Losing our libraries

Here’s what the Legislature’s proposed budget cuts will really do to our library systems

PHYLLIS GUEST | Special Contributor

In their rush to close the biennial budget gap — brought about by a barely acknowledged statewide recession and a badly flawed statewide tax policy — the Texas governor and legislature are defunding our future.

No doubt you have read that the lege proposes enormous cuts to K-12 education and higher education. You may not have read that the same lege proposes to totally defund the Texas public library system.

Here’s what that means:

• Texshare Databases will lose $8 million. Texshare is a program through which all of the state’s public libraries, public and private universities, community colleges and libraries of clinical medicine gain access to information on topics from art to Zen.

• K-12 Database will lose $5 million. This statewide program offers thousands of full-text educational resources to students in Texas public schools. Think homework help.

• Loan Star Libraries will lose $13.4 million. This direct aid program provides grants to about 500 of the state’s public libraries, allowing them to extend hours, buy collections and equipment and offer educational programming.

• Remaining statewide programs will lose $3.5 million. This represents the elimination of money for upgrading systems, training staff and assisting bilingual learners.

When these four are cut to save the state just under $30 million over the two-year budget, a fifth source of funding will disappear:

The federal government provides $8 million in library support. But the feds only help states that help themselves; no participation means Texas forfeits all the money that now sustains interlibrary loans, job search software and hardware and outreach to rural and other underserved communities.

The Dallas Public Library System alone will lose $300,000 under the legislature’s proposals. It would be hard to overestimate the impact of such a loss, given that city of Dallas budget shortfalls over the past two years have forced cutbacks in staff and hours and that the coming budget year looks as bad or worse.

Not willing to let our libraries go down without a fight? Here are five things you can do:

• Find out more at txla.org/take-action

• Sign the petition you will find at that website.

• Call and email and write your state senator and representative.

• Write letters to the Dallas Morning News and other media.

• Check out the Oak Lawn Library (best LGBTQA collection).

• Volunteer at your local library and join its Friends group.

While our elected officials and media tell us Texas is the best of all possible worlds, we know that is untrue. We also know that it’s up to us to fight for our state’s intellectual infrastructure — and our future.

Phyllis Guest is a Democratic and LGBT activist living in Dallas.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2011.

—  John Wright

Students building Equality at Eastfield College

BUILDING EQUALITY | When Philomena Aceto, right, realized that Eastfield College had no LGBT organization on campus, she and another student decided to start one themselves. Judith Dumont, left, signed on as the fledgling group’s faculty advisor.

Snow delays start of Eastfield College GSA, but organizers say first meeting will be rescheduled

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

MESQUITE — Eastfield College was the largest of the area’s community colleges without a Gay Straight Alliance, according to student Philomena Aceto. But now Aceto is working to change that.

Aceto — whose partner is longtime activist Dawn Meifert and who has her own history as an activist — began working on her degree at Eastfield last summer. She met Kris Fleskes, another student, and they realized there was no representation for the LGBT community on the more than 18,000-student campus.

Other area two-year colleges have GSAs and campus LGBT alliances. Last fall, P.R.I.S.M., which stands for Promoting Respect In Sexual Minorities, opened successfully at Navarro Community College in Corsicana. The GSA at Richland College, the largest Dallas County Community College, meets twice a month.

“Let’s start one,” Aceto urged Fleskes.

Any campus group must have a faculty advisor but faculty cannot start a group themselves. So Fleskes and Aceto met with two Eastfield staff members, Judith Dumont and Kristie Vowels.

Dumont, former director of Youth First Texas, is now the faculty advisor for the new group.

When she began working at Eastfield last summer, Dumont said, she tried to make her office the safe space on campus for the LGBT community and indicated that by putting an HRC sticker and “proud ally” stickers on her door.

She said she cheered when the two students approached her about starting the GSA.

Aceto said Vowels told her, “You are exactly what we’ve been praying for.”

The group’s first meeting has been postponed twice because of weather. Aceto said that’s just giving her more time to promote the club in classes and on campus.

“I’m out preaching it every day,” Aceto said. “This isn’t about being gay. It’s about equality.”

To emphasize that point, they’re calling their group Equality.

Aceto said she’s has been running up against some resistance and a lot of indifference in an area she called one of the most conservative in Dallas County.

“We’re curious how the campus will receive us,” Dumont said.

She attended advisor training and said there was no reaction when she announced the name of the group she would facilitate.

“I’m hoping everything will be OK,” she said.

But Dumont agreed that the campus was very conservative.

“There were raised eyebrows on campus when I didn’t change my name after I got married in November,” she said.

Aceto said she would like to bring some interesting speakers to campus and produce some creative programming.

“We want to go after bullying,” she said.

Dumont said the group was important as a safe space not just for students, but for faculty, staff and administrators as well.

She said she’s already planning to participate in National Day of Silence. Last year, Dumont organized that event among students who are active with Youth First Texas.

Eastfield College was closed on Wednesday, Feb. 9, the most recent launch date for Equality. Aceto said the group would reschedule over the next week.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 11, 2011.

—  John Wright