Free Direct Access
Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Education
10A33 Cultural Education Center
Albany, New York 12230
Phone: (518)474-5976; Fax: (518)474-2718
August 29, 1997
ITEM FOR DISCUSSION
TO: The Honorable the Members of the Board of Regents Committee on Cultural Education
SUBJECT: Regents Policy on Access to Library Service and Commissioner's Regulations on Free Direct Access
Over the past several months, a staff-appointed Task Force on Free Direct Access has been working on options to solve problems arising from the Regents longstanding "free direct access" library policy. "Free direct access" requires all public libraries within a system to loan their materials to a library card holder from any other library within that system.
The policy is aimed at ensuring the broadest possible access to information by all New Yorkers, regardless of circumstances. However, it has created tensions between communities which use tax levies to support their libraries well and those that choose to support theirs minimally or not at all.
Understandably, people from a community with a poor library are apt to make disproportionate use of neighboring libraries that are better equipped to serve them. When such use patterns become common, the residents of the community with the better library may find themselves unable to access materials because 20%, 30% or more of the library's materials are being loaned to people from outside the town.
Only in New York City, where the New York Public Library, the Queens Borough Public Library, and the Brooklyn Public Library serve all city residents through branches, is there no likelihood of this problem occurring. On the other hand, although the problem is statewide, Long Island and the greater metropolitan area have the majority of issues between communities.
The problem, then, is how to continue to work towards the goal of expanding free access to information for every new Yorker while discouraging the exploitation of one municipality by another that chooses not to support library services adequately. Regents reviewed their policy most recently in 1994. The staff recommended that, if a series of other municipality-directed remedies failed, the Regents should allow libraries to charge individuals from "over-use" communities for library cards. That recommendation caused deep concern among some Regents and Legislators as a step back from providing equity of access toinformation for all New Yorkers. After much deliberation, the Regents deferred action, pending more specific information on the incidence and nature of the problem.
At your September meeting, the Task Force will discuss its work and its preliminary draft report with you. Your questions and concerns will provide guidance to us as we begin field review. Following the Regents meeting, we will share the Task Force report with the field for comment; will lead discussions on it at the New York Library Association meeting in October; and will ask for review of staff's draft recommendations by the Regents Advisory Council on Libraries in November. Based on that input, we expect to bring recommendations to you for discussion at the December Regents meeting.
Attached is a summary of the Task Force's preliminary report. Should you wish the full report, I will send it to you. In your binder of background information on Cultural Education issues is full documentation of the past history of "free direct access." New members of the Committee will be receiving their binders under separate cover.