, had been named a state finalist for the Texas Teacher of the Year award.  Irene was selected as a finalist from over 140,000 teachers by the Texas Association of School Administrators, and the fact that a school librarian was honored in such a public and prestigious way was great news indeed. 

September brought another reason for celebration when Colleen Graves, librarian at Lamar Middle School in Lewisville ISD, was named as one of two finalists for School Library Journal’s School Librarian of the Year Award.  Developed with sponsor Scholastic Library Publishing, the award “honors a K–12 library professional for outstanding achievement and the exemplary use of 21st-century tools and services to engage children and teens toward fostering multiple literacies” (SLJ website). 

Colleen more than fits that description!  Since becoming the librarian at Lamar, Colleen has transformed the librarian into an exciting place where the entire school community can learn, experiment, and create.  After giving the library a physical make-over with new color, furniture, and design, Colleen zeroed in on updating technology and its implementation in instruction.  Through opportunities like “Maker Monday” workshops and “Coding and Robotics” classes, Colleen inspires her students to be independent creators, giving them the tools to use a variety of technologies and resources and then letting them explore and share their products.  She also relies on her active and enthusiastic Teen Advisory Board to work with her on developing exciting projects, encouraging their leadership and input in the process.  A certified Google  Education Trainer, Colleen received a Lewisville Education Foundation Grant in 2013 to update iPad technology for library and classroom use.  Then changing her focus to her aging print collection , she received a second Foundation grant in 2014, funding a proposal entitled, “This is Not Your Grandma’s Library, but Her Books are Still Here!” 

When contacted about her recent SLJ honor, Colleen wrote, “It is such an honor receiving the School Librarian of the Year Finalist Award!  Andy Plemmons and Michelle Colte [finalist and winner of the award] are superstar elementary, and I’m excited to represent secondary school teacher librarians.  I’ve had so much support since I started at Lamar.  My former principal, Mrs. Lewis, helped me makeover the library into a learning commons and helped me buy supplies for our Makerspace.  This award has helped me develop my library programming even further by helping me to reach out to librarians outside of my district.  Now our students are able to make connections with students and experts around the nation.” 

Congratulations, Irene and Colleen!  TASL is proud to call you both Texas school librarians!!




Step up, Speak Out, Recruit Others - That’s What it Takes

by Dorcas Hand

The group Students Need Libraries in HISD (Houston) has worked to encourage librarians and other stakeholders to contact school board members with information to begin to build increased support for school libraries in the district. We can say that the word “library” has been spoken at formal meetings more often in the year since we have begun this effort than it was before; we can also say there is far to go in the process in a climate where much resistance remains. But a few board members are listening and noticing our persistence, even absorbing the documents we send along.

Co-founder Debbie Hall (retired HISD librarian) adapted some of Gloria Meraz’ (TLA Director of Communications) tip sheets for contacting legislators to offer HISD folks tips to contact our board members. The tips are posted here, as well as to and the Students Need Libraries Houston Facebook page.

Step up, Speak Out, Recruit Others; Repeat Often. That is the core message.

These are excellent resources for contacting any community leaders in support of school libraries. And we already know how important it is to remind the community often about the strength school libraries bring to student achievement. Just like when you contact legislators, tell stories with student accomplishments based on library resources, send photos, invite them to visit your library, and even take yourself on a field trip to their office. Heck - take students and parents along! What a civics lesson that could be.

Three easy steps: Step up, Speak Out, Recruit Others. Take them one step at a time - TASL is here to help.

Every Picture Tells a Story: TLA Library Snapshot Day

 by Sharon Gullett

As we mentioned in our last post, we are nearing the next Texas library legislative session. Now is the time to speak up for Texas libraries. Of course, you should contact your legislator, but you can also increase the visibility of your library program by participating in Texas Library Snapshot Day.


Several years ago most Texas libraries faced budget cuts, and some librarians even lost their jobs. The whole library community was outraged that any legislator would dare cut funding to the bastions of free speech and thought. Had they not read the Library Bill of Rights? There is no better way to convince legislators what we do than to offer them a snapshot in words and images of a single day in the lives of libraries across the state - especially school libraries.


Sure, it takes a little time to plan for the activity, but once planned your students can do all the work. It occurs to me that Snapshot Day could become a “library lesson.” We teach about data collection, but you can do it with a real life application. You can designate official student photographers, data collectors, and number crunchers to fill out the short TLA report. Then you can use this work for a local advocacy effort by asking another group of students to compile the information into a Flipgrid, a Prezi, Google Slides, Thinglinks, Animoto, or at least a dozen other Web 2.0 tools and send the presentation to your Principal, Curriculum Director and/or Superintendent.


For information about the Texas Library Snapshot Day on October 31 (or any other October day), please check out for helpful resources (e.g., a sample press release, customer/student input forms, instructions for submitting final data and uploading photographs, video/photo permissions form, tips for using the information, and much more!).


Early in the 20th century, a popular advertisement said, “Every picture tells a story.” And don’t we know every picture is worth a thousand words? It’s time to tell the story of your campus library and its value to the students, teachers, and the community. A Library Snapshot can write volumes for advocacy. It is only through the involvement of librarians, media specialists and library staff that we can complete the portrait of Texas school libraries. Let's raise a thousand voices in advocacy!

Sharon Gullett is a library consultant, an adjunct faculty at TAMC-Commerce, and a co-founder of #txlchat as well as an active member of TASL.

What can YOU do to help School Libraries in Texas? Answer: SPEAK UP!

by Dorcas Hand

TLA’s Gloria Meraz has compiled a one page summary of the essential issues in the 2015 budget cycle, one that is extremely important for school libraries. We need every TASL member to write letters and to encourage others to write letters in our behalf.

Maybe you are nervous because you’ve never done this before - very understandable. However, what you NEED to be nervous about is legislative support of school libraries – any support. We need to convince our legislators that we appreciate them, that we are paying attention when they don’t support us, and that we VOTE them into (and out of) office. We need to change their opinion that we don’t do any of those things. You can visit them in their home office; you can write them a letter; or you can send them an email.

And there is an easy approach available today. You can THANK your state legislators – every single one – for TexQuest, because that support helps you offer your school campus and district stronger and measurable services.

So, your ACTION ITEMS include:
Step One
  • Be sure your district is signed up for TexQuest.
  • Advertise the access details (login username and password) to your students and families and teach students and teachers how to use the resources well.
  • Find examples of student work that relied on database research to use in your letters to the legislators.
Step Two
  • ASK your students to write letters using their own examples. It doesn’t matter if the database use occurred before TexQuest – the important thing is to convince readers of the importance of database access for strong student progress.
  • Also ask PTA and teachers as well.
  • Repeat throughout the fall to encourage repeat funding of TexQuest.


  • If you work in a private school, you need to tell the legislators that your families also pay taxes and also need access to these resources. Texas has many small non-public schools with very tight budgets who are currently excluded from TexQuest .because  Legislators need to be reminded how many students they have ignored and how many voters they could encourage by including private schools. Also, please join the TASL Private School Discussion Group - no additional membership fee involved.