Lack of Funding Leads to Horror Stories for New York's Libraries
by Dana Willbanks, NYLA Communications and Marketing Manager
Outdated heating and cooling systems. Leaky ceilings. Overcrowding. Inaccessible rooms and spaces.
Library staff are all too used to dealing with these issues, as well as the consistent lack of funding from New York that propagates them. Yet libraries still manage to provide amazing programs and resources to their communities, despite these ongoing infrastructure problems.
New York’s libraries are reaching a critical point, however. The Public Library Construction Aid Program has not seen an increase in funding in a decade, despite a recent report from the State Education Department that $2.2 billion is desperately needed for aging public library infrastructure projects across New York. About half of our libraries are more than 60 years old, and the deteriorating condition of many of them makes very apparent the need for increased funding of a program that has remained stagnant at $14 million annually.
While this situation is tragic and frustrating for library staff who have to spend part of their days emptying buckets hastily placed under leaky ceilings, or explain that, yet again, an area of the library is temporarily closed due to crumbling stairs or inadequate heating, it is the library patrons who are being denied access to an essential resource by this consistent lack of funding. In this time of ongoing economic uncertainly, library usage is up across all demographics but especially among sections of society that most need access. In households making less than $50,000 annually, for example, library usage is up an impressive 20%; for about one quarter of these same households, libraries account for their sole source of internet service.
I’ve heard the argument that “everyone is broke, including New York State” and that “an increase in funding for libraries just isn’t feasible”. That argument loses merit, however, when one considers the State’s recent 5-year, $900 million commitment to the state park system, and the nearly $10 billion pledged towards improving transportation infrastructure in the upcoming budget. While those are also both important and deserving causes, so is fair and equitable access to the wealth of education and resources housed in New York’s libraries.
NYLA has made the funding of the Public Library Construction Aid Program one of its 2016 legislative priorities. We asked for, and quickly obtained, the signatures of all of New York’s 23 Public Library System Directors on an open letter to Governor Cuomo urging him to support this Program. Lauren Moore, Director of the Pioneer Library System, perfectly articulated the urgent economic need for adequate funding:
“For the communities in our region, the local public library is a critical education resource, and is often the last line of defense for troubled local economies… A real commitment to the Construction Aid Program will directly inject money and jobs into every community with a public library.”
We believe in the axiom that a picture is worth a thousand words, and are therefore augmenting these powerful words with even more powerful images. NYLA put out a call to libraries across the state, soliciting their Library Horror Stories and photographic evidence that New York is failing its libraries and its residents. The response has been overwhelming; we’ve received truly heartbreaking photos that show inaccessible or overcrowded spaces, cracks in floors, water damage, and aging heating and cooling equipment. The frustration is palpable in the emails that accompany these images; most have just become used to dealing with these ongoing problems, and keep extra duct tape and garbage bags on hand for when the roof leaks yet again.
This situation is becoming increasingly critical and should not be something that library staff or patrons simply become resigned to. Libraries need the New York State legislature to step up and fully fund the Public Library Construction Aid Program - before it’s too late.
To view the photos, please click here. You can also join us in person to fight for YOUR library on Library Advocacy Day, March 2, 2016 in Albany, NY.
Images (from left to right): the roof at Field Library Children's Room leaks during any type of precipitation; Gloversville Public Library's stacks are tight and inaccessible; Niagara Falls Public Library was built on slag and, 40 years later, is settling - leading to dangerous cracks in the floor.