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.