Testimony to the Regents Cultural Education Committee, April 2012

Gerald Nichols: The Regents Advisory Council on Libraries, as the oldest continuing Regents advisory body, is responsible to keep the Board of Regents informed about the conditions and needs of the State's libraries, and to suggest policies and actions that would make those libraries more useful for the residents of New York State.

Two years ago we met with you and asked for your concept of library service in the twenty-first century.  Your response was to challenge us to articulate a vision that reflected the needs of our citizens and to develop a strategy to get there.  The reportexternal link opens in a new window before you is the work not only of this Council, but of literally hundreds of library users, supporters and professionals.  

But before we talk about this report, let us first acknowledge that we have a problem.  Actually, we have a number of problems: 

  • We know that too many of our children are entering school unprepared to learn.
  • We know that  too many students are leaving school without the knowledge necessary to survive, let alone thrive, in an information-based economy. 
  • We know that too many citizens are struggling to retrain, to learn new skills and to find work. 
  • We know that too many seniors feel out of touch with the world.
  • And we know that there is too little opportunity for civil discourse about these and the other challenges that we as a society must face together. 

Simply put, how do we provide the opportunities and, indeed, empower, all the people of New York to lead a productive and meaningful life.

We, have to do better.  That is our mission.

We are here today to offer you, as the leaders of the University of the State of New York, an opportunity to fully utilize one of your most valuable assets in order to meet these challenges.  Perhaps we have many problems, but with your support, the libraries of our state can offer many solutions.  We believe this report offers models of success and a series of practical recommendations to help all our state’s libraries to get there.

Our colleague John Hammond orchestrated this effort and I would like to ask him now to provide you with some background and insights into this endeavor.

John Hammond: We began the planning process in 2010 with the recognition that

  • the Regents most recent plan for libraries was 10-12 years old and needed to be brought up to date
  • New Yorkers’ information needs are changing dramatically as the result of many factors, including affordable technology, new methods of education, and changing requirements in the work force
  • the role of libraries is changing....quite rapidly and dramatically

There were also several underlying popular assumptions (myths?) that the Regents Advisory Council needed to investigate:

  • that libraries were increasingly irrelevant, subsumed by modern technology
  • that both usage and financial support for libraries was waning
  • that the reframing of information into a commodity would hurt libraries ability to provide fair and equitable access to all New Yorkers

We assembled a very capable team of volunteers who

  • Developed and presented a preliminary planning session at the 2010 Annual Conference of the New York Library Association that assisted us in scoping the plan and determining best planning practices.
  • Created and published an open-ended query “Key Questions for the Library and Education Communities” which was widely distributed throughout the state.  We were rewarded with hundreds of pages of thoughtful, practical answers and comments that reflected new thinking about libraries and provided us with excellent advice concerning users’ needs and library-related solutions to those needs.
  • Conducted review of best library-related practices in other states, reviewed research concerning the library usage and support, and reached out to library organizations within the state for input.
  • Used the results of all these assets to develop a draft Vision 2020 plan that addressed a wide range of issues, and distributed that draft throughout the state.
  • Simultaneously developed and conducted a general community survey to help determine those attributes of libraries that were of greatest value and greatest need, and what kinds of library services are most meaningful for our students, our work force, our research community, and for scholars of all ages and walks of life.
  • Using input from our first comment period and public survey results, along with results from our ongoing research efforts, we rebuilt our first draft and published a second draft for both public and professional reaction. We also submitted that second draft to all organizations that commented on the first draft, as well as many others.
  • Completed the planning process by refining additional input from the second draft comment period into the Final Versionexternal link opens in a new window, which is now before you. 

So, here’s what we found, in the most general of terms:

  • Don’t sell libraries short...this message comes from not only the library community, but library users from all over the state...public comment was particularly supportive in affirming the need for modern library services, and library practitioners represent an extraordinarily capable asset.
  • Libraries are successfully adapting...the culture of libraries has always incorporated change...now, the pace of change is faster than ever, but libraries are well positioned to keep up with change and in many cases, serve as change agents in their communities, be those communities cities, campuses, or industrial parks. 
  • Core values of libraries such as collaboration, equality, and cooperation are serving libraries well as they determine how to provide the best value for the dollar to their clientele
  • Libraries are valued...we see this over and over again…it came through very strongly in our community survey, and is affirmed by the simple fact that public libraries that go to a public budget win 98% of the time, even in difficult economic times.  Many campuses are focusing on libraries as technology centers for collaborative learning; also, public schools rely on libraries and librarians to serve the goals of the Common Core.
  • There is always more to do:  all libraries must actively address the commodiztion of information by collaborating in all aspects of collection development of electronic resources and by advocating for increased open content solutions.  Libraries need to further their resolve in opposition to censorship, continue to develop and recruit technologically savvy staff, and improve the marketing and branding of library services to all clientele and communities.  They must develop better advocacy strategies, work to develop ubiquitous, seamless library services, and create collaborative partnerships with all cultural and educational organizations in the state.
  • We found out a lot more, and they are incorporated in the 60 inter-related recommendations that make up this Vision.  We believe our recommendations are concise, reasonable, and valid, and that they accurately reflect New Yorkers’ needs.  They are built upon a framework of collaboration, adaptation, and efficiencies that permit libraries to serve New Yorkers from nursery schools to dissertations.

 We come before you as your appointed advisers to represent the profession and library users throughout the state, and we encourage you to approve this Vision 2020 Plan and Recommendationsexternal link opens in a new window as Regents policy.

Gerald Nichols: We are not here to complain about lack of funding, or to warn of dire threats to our libraries.  Our libraries have never been busier or more important to our communities.  This report is a blueprint to continue and to improve on this success over the next decade.

We live in interesting times.  Each and all of us are assaulted by a cacophony of noise, and an overload of information.  We’ve all heard the comment of: “Who needs Libraries?  Information is free online.” 

It may well be...but knowledge and wisdom are not.  And that is why civilization has cherished its libraries for over four thousand years.  Whatever the question, whoever asks it, and in whatever format the answer resides; libraries are there to help show the path to understanding and hopefully, the creation of new knowledge as well.

We ask you to reaffirm your role as champion of our state’s libraries and library systems; to help us set a new course for the future and to recognize that, in spite of economic challenges, quality library service must be available to every child and every adult in New York. 

To do this we need your support, not only in words, but in action. 

We ask that you endorse our recommendations and make libraries a priority in your strategies to transform education in our state. 

We ask that you direct you staff to work with the field to prioritize and implement these recommendations in a timely manner. 

And we ask that you, as educational leaders, recognize the power of our libraries to make a significant difference in the lives of our citizens.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Last Updated: May 25, 2021 -- daf