Today is moving day at the Texas Center for the Book. I headed to the state’s main library, home of the Texas State Library and Archives and the site where the Center for the Book will be located.
I met the man you could call the state’s chief librarian: Mark Smith. He describes the treasures housed at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission – early photos of Texans posing in clothes you don’t see anymore, various state flags our ancestors displayed, even a document signed by Queen Victoria.
He’s passionate about the archives and he wants to share them with the public. But there’s not a lot of foot traffic here. It’s mostly researchers who visit. Smith hopes locating the Center here will get people in to engage with each other and with the state’s rich history and many cultures.
“Libraries are really transitioning to a new model,” Smith says. “It’s an exciting model where libraries are hubs for learning and education, for technology access and growth for life-long learning… a place where people can go and interact with each other in a non-threatening environment and break some of the barriers that sometimes exist between people in our society.”
It turns out the Center for the Book is more of an idea than an actual place – this is just the place for planning. Instead the Center will go to the people. Smith is coordinating with libraries all over the state to hold events at local libraries: author readings, writing competitions and even cooking competitions.
So, to introduce this big idea, the Texas Center for the Book is holding an open house of sorts at the Capitol tomorrow, encouraging some of the thousands of people here for the Texas Book Festival to stop by. This first event will highlight the work of an author who looks like much of Texas: children’s author Carmen Lomas Garza.
“For children who don’t feel that their culture – I’m talking about the Mexican-American culture, the Latino culture – is celebrated or recognized in the general population of the United States, when they see the artwork, my artwork, they feel validation,” Garza says. “They feel like their culture is being celebrated.”
The Texas Center for the Book wants to highlight Texas authors to Texans. The primary goal is to promote literacy, because a passion for learning and exploration doesn’t just happen. Lomas Garza says she was bit by the library bug when she was in 5th grade.
“We went on a school trip to the public library for the first time,” she says. “And every kid got a new library card and I was so excited that I told my parents and they decided from now on we would go to the library every Saturday afternoon.”
Smith hopes that the Center for the Book will even get people who gave up on libraries a long time ago to rediscover them, whether that’s digitally or on paper.