Friday, January 9, 2015

Libraries Build Strong Communities; Fund them Properly

By Ove Overmyer

For several years now, the NYS Governor's office and the Executive Branch continue to ignore state mandated levels for NYS Library Aid, underfunding library systems by more than $20 Million. This is pretty shameful considering annual budgetary expenditures that total nearly $133 Billion. That means total library funding for all New York residents is less than one-tenth of one percent. Aren't libraries worth more to us?

Every budget year, the state legislature has to step in to increase the paltry sum proposed by the Governor and its never enough. Libraries have been doing more with less for too long. While some say that library funding is small potatoes in the big scheme of things, library advocates disagree. We know we have to educate legislators to the idea that libraries are no longer "dusty depositories." We are often the cultural and informational center of every local community in this state. This chronic budget conundrum means a great deal to local economies and to the communities we serve. We can do better. After all, we are the Empire State, aren't we?

Library systems are New York State’s information infrastructure

New York State has 74 library systems. They serve as the backbone of our state’s information infrastructure. In other words, library systems are cost effective delivery systems of information and data that are large enough to permit economies of scale in purchasing materials and services that smaller, rural libraries could never do on their own. There are public library systems, school library systems and systems known as the 3 R’s, or regional library systems.

When you poorly fund libraries, New York’s leading industries might as well kiss “Research & Development” goodbye. NYS library systems provide us with shared products and services and collaborative approaches that save municipal governments, hospitals, corporations, small businesses and taxpayers money. Library systems are the intellectual lubrication that keeps New York’s economic engine moving in the right direction.

Why are library systems so important?

Cuts in NYS Library Aid fall heaviest upon library systems. The state is responsible for wherever books or information travel across local boundaries. So, for statewide services, we need targeted state funding to address the increasing demand for shared databases, catalogs and interlibrary loan of information, data and materials. Since most corporate libraries are now defunct, our economy has turned to resources and information provided by library systems.

A brief history of NYS Library Aid funding

When state revenues disappeared during the great recession around 2008, libraries and library systems were the first to receive cuts. Library Aid has been cut eight times in the last five years, from $102 million in 2008 to $84 million in the last fiscal year.

NYS Library Aid is administered through NYS Department of Education. Unfortunately, libraries continue to receive less funding than other educational institutions. NYS libraries are chartered by the same Board of Regents that oversees school, colleges and BOCES funding. What library advocates are requesting is to be treated with same consideration as these other institutions. Libraries are the people’s university-- places where people of all ages can go for lifelong learning and improve their station in life. 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 mandated levels

New York State Education law mandates the state fund libraries according to census and population statistics, which means the Executive and Legislative branches of New York State government have been consistently and knowingly violating existing statutes for several years. If NYS library systems were funded correctly by present formulas, funding would be near $102 Million. That number is still totally unacceptable. When the formula was created over a decade ago, it did not account for the explosion and rising costs of new technology transformations we have experienced these past few years.

Not fully funding library systems is extremely counterproductive. The library community has long been a champion and role model for regional cooperation, resource sharing and providing services in a cost-effective and efficient manner. According to the NYS Education Department, for every dollar invested in libraries, patrons receive seven dollars worth of services. That is a pretty good ROI, don’t you agree? Give library systems the financial resources necessary to continue to deliver the high quality of library services New Yorkers have come to know, love and respect.

Let’s be clear-- libraries and library systems are part of the solution to what ails our local communities. Properly funding our libraries would be a good start on our road to recovery. We need everyone to become a library champion. Together—we can build a better New York.

Overmyer is President, CSEA City of Rochester, NY Library Workers Local 828 Unit 7420.

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