|photo: Ove Overmyer|
It's time we New Yorkers properly fund our libraries. You can contact your New York State officials here.
By Ove Overmyer
President, CSEA City of Rochester Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420 / Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County and the Monroe County Library System, NY
Library Systems: New York State’s Information Infrastructure
New York State has 74 library systems. They serve as the backbone of our state’s educational infrastructure-- working together to bring the world’s information to the local level. Library systems provide us with collaborative approaches that save local libraries, taxpayers and patrons money. There are public, school and regional library systems. In other words, library systems are cost effective delivery systems that are large enough to permit economies of scale in purchasing materials, services, and connectivity that smaller, individual libraries could never do on their own.
Why are library systems so important?
Cuts in Library Aid fall heaviest upon library systems. The state is responsible for whenever books or information travel across local boundaries. Libraries are part of the solution for those in search of digital connections and for those developing skills required by today’s competitive marketplace. However, unless strategic investments in New York State’s library systems are broadened and secured, libraries will not be able to continue to provide the innovative and critical services their communities so desperately need. Library systems are the intellectual lubrication that keeps the gears of New York’s economic engine moving in the right direction.
A brief history of NYS library funding
81 percent of library funding comes from local municipalities—only 9 percent comes from New York State. The 9 percent, which funds New York’s information infrastructure, has hardly kept pace with demand for system services.
From 1998 to 2006, libraries and library systems received no state funding increases, while other educational institutions received generous attention. When state revenues started to disappear, libraries were the first to receive cuts. Library Aid has been cut seven times in the last four years, from $102M in 2008 to $81M in the last fiscal year.
New Yorkers depend on their libraries more than ever
Community demand for libraries is up across the state, and so is the demand for library system services. From 2007 to 2010, visits to libraries in NYS increased by 5 million, while circulation of materials increased from 147 million to 165 million items-- and yet our funding has decreased significantly.
38 percent of Americans still do not have internet access at home. Nearly 73 percent of libraries are their communities' only source of free computer and Internet access-- and in rural areas that number rises to 82 percent.
Libraries also play an essential role in helping job seekers bridge the digital divide. 75 percent of all jobs listings are now online and at least 60 percent of prospective employers only accept online job applications. If it weren't for New York’s libraries, over 300,000 unemployed people would have no other option. In our faced-paced hurried lives, libraries also help us make sense of our tech-driven digital world.
There are currently over 10 million library card holders in NYS-- that is approximately 75 percent of New York households. No other state funded institution serves so many people with so little state funding.
Public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries and specialty libraries make it possible for all citizens to continue lifelong learning by just walking through our doors. However, under current funding trends, libraries and our library systems are having a difficult time keeping pace with demand for programs, products and services.
Restore Library Aid to $102 Million in the FY14-15 Budget
Once again, Governor Cuomo missed the mark by nearly $20M in proposed Library Aid ($81.6M) while planning his priorities for the 2014-15 Executive Budget. State Education law mandates the state fund libraries according to census and population statistics, which means the new proposal, is woefully inadequate. While not a cut from last year’s proposal, it does not include the $4M added by the legislature in last year’s enacted budget. Though this was not a cut targeted specifically at library aid-- the Governor failed to include all of last year’s legislative program adds in this budget-- breaking with precedent that has existed for several years. Also included was $1.3M MTA Tax reimbursement and $14M for the library construction aid program-- the same allocations as last year.
We need to raise our voice on behalf of all our New York libraries. Our message must be loud and it must be clear. Give library systems the financial resources necessary to continue to deliver the high quality of services New Yorkers have come to know, love and respect.
The good news here is that the Executive Budget is not yet finalized-- the Governor or the state legislature can include additional funding by submitting an amended budget by March 31, so the time to take action is NOW.
In the overall scheme of things, it saddens me to say that library funding represents less than one-tenth of one percent of the entire state budget. That is where libraries sit on the priority scale. Simply put, we can and must do better for the citizens of New York State. Libraries and library systems are part of the solution in solving some of our biggest challenges as a society. Library advocates need every library user to become a library champion. Together-- we can build a better New York.