Thursday, January 9, 2014

Gutting Our History: Public library slashes Texana and genealogy resources

Posted By on Thu, Jan 9, 2014 at 6:09 PM

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San Antonio Public Library

Update 5:50pm Friday, Jan 10: We heard back from Caitlin Cowart, Community and Public Relations Manager for San Antonio Public Library, who said that plans to cut the Texana and Genealogy staff and hours have been shelved for now. (We heard this change was at the request of at least one councilperson.) The library is "not making any changes to services at this point," she said, and noted that the San Antonio Public Library Foundation will continue to raise funds to support those departments.

With the 300th anniversary of the founding of San Antonio coming in 2018, a great many people and organizations have invoked our long and fabled history as a platform for action. Councilmember Diego Bernal and the editorial board of the Express-News have called for a new effort to re-envision and plan the environs of the Alamo, with the aim of restoring the original footprint of the Spanish mission and telling of the “momentous history” that happened there. The Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce has purveyed its own vision of the “Pathway to a Great City” by 2018.

Yet even as we venerate our city’s history, our city government and public officials seem determined to make it less accessible, less accurate and less substantial.  For a great many years, the Texana and Genealogy Department of the San Antonio Public Library has been a prime repository of that history. Readily accessible to the general public and specialized academic researchers (like me), Texana has held and grown a broad and important collection of materials on San Antonio’s history and development.  From a wealth of official city reports and documents to publications of the Chamber of Commerce and community organizations to invaluable clipping files and the 1930s “Public Health Survey” that documents the city’s venereal disease problem and rampant prostitution, the department’s resources are a vital first stop to anyone seeking to understand how this city was really shaped and who shaped it.

But now the Texana’s materials and services are about to be made enormously less accessible and available, perhaps even eliminated altogether. San Antonio Public Library director Ramiro Salazar chose to cut the department’s hours by 50 percent, to just 20 hours per week effective February 1. With that cut will come the departure of two of the department’s four staff members, including department head Frank Faulkner. Those staff reductions are perhaps the most problematic element of the cutback, because it means that the people who have built the collection and who regularly serve as guides to the city’s history will leave, taking with them years of knowledge and experience. The Current has called Salazar’s office and not received a response.

It is a most curious outcome, a most perplexing administrative decision. Has the city budget become so strained and limited that a major service of the library system has to be cut in half and perhaps eliminated? Can a community that aspires to be a “great city” with a “great downtown” not find sufficient funding to support a major public resource for historians, genealogists and the interested public? Why do a mayor and city manager who tout the city’s outstanding credit rating and find the money for a host of new public initiatives such as Café Commerce and Café College not attach some import to making our community’s history available to anyone and everyone?

A developer can tear down the Univision building and the “pink elephant” of Fiesta Plaza can be demolished, but we need to remember them, and maintain the record of who we are and what we did.

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