October 2003    


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  Library Spotlight

The Legislatively Literate Librarian

Martha Tandy
Weatherford College

A bleak 2003 Texas legislative year demonstrates the need for librarians, educators and library supporters to promote the importance of libraries to the citizens of Texas. The 2003 Texas 78th Legislative Session created the most drastic cuts to libraries and education since World War II. Texas legislator candidates ran on election campaigns promising to cut the state budget while not raising taxes. The Texas State Library and Archives Commission lost 12.5% of state funding for all programs. Funding for TexShare (statewide electronic databases) dropped from the 2003 level of $10.5 million to $4.5 million per year for 2004 and 2005. The TIF Board (Telecommunications Infrastructure Funds) received no money for technology grants for the 2004 and 2005 year, requiring the closing of this resource by the end of 2004. TIF and TexShare helped bridge the great digital divide of "the have" and "the have nots" of technology by providing funding for an electronic infrastructure and state wide database. On an individual level, state employees lost $500 per individual in health insurance benefits, which affects most community college personnel. Community college state allocations were cut from the expected income for the next session.

Community college library directors are already proactive managers, but becoming legislatively involved has now become crucial. Library administrators must promote what libraries do for the communities they serve in order to receive adequate funding and support. Participation in the legislative process begins on the college campus and advances from the community to the legislature. Membership in professional organizations is vital to keep directors abreast of proposed legislation affecting their libraries either directly or indirectly. Being actively involved with community organizations and activities enables directors to promote library services to everyone they meet.

Librarians must be "legislatively literate" if the library, as we know it, is to survive. Knowledge of the legislators and the issues they support is essential. The state community college listserv, the state library organization and the American Library Association (ALA) are available to educate directors on issues of concern and ways to communicate with legislators. Both state library associations and ALA have legislation web pages that list bills affecting libraries and sample letters to express one's views most effectively. Signing up for the state community college teacher's association listserv will inform library directors of issues that affect community colleges.

Start by searching your state capitol website. The Texas' site is www.capitol.state.tx.us with links to individual congressmen. View the links to congressmen's web pages to see how they voted on past issues and what current bills they support. Attend state library organization legislative meetings to get a better overview of who needs to be contacted for what issues. Participate in state and national legislative days. Texas Library Association (TLA), one of the most active professional library organizations, has a link to the TLA Texline legislative website which lists detailed information about vital upcoming bills and state agency issues. TLA involves all types of libraries with a working partnership with the Texas State Library. The Texas Libraries Political Action Committee, separate from TLA, collects donations to fund lobbying for library issues.

It is our responsibility to become active in the legislature. If library directors have not been "legislatively literate" in the past, the state library organization is one of the first places to start to become a library issues activist.

Merez, Gloria. "78th Legislative Session Review." Texas Library Journal, 79 (Summer, 2003): 64.