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.