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Martindale Library thankful for all it has

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By Kyle Mooty

LPR Editor

With Thanksgiving approaching and the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic in the past, the Martindale Community Library has plenty for which to be thankful.

It has been quite a ride for the library, which is beginning to see the fruits of its labor.

In 2021, Carol Deviney retired as director of the Martindale Community Library, becoming the new Grants Administrator of the library. Ashley Guerrero took over as director and Deviney said in Guerrero’s first day on the job, there was paperwork for her to sign regarding a grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), as it was applying for the TSLAC Navigator Grant.

“It was money for Texas libraries from Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) for just shy of $70,000 to purchase technology, training modules, and a digital navigator to train the residents in the Martindale Community Library area.,” Deviney said. “This was a big jump for our little library.”

In December 2021, Martindale received word that its library had been chosen as a recipient of the TSLAC Digital Navigator grant for the full amount requested.

“What a great Christmas gift that was,” Deviney said. “As strange as it sounds, this was one of the good things that came out of Covid. The pandemic brought out the fact that there is an immense digital divide in Caldwell County. Those who have internet and technology really don’t realize how many people around here do not have technology in their homes. This is why the TSLAC Digital Navigator is a grant to make a difference to many families in Martindale area, and also for those in Texas who had a library successfully submit for the Digital Navigator Grant.”

COVID had caused the Martindale Community Library and many others to close for a short period, an unfortunate timing as it was AARP tax season. When tax services opened again, the national offices changed the way they were going to handle signing up for tax appointments. The appointments had to be scheduled online by the customer.

“When we contacted our regular customers by phone to tell them of the change, I realized how many of our residents did not have computers, tablets, or even internet at home,” Deviney said. “We started making appointments for them in the library. As I talked to them, asking if they were staying healthy and signing up for the vaccines, again I heard even more people saying they didn’t have any technology to sign up for online appointments. Then began the concentrated effort to start looking for ways to help our community residents. Not many people were visiting the library still, so I was looking through grants and available funding. The COVID closing also caused us to lose our library fundraising abilities so grant funding was the only way we could help them. Thank goodness there was Cindy Fisher and Bethany Wilson at TSLAC to help step me successfully through the grant process.”

The TSLAC grant gave the Martindale Community Library money for purchasing technology, purchasing a training module in both English and Spanish, and digital navigator (the person who teaches the modules). Due to the fact this was a “new” program for Texas. Martindale had to be flexible and learn how to make this program happen. Martindale was the smallest rural library in the group of libraries to receive the grant.”

“We had some unique situations to overcome that the larger cities did not,” Deviney said. “Anyone who is living in Martindale will tell you about the lack of internet service we have here. The original company we were going to use for internet only covered half of Martindale. That wasn’t going to work. So, back to the drawing board to find a company that covered all of Martindale and some of the out-reaching areas. We finally found one and they were willing to work with us. I thought finding the internet service provider was going to take the majority of time. I was wrong. Once the equipment arrived, we had our IT support person initialize it all. After that, the equipment was sent to San Francisco to develop the training modules specifically to the equipment and then translate it to Spanish. It was a hurry-up-and-wait situation at every step and very frustrating. We wanted to begin the disbursement of equipment and the training, but it was wait, wait, and wait.”

The Martindale Community Library is now at the point where it is identifying people who don’t have any technology or internet in their home. It is helping people sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) where the government gives reduced internet rates to families who qualify.

“We will have a limited number of laptops and tablets for our Learn to Earn program,” Deviney said. “If they sign up for a tablet or computer, they must successfully complete eight classes and they will earn the equipment to keep for their family use. The goal is to get the technology in the residents’ homes while learning to use the equipment. We will be helping Martindale families close the Digital Divide that is in the small rural towns.

“The problem now is we are at the end of the grant period, and we need to identify more households in Martindale who need help. Although the funding time ends, we have the equipment and the training modules so we can continue the Learn to Earn program into the spring. We will be training at the library and the Martindale Soup Kitchen until learners are able to attend the training online. They can then finish the training at home, finalize the lessons, and earn the equipment.”

Deviney said the library is hoping to find additional funding to continue the purchase of equipment and teaching computer literacy to those who need it. Meanwhile, anyone who needs help with technology can visit the Martindale Community Library.

Other reasons Deviney said the Martindale Community Library has to be thankful includes the fiber optic network through a federal e-rate applied for a few years ago. The library has three high-speed public computers it received through a Tocker Foundation grant. Additionally, it has several laptops obtained through an American Library Association grant. The Tocker Foundation grant also paid for WiFi extenders so residents visiting downtown can access the library WiFi 24/7.

“We have recently updated our public printer/scanner through another TSLAC grant so residents can now copy and keep paperwork through digital files,” Deviney said. “Hopefully, some of our residents were able to attend the Thursday Outdoor Movies in Martindale this past summer and October. Those were made available through a TSLAC grant.”

Also, Humanities Texas made the library’s Summer Reading program and PreK Storytime available again. Sage Bank helped fund the annual Kite Day in the Martindale’s Bates Park. Native Seeds has generously given the library a grant for native wildflowers to bring beauty and establish a new ecosystem in the parks. Saint David’s Hospital has a new initiative with Libraries For Health to help libraries bring health and wellness to Martindale. The library has been chosen as one of the recipients of the Libraries for Health program. And the Caldwell County Community Service Foundation funded the library for various databases, e-book programs, computer programs, and other subscriptions. All of these foundations felt there was “something” in Martindale and felt funding library programs to help its residents was worth their attention. Almost all the grant monies were provided to programs to benefit the residents in Martindale and not library operations. Most of these grants couldn’t have happened without library accreditation from the State of Texas.

“Accreditation is something we work to keep each year,” Deviney said. “It means we have accomplished the qualitative and quantitative standards set for all public libraries in Texas. Hopefully, we can continue reaching out to help Martindale. Even though we are one of the lowest-funded libraries in the state, we are providing many services for Martindale residents. We want the residents to come by the library if they need technology or lessons, if they have ideas for more library programs for the community, or just to say hello. We look forward to seeing everyone at the library. We have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.”

If residents want to know more about the Learn to Earn classes, the independent, non-profit Martindale Community Library can be reached at 512-357-4492.

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