Update Seven (December 19, 2009)
from Bernard A. Margolis, New York
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State Budget: What a shocker! After months of press reports demonstrating and lauding increased library use around the state and the critical library role helping people in hundreds of ways to deal with today's economic challenges, the final "Deficit Reduction Plan" included a 12.5% cut in the remaining library state aid programs! This means a cut of just under 5% of this year's State Aid to Libraries budget. Over twenty months time library aid support has been reduced from $102 million to $87 million -- now equal to funding support in 1998. The 12.5% reduction was part of across-the-board cuts to a wide range of local assistance programs including social services, health care, aging, mental hygiene, transit and higher education. While libraries were not singled out for these cuts, their impact on the library community is substantial and for some, devastating! While I know there are many points of view on the matter, it should be noted that some believe that these cuts were necessary to avoid raising taxes and fees and will result in saving jobs as well as "reforming government". One State Senator wrote to his constituents, describing the legislative actions as reducing the deficit "without tax-hiking mid-year school cuts". He added, " ...now is no time for celebration".
So…what is it time for!? Turn your concerns into action. Communicate with your legislators. Tell them your stories. Be sure that your customers know of the impact of these funding cuts and know how to contact their elected officials. Rather than closing your doors, I suggest something more in keeping with our commitment to service like turning your lights and computers off for a day AND REMAINING OPEN to the public. Can we use this as a further chance to educate our local officials as well as legislators about our programs and how indispensable they are? Can we demonstrate that libraries of every type are tools for economic recovery? Can we turn the lemons into lemonade? I actually like brownies better than lemonade. Can we turn the lemons into brownies?!
ARIA Setback: Legislation to support the use of economic development funds to assist research and academic institutions in purchasing expensive and specialized database resources was vetoed by the Governor. Despite overwhelming legislative support, the ARIA legislation will not become law. The Governor, in his veto message, welcomed the idea and appears supportive of discussions to incorporate the ARIA proposal into next year's budget. The New York State Higher Education Initiative (NYSHEI) will be pushing hard to move the concept forward.
Broadband Stimulus Funding: We still are waiting to learn if the two federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) grant requests from the State Library/State Education Department will be funded. With a huge number of applicants for funds for both 'Public Computing Centers' and 'Sustainable Adoption' programs, it is no surprise that the feds have delayed any announcements. The beginning of November was the latest announcement target. Now we have learned that it could be as late as February 2010. We appreciate your patience. In the meantime, we are assessing whether we should gear-up for a Round Two funding application. We do not yet know what the criteria or requirements will be. The New York State Library has developed a website to help libraries preparing applications for federal stimulus broadband funds for anticipated funding in 2010. The website is at: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/btop/. If we apply for Round Two funds, we will want to again apply for a statewide initiative. Please tell me if you are interested in participating. More fun awaits.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Helps: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced a new grant to the New York State Library of $947,517 on December 1. The State Library will use these foundation funds to execute a statewide broadband plan to improve and maintain Internet connections in 70 eligible local libraries. New York has partnered with the foundation since early 2009 to develop strategies for upgrading and sustaining Internet connections in public libraries beyond 1.5 mbps, as well as raising federal E-rate participation rates among libraries. New York was one of seven states with a high number of libraries without high-speed Internet access that were struggling to increase their bandwidth for customers.
Risk Taking: The popular and business press is filled with discussion about ‘risk'. The genesis of this I am sure is the perilous economic times in which we find ourselves. It might also be the concerns about the impact of the H1N1 strain of the flu, or the ever-present concerns about terrorism. Clearly we live in a world with risk. What is there to learn from this discussion about risk for the world of libraries? Are libraries at risk? Should we be taking more risks? The latest Harvard Business Review (October 2009) might give you some insights from the business/management world perspective about risk. Read ahead for a librarian's perspective. From the library world view, most people see the intersection of libraries and politics as the riskiest. This intersection occurs every time a library places an issue on the ballot for public election. The remarkable news is that an assessment by the Library Development staff at the State Library shows that over the last three years 97.7% of ALL library election requests were positively approved by voters. (See http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/libs/pldtools/guide/bdgtvte.htm for the full statistic review). This is phenomenal! Library budgets, budget increases, building projects and the creation of library districts have all been approved. I hope that every public policymaker is aware of the deep support for libraries from voters in diverse communities around the state. I know of no other community institution which commands this level of support ….and respect. Of course, this is also informative for library boards and trustees considering public votes. Simply stated, there is not much risk. Go for it!
In libraries one of the other major threads around the topic of risk is concern for the preservation and conservation of collections. We are losing our patrimony as our collections age and our resources do not keep pace with the requirements for storage, conversion to other formats (including digitization), and preservation. And, of significant note, is the loss of the records of the formative years of the latest technology revolution. Many of the records of the Internet (the world's largest and most extensive copy and distribution machine) are already gone. How can we better deal with this risk? Awareness is a key part of the education process. Are there collaborative ways of dealing with the serious work at hand? You might want to review the results of a recent survey of New York cultural institutions concerning their preservation needs which will shape a new statewide preservation plan at http://www.oce.nysed.gov/imls08/.
