Report to the Regents Cultural Education Committee, May 16, 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.

This timeless quote from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities sums up the state of New York’s libraries in 2011. Libraries are experiencing unprecedented use and yet are facing the most severe financial crisis in history. At a time when libraries provide an even wider window to the world’s collected knowledge, librarians are facing layoffs, libraries are closing doors or limiting hours, and budgets for materials and online resources are being slashed. Libraries experience first-hand the public’s hunger for information, education and learning. What a wonderful thing for New York; an informed, literate population is the key to our future success. Libraries can and do provide the sustenance that can nourish that hunger, but we are forced to turn away those seeking knowledge as our operations cannot be properly supported.

Students, families and adults need free access to libraries and all that libraries have to offer, whether in a physical space or virtually. Librarians and the key stakeholders that support libraries – the Board of Regents, elected officials, customers, trustees, donors, community activists, and volunteers – are experiencing the most dramatic changes in the delivery of information and use of libraries that have ever been encountered. Librarians are rising to the occasion and redefining what library service means in the digital age. We’re changing lives, educating New Yorkers and improving the quality of life in our state.

Technology has fundamentally changed the way libraries operate.  User expectations have changed. Many libraries need assistance in maintaining excellent quality of service, and in developing the framework from which to base the new service model.

But what is that model? How do libraries get there?  The Regents Advisory Council approached the Board of Regents last year with a request: to support the RAC and New York’s libraries by authorizing a new Commission on Libraries. Faced with the reality of no available funding for the study, the Board of Regents instead challenged the RAC to take on this project. The