Testimony of New York Library Association
Mike Neppl, General Counsel & Director of Government Relations
Good afternoon. I’m Mike Neppl, and I serve as General Counsel and Director of Government Relations for the New York Library Association. Thank you for providing me the opportunity to testify today on behalf of our state’s local public, school, and academic libraries and library systems, and the more than 10 million New Yorkers who hold library cards.
I would like to begin by recognizing our partners and advocates in the Legislature for fighting back against Governor Cuomo’s attack on library funding last year, and especially for your efforts to secure $34M for the Public Library Construction Aid Program - a high-water mark in the program’s thirty-plus-year history. As you know, more than half our state’s local public libraries are now more than 60 years old, with another third now more than 30 years old. Your support for this program is changing communities and neighborhoods where needs are greater than available economic resources. We are incredibly appreciative of your efforts.
New York’s libraries are founded on the principle of open, equitable access to information for ALL New Yorkers When access to information is anything less than full, open, and equitable – when access to information has preconditions -- New Yorkers cannot be full participants in their own lives, their own story, or their own communities. This consistent underfunding has forced libraries into competition for limited resources, rather than cultivating the collaborative environment necessary to build integrated information environments that serve all New Yorkers.
Unfortunately, and once again, Governor Cuomo’s “Democracy Agenda” aggressively attacks local libraries and library services. This year’s Executive Budget slashes funding for library services to year-2000 levels, and cuts funding for the Public Library Construction Aid Program by 60%. This approach to library development is not just inequitable in relation to overall Education funding - it is improvident, incongruous, and incompatible with how New Yorkers view libraries -- as indispensable educational institutions in their communities.
I want to be clear about the implications here – this chronic failure to fully or fairly invest in library services and infrastructure means millions of New Yorkers are being “digitally disenfranchised.” Without immediate, aggressive investment, New York risks presiding over the creation of a permanent digital and information underclass. We must reverse this approach that divests our citizens from their full potential, institutionalizes inequity, and creates a culture of cold complacency rather than one of cooperation and civic engagement.
We are cognizant of the present fiscal challenges. The Governor and members of the Legislature will be confronted with increasingly difficult decisions about how best to allocate stagnant and shrinking revenues in a way that ensures every New Yorker is a full participant in their own story, the development of their community, and the direction of our state.
Equitable funding for libraries and library services is the best place to start.
Libraries Build Inclusive Communities
However, inclusive and diverse programming alone is not enough - for libraries to fully engage every individual they serve in civic life, there must be avenues to connect patrons to the local services they need. Increasingly, local public libraries are seeking to hire social workers to serve vulnerable patron populations. For libraries in less-advantaged communities – the communities which most need these services – local economic conditions prevent patrons from receiving connections to supportive services. Increased state library aid to place a social worker at each public library system will ensure all New Yorkers have access to supportive services in a trusted, inclusive local environment.
Libraries are Education
Quality Libraries & Library Services Combat Information Inequity
Without the digital and information services provided by their local libraries, New Yorkers would have been unable to sign up for health care coverage, complete college applications and student loan documents, find job opportunities, research the positions of elected officials and candidates, and review proposed state and local budget decisions that directly impact their daily lives.
For example: how effective would legislators be without access to information resources? Or if the information you received was from a source of unknown or questionable veracity? Or the degree of access to the information you needed was based on the wealth of the community from which you were elected? Those members without access, or without the resources to assess the quality of the information they receive, would not be full participants in the legislative process. This is the situation facing millions of New Yorkers, and it is creating a permanent “digital underclass.” This is not just inequitable - it is immoral.
Library Infrastructure is Rapidly Aging
New Yorkers Want You to Fight for Libraries!
Libraries are Education.
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