NYLA Testifies at Assembly Library Committee Hearing

Part II

Assembly Hearing on Funding Public Libraries
November 29, 2011

Michael Borges
NYLA Executive Director

Good morning and thank you for letting me speak to you today about the impact of state funding cuts on library services and actions the Legislature can take to address the future needs of libraries.

Earlier this year, the Governor proposed a 7.3% cut in School Aid and a 2% cut in Municipal Aid (AIM), and yet libraries were targeted for a 10% cut.    Fortunately, the Legislature, particularly the Senate, was able restore $3 million of the proposed $8.45 million cut, for which we are very grateful.

Since the 2007-2008 state fiscal year, state funding for libraries has dropped from $102 million to $79 million or by 23%, during this same period state funding for schools dropped by 2%.  While school enrollment remained relatively flat at 3.1 million students since 2007, library visits increased from 112  to 117 million between 2007 and 2010, while circulation of materials increased from 147 to 165 million during the same time period.  There are currently over 10 million library card holders in the state.

The two essential points I am trying to make are:

First, libraries are educational institutions, chartered by the Board of Regents, administered by the state Education Department, receive state funding and local support and serve the educational needs of their communities just like schools do and yet time after time, we are the last to receive funding increases and the first to receive cuts, and disproportionate cuts at that. What the library community wants is parity, equity, fairness, call it what you will, we want to be treated the same as schools, the state courts have already recognized libraries as educational institutions, the time has come for the Legislature and Governor to follow suit.

Secondly, it is both bad public policy and defies the laws of supply and demand, to cut funding for a service that the public needs and wants. Library usage, like the need for unemployment insurance, heating assistance, food stamps, and job training increases during difficult economic conditions, like we are experiencing now and probably for the foreseeable future.  It does not make sense to cut funding for these support programs nor library services during tough economic times, especially when state aid for library services amounts to less than one tenth of one percent of the entire state budget.

Libraries have been and even more so today, essential to the communities they serve.  Libraries are essential to the 37% of the population without internet access at home and use the free access at the library.  Libraries are essential to the more than 8% or 750,000 New Yorkers who are unemployed and use the library to search and apply for jobs and public assistance, and improve their digital literacy skills. Libraries are essential to the 30,000 high school drop outs annually in this state that use the pre-GED and other pre-employment courses at the library to complete their education and improve their job skills.  Libraries are essential to the 200,000 students in our state who enroll in ESL courses.

Libraries were created by the philanthropists of the late 18th century to be the “universities of the streets” for the large majority of the population at the time who did not complete high school or could not afford to go to college.   Unfortunately, this role as “universities of the streets” is becoming a reality once more as the cost of a higher education has become increasingly unaffordable even for the middle class and when many are questioning the value of a traditional four year degree. I can foresee a time in the not too distant future when libraries begin offering accredited educational courses that can be used to attend college or obtain employment.  Libraries will provide an alternative path to the American Dream for many left behind on Main Street who did not benefit from the excess on Wall Street.

So what can the Legislature do, and particularly the Assembly, to meet the future needs of libraries?  First, take the lead in supporting libraries and not take a back seat to the Senate in securing restoration of Library Aid to 2007 levels. The Governor has proposed a 4% increase in School Aid next year, the Legislature’s response should be to treat Library Aid the same way.

Second, continue to be open minded and flexible in passing legislation that allows libraries to access other sources of state funding like Adult Literacy Education (ALE), Employment Preparation Education (EPE), Universal Pre-K and Workforce Development funds that can support the services and programs that libraries are providing in their communities.

Third, support legislation that allows libraries to partner with other governmental entities like BOCES to provide internet access, or that provide flexibility in procurement practices and in the allocation of library aid.  There are several legislative initiatives included in our 2012 Legislative Priorities that save libraries money or allow existing funds to be allocated more effectively.

Fourth, treat libraries the same as schools, whether its operational or construction funding, or minimum standards, or professional requirements, libraries are educational institutions and librarians are educators, and should be held to the same rigors and levels of accountability and support. If schools are exempt from the MTA payroll tax, then so should libraries.  If the Legislature passes legislation to exempt schools from the Wicks Law, then libraries should be included in that exemption.

Fifth, broadband access and high-speed internet connections are essential not only to our libraries  and other community anchor institutions, but to the viability of our economy.  Since libraries are a key provider of community internet access, a stable funding stream through a state Universal Service Fund should be created that supports broadband deployment, high speed access to libraries and schools, and digital literacy efforts to bridge the digital divide and expand the number of digitally literate New Yorkers.

Sixth, according to the state Library there is approximately $2.5 billion in library construction and renovation needs throughout the state and yet the state provides only $14 million annually for public library construction funds.  A modest increase to $20 million would be welcome.

And lastly, the Legislature and Governor need to recognize and support the library service delivery model in our state.  The 74 library systems in our state have been providing shared services, cost-sharing and cooperative initiatives for the past fifty years that has enabled our libraries to be one of the most cost effective public services available in almost every community in the state. When state funding for library services are cut, local libraries and their taxpayers have to make up the difference. So instead of punishing us for being so thrifty with public dollars, state policymakers should use us a model for how other local public services can be delivered in the most cost-effective manner possible.

Again, I want to thank the Assembly, and especially Committee Chair Bob Reilly for holding this hearing and for recognizing the need to do more for libraries.

Witness List

Jeffrey W. Cannell
Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Education and Acting State Librarian
State Education Department

Michael Borges, Executive Director
New York Library Association

Richard Reyes-Gavilian, Chief Librarian
   Brooklyn Public Library
Kevin Winkler, Deputy Director for Public Service
   New York Public Library
Maureen O’Connor, Director Programs & Services
   Queens Library

James L. Farrell, Jr., Director
   Ossining Public Library

Mary Ellen O’Connor, President
   Library Trustees Association of New York State

Terry Kirchner, Executive Director
   Westchester Library System

Sara Dallas, Director
   Southern Adirondack Library System
Alexandra Gutelius, Library Director
   Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library

Richard Naylor, Library Director
   William K. Sanford Town Library

Jane Suddaby, Trustee
   Onondaga County Public Library 
Amy Thorna, Literacy Coordinator
   Onondaga County Public Library
Yam Bhattarai, Student and Employee
   Onondaga County Public Library
Robert Hubsher, Executive Director
   Ramapo Catskill Library System
James Mahoney
   Nyack Library
Marilyn McIntosh
   Monroe Free Library

Mary Jean Jakubowski, Director
   Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System

Ristiina Wigg, Executive Director
   Southern Tier Library System
Denise King, Trustee
   Southern Tier Library System
Judy Cross, Trustee 
   Southern Tier Library System

Kevin Verbesey, Director
   Suffolk Cooperative Library System

Timothy Burke, Executive Director
   Upper Hudson Library System

Kimberly Iraci, Executive Director
   Finger Lakes Library System
Christine Griffin, President, Board of Trustees
   Finger Lakes Library System
Sally Eller
   Trustee, Finger Lakes Library System
   President, Edith B. Ford Memorial Library

Mike Nyerges, Executive Director
   Mid-Hudson Library System

Jean K. Sheviak, Executive Director
   Capital District Library Council

Wanda Bruchis, Executive Director
  Mid York Library System
Darby O’Brien, Library Director
  Utica Public Library