Rochester, N.Y. – Let’s get straight to the point. According to a NYS Section of the Regulations of the Commissioner of Education, a single set of 11 basic standards assures equivalent levels of access to public library services and resources. Meeting this minimum threshold is imperative in order to satisfy the informational and educational needs of all our local residents and to be compliant with state funding requirements established many years ago.
These standards promote quality local public library service in all our communities. Additionally, these standards empower libraries to strengthen community relations and support a culture of transparency, accountability, and continuous improvement.
One of these most important benchmarks or standards required by NYS Education Law is that communities with heavy population densities like ours require Central Libraries to remain open for a minimum of 55 hours per week. In some rare instances, variances are requested but are never encouraged by the governing Board of Regents.
Education law also stipulates that libraries must maintain our facility to meet community demand, including adequate staffing, space requirements, proper lighting, shelving, programming, seating, and all that other jazz it takes to keep our doors open and for us to function well.
With that being said, the County Executive’s budget proposal for flat funding for the Monroe County Library System jeopardizes these basic minimum standards. Specifically speaking, the Monroe County Library System and the Central Library have received no funding increases since 2003 and have been relying on fund reserves to keep afloat. I would argue that the total net county support for libraries should be increased to match the demand required by state law and adjusted for the rate of inflation.
Generally speaking, the 2013 Monroe County Budget clearly does not give us the resources necessary to meet the minimum required standard for operating the Central Library downtown. Additionally, under this budget proposal, library administrators and advocates will no longer be able to carry out our long-range plan of service. It would be incumbent on the Monroe County Legislature to amend the budget proposal and increase the RPL Central Services Section of appropriations.
I’m often asked what makes a good library a great library—and I tell them with no hesitation—it’s our people. Any bricks and mortar library can house books and computers, but what really makes strong libraries and strong library systems are the dedicated workers who deliver the vital public services. And, when you look at our County’s one billion dollar spending plan for 2013, surely we come up with a funding strategy that will right-size our libraries, adhere to the NYS Education Law and give Monroe County residents the kind of functioning libraries we so desperately deserve.
President, City of Rochester Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420
This op-ed does not reflect the views of CSEA as an organization.