New York State Center for the Book: I am very pleased and excited that the Library of Congress' Center for the Book under the wonderful leadership of John Cole has given the nod for the New York State Center for the Book to move from its long-time home at the Syracuse University Libraries to a new roost at the New York Library Association. Suzanne Thorin, University Librarian, and Pamela McLaughlin, Director of Communications and External Relations and Executive Director of the Center for the Book, have given great support to the Center at Syracuse. As the Center for the Book moves, it joins NYLA's initiative to create the Empire State Book Festival. The first festival will be April 9th and 10th, 2010 at the Empire State Plaza adjacent to the New York State Library in Albany. This is a great synergy and affords the chance for a broad statewide celebration of books, writers, readers, publishers, librarians and all who care about books. Mark your calendars for April 9th and 10th. Over 60 authors have already signed on to be part of the 1st Annual Empire State Book Festival. Congratulations and thanks to Michael Borges and NYLA for these important initiatives.
The Talking Book and Braille Library (TBBL): A major transition is occurring with the Talking Book and Braille Library at the State Library. Not only have we transitioned to a new internal computer operating system for managing the services provided, but we have also begun the first distribution of "new" digital machines and begun the first downloading of online talking books. Thousands of readers (listeners) will be receiving new (much smaller and lighter weight) machines on which to play books and magazines. This important service is available free to anyone who cannot read 'normal' print or who cannot hold a book. It is easy to get signed up. If you know of individuals who would benefit from this great service, please contact TBBL. Contact via telephone is (518) 474-5935 or toll free at 1-800-342-3688 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are a resident of New York City, please contact the Andrew Heiskell Braille & Talking Book Library at (212) 206-5400; TDD: (212) 206-5458; email: email@example.com or if you live on Long Island, contact: Long Island Talking Book Library (LITBL), phone: (631) 286-1600; TDD (631) 286-4546.
Libraries and Elections: I recently presented testimony at a legislative hearing hosted by the Assembly Committee on Elections joined by the Committee on Education and the Committee on Libraries and Education Technology. We are fortunate to have the Assembly's only professional librarian, Assemblywoman Joan L. Millman, (Brooklyn-D) serving as the Election Committee Chair. She was joined by Library Committee Chair Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and for a brief time by Education Committee Chair Catherine T. Nolan as well as other committee members. The focus of the hearing was the impact of the shift from lever style voting machines to the new technologies for voting being required by the federal government. Of course, libraries are the locations used in many communities for voting and at least are usually the site for the library's own elections. While I shared concerns about the cost implications of the new technology for libraries, I also volunteered all of the state's libraries for a job in which we successfully participated decades ago: helping to educate voters to the new technologies for voting. Gauging by the reactions to my testimony, some people were surprised that I would volunteer libraries for this critical civic education role. I was pleased with the opportunity to share the belief and practice that an informed citizenry is essential to democracy and is the very reason that a vibrant, well supported system of libraries is required for our democracy to operate and flourish. You will be hearing more about the changes in how we vote and I hope that every library can be a place where citizens can get reliable information on voting – and more!
Details, Details: The devil is in the details is an often-noted phrase to alert us to the numerous requirements for effective living. This is intended to be a friendly reminder about some of the details that are part of the world of New York's public library operations. You will find much of this information in the "Library Trustee Handbook" which is available on the State Library's website at: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/pltrust/handbook/index.html#BoardMeetings.
- Trustees of ALL public (but not association) libraries, whether appointed or elected, must take oaths of office and file paperwork within thirty days to verify their oath-taking (see http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/pltrust/oath.htm for more details).
- Notices of public and association library board meetings must be publicly posted (including online) at least 72 hours before a meeting is set to begin (see http://www.dos.state.ny.us/coog/openmeetlaw.html for more details on open meetings law).
- Library board meetings must be open to the public except for a few circumstances under which a closed session can be held.
- Library charters (legal incorporation), issued and approved by the Board of Regents, must be reflective of actual service areas and governance structure.
All Library Boards should have up-to-date bylaws and ensure that the library is in compliance with minimum standards (CR 90.2).
New York Kids Do Love Summer Reading: I was so excited to see that 1.5 million young people participated in the 2009 Statewide Summer Reading Program! Many thanks to those of you who worked so hard to make this happen. Working with our public library system partners, there are several surprises in store for Summer 2010 including a new "brand" for Summer Reading at New York Libraries and an online registration system. Something fun to look forward to in the New Year!
Reading for the Holidays: We are fortunate to live in a state where over 170 languages (based on the latest U.S. Census) are spoken every day. The diversity of language and culture is also reflected in a wide range of spiritual and religious beliefs with this time of year being the focus of celebration and ceremony for those of many faiths. I share with you my wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season filled with every good wish for yourself and those you love. I want to encourage you to extend the tradition of reading to all your holiday festivities. Read a story. Tell a story. Read aloud to your children and friends or invite them to read to you. If your holiday traditions do not already include reading or storytelling, you can start that tradition now. Reading enriches lives and is a gift without cost. Happy holidays!
Bernard A. Margolis
New York State Library