They say everything is bigger in Texas, and that certainly applies to the number of bills filed in the Texas Legislature. More than 8,300 bills and resolutions have been filed for the current session, and one bill has already been a major victory for the state’s school librarians, whether it eventually passes or not.
In January, Texas senator Jane Nelson introduced a bill seeking $5,000 raises for all full-time classroom teachers in the state, at a cost of $3.7 billion. Lawmakers, and Gov. Greg Abbott, said they wanted to open the new legislative session with a statement about the value of teachers. There was just one problem: the bill omitted the state’s roughly 4,600 school librarians.
Leaving school librarians out of the bill understandably troubled leaders at the Texas Library Association. Surely it wasn’t about money, right? After all, the extra funding needed to include school librarians was a mere rounding error in the multibillion-dollar bill. So the Texas Library Association got to work.
Weeks later, on March 4, the Texas Senate unanimously passed an amended SB3, with school librarians included. When reporters from the Austin American Statesman asked Nelson why librarians were excluded from the original bill—even though school librarians in Texas teach regularly, are required to earn master’s degrees, and must have teaching experience to work in a school library—Nelson’s response was instructive: “I didn’t know that,” she said. Behold, the power of advocacy.
TLA president Jennifer LaBoon, coordinator of library technology for the Fort Worth Independent School District, tells PW that she and her colleagues are elated by the outcome. And it’s not just because there could be a $5,000 raise in the offing if the bill passes the state House of Representatives and is signed into law.
“Our advocacy efforts paid off,” LaBoon says, adding that those efforts included trips to the state capitol to testify, letters to the editor, radio interviews, newspaper articles, tweets, calls, and emails. “There’s a long way to go from here, but no matter what happens with this bill, the affirmation that we were heard, and included, has already had a profound impact on school librarians: the Texas Senate has unanimously recognized that school librarians are, in fact, teachers.”
Big, and Bright
Winning the unanimous endorsement of the state Senate (as well as a potential raise for school librarians) is not a bad way to generate enthusiasm ahead of the 2019 TLA Annual Conference, set for April 15–18 in Austin. And it’s another sign that the stars are aligning to make this year’s event one of the association’s most highly attended conferences to date. Austin is already a popular destination, famous for its food, music, and culture. It also happens to be in a part of the state packed with librarians. And, of course, it’s the state capital—and this year, the Texas Legislature, which meets every two years, is in session.
Of course, a look at the numbers shows that the TLA Annual Conference draws well every year, no matter which city is hosting. TLA is the nation’s largest, most engaged state library association by a Texas mile, and after years of consistent growth, the TLA Annual Conference is now on par with a number of national meetings, including the ALA’s annual Midwinter Meeting, drawing more than 7,000 attendees and some 450 exhibitors each year.
“Texas boasts the biggest and best state library association for many reasons—one being the fact that we are unified under one umbrella with a singular mission: to serve the library workers of our state,” LaBoon says. “We’re stronger together. And by leveraging the sheer numbers and commitment of our membership, we are a powerful force.”
No question, TLA is big. The association is composed of four divisions spread out over 10 districts statewide. The TLA presidency rotates among the divisions (school librarians, academic librarians, public librarians, and special librarians, such as those who work in corporate libraries). There are also some 30 active roundtables and numerous other discussion groups. And TLA members participate in a range of programming throughout the year, from district meetings across the state to webinars on important topics and leadership training institutes.
LaBoon says she has always been drawn to advocacy work and credits her “TLA mentors” with encouraging her involvement with the association. “Each president in TLA has a different path,” she says. “But advocacy work has always been a love of mine. I grew up in a politically minded family. I met my husband through a political group in college. My TLA mentors just so happened to be very involved in legislative work, so I just followed them and dove in myself.”
As evidenced by the success of SB3, TLA has a solid track record in its advocacy efforts, which are a key part of the association’s work and require constant attention, engagement, and evaluation, and not just when the legislature is in session. For example, LaBoon says, TLA made a difficult decision several years ago to cut TLA’s state Legislative Day, despite its popularity, in favor of more cost-effective ways to provide advocacy training—such as webinars, articles, and sessions at conferences and district meetings.
The TLA is also intimately familiar with the ever-evolving (if unwritten) rules of effective advocacy in the statehouse. “In a state like Texas,” LaBoon says, “we know the approach we take is as important as the volume of our voices.”
LaBoon says TLA’s approach with SB3 was straightforward: keep the message succinct and consistent. “There are so many opportunities to get in the weeds on this sort of bill, and we stayed out of them. Our message was that librarians are teachers, and that they teach the state curriculum in the biggest classroom of the school.”
Each and Every Texan
Another key task that falls to the TLA president: chairing the large, and very busy, committee that plans the TLA conference program—an intensive but rewarding commitment. “It is so exciting to see all of it take shape,” LaBoon says, with her conference program, over a year in the making, now just weeks away. “So many brilliant and creative people work hard to make this happen. It has been a treat to work alongside them.”
This year’s TLA conference is highly anticipated, and not just because it’s in a famously fun city. It will feature a host of new components that organizers expect to be hits with TLA membership, including a one-day program for museum professionals and archivists and the return of TLA’s School Library Administrator’s Conference. And new for this year, the TLA’s first-ever Comic Book Day, on April 17, and a TLA After Hours event on the evening of April 15. “Each of these will give our 2019 conference a unique spin on our tried-and-true conference format,” LaBoon says.
Meanwhile, TLA president-elect Cecilia Barham is already hard at work with the committee on the 2020 TLA conference program. “My theme is ‘A Vision for All Texans,’ and we’re hoping to put together an amazing conference for Houston,” Barham says, adding that her program, and indeed her presidency, draws inspiration from TLA’s stated mission of helping each and every Texan recognize the value of libraries. Especially, she explains, the “each and every” part.
“I thought, breaking that down, what does that mean, ‘each and every’?” she says. “What does that look like? One of my goals is to focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion—not only how are we ensuring that within our profession but within our communities.”
And, Barham says, the committee’s focus on diversity begins with how it is approaching its own work. “What we wanted was to see some standards and criteria on how to incorporate diversity and inclusion throughout the entire conference, not just by including specific, separate programs that stand alone, to check a box, but to really ensure that the entire program, each program, is comprehensively diverse. So we came up with some guidelines that we’re going to share with all the TLA units as they do their planning.”
Specifically, the committee created a questionnaire for conference programmers, called “Considerations for Building Diverse and Inclusive Programming,” that is essentially a series of questions for planners to keep in mind while putting together their events. “For example, what percentage of the panel represents a diverse community?” Barham explains. “Are you addressing diversity and inclusion for the sake of diversity and inclusion as a topic, or is it integrated into the program? Is there a variation in age and gender represented on your panel? It doesn’t mean that every program has to have a yes to all of these questions, but it at least guides people into thinking more comprehensively about diversity and inclusion in our programming.”
Like LaBoon, Barham has long been engaged with TLA, which she says has been both personally and professionally enriching. And her role as president-elect, and her role in programming the annual conference, has opened her eyes even further to the power of TLA. “Getting to engage with so many TLA members from everywhere—it’s just been so interesting to see people’s passions and commitment,” she says. “I’ve always appreciated it. But now I have this whole different level of appreciation, because so many people want to serve our organization.”
TLA Program Highlights
This year’s TLA conference will feature more than 700 speakers, 500 educational sessions, 200 authors, and more than 450 exhibiting companies, and a number of new programs are sure to have attendees buzzing.
As usual, the TLA Annual Conference features a star-studded lineup of authors and speakers. This year’s Opening Author session (Tues., Apr. 16, 1:15 p.m.) will feature Katherine Hall Page, author of the Faith Fairchild Mysteries, whose new book, The Body in the Wake (HarperCollins), will be out this summer, and Ben Mezrich, whose forthcoming Bitcoin Billionaires: A True Story of Genius, Betrayal, and Redemption (Flatiron) will be published in May.
Among the General Session speakers is veteran journalist (and proud Texan) Scott Pelley (Thurs., Apr. 18, 8 a.m.). Best known for his work on 60 Minutes and as anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News, Pelley has been a reporter and photographer more than 45 years. Pelley’s inspirational memoir, Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search for Meaning in the Stories of Our Times (Hanover Square), comes out in May.
And this year’s Closing Author Session will feature Meg Medina (Thurs., Apr. 18, 11:45 a.m.). Medina won the 2019 Newbery Medal for Merci Suarez Changes Gears (Candlewick).
A highlight of every TLA conference is the Texas Bluebonnet Awards luncheon (Weds., Apr. 17, noon). The Texas Bluebonnets are a nationally recognized children’s choice award program designed to encourage reading for pleasure among students in grades three through six. Each year, 20 books are chosen for the “master list” by a selection committee; if students read a minimum of five books from the master list, they can vote for their favorite title during January of each year. The 2019 winner is Patricia McCormick, for Sergeant Reckless: The True Story of the Little Horse Who Became a Hero (HarperCollins). McCormick will accept the award, presented by student representatives, during the luncheon.
New for 2019
TLA After Hours
Librarians in the Austin area who are stuck at work—because somebody has to staff the library—while everyone else is at TLA can join their colleagues at the first-ever TLA After Hours on Monday, April 15, at 7 p.m. The event, described as “programming at a casual pace,” will offer a mix of 15 sessions and fun activities, including a Lip Sync Battle and a talk by writer, comedian, and actor Thomas Lennon, author of Ronan Boyle & the Bridge of Riddles (Amulet).
On Tuesday, April 16, TLA is partnering with the Texas Association of Museums to feature programs focused on excellence in museum services. Colleen Dilenschneider (from IMPACTS Research & Development and the Know Your Own Bone blog) will present two such programs, and others will feature discussions on copyright, preserving memorials, engaging exhibits, managing special collections, and handling artifacts.
Comic Book Day
On Wednesday, April 17, at 4 p.m., TLA will feature a full program on graphic novels and comics, superheroes, Harry Potter, Dungeons and Dragons, and how to incorporate these genres, series, and activities into libraries. The event will also feature a cosplay fashion show and contest.