Testimony of Bernard A. Margolis
State Librarian, New York State Education Department
The Assembly Standing Committee on Government Operations and
The Assembly Standing Committee Libraries and Educational Technology

July 28, 2009

Good morning, Assemblywoman Destito, Assemblywoman Lifton and members of both committees. I am Bernard Margolis, the New York State Librarian. Thank you for inviting the State Library, and the State Education Department, to present testimony today on the methods libraries use to procure goods and services.

Information is the oxygen of our economy. As key oxygen providers our libraries are struggling to keep the doors open and to provide information to fuel business development, create jobs, support community health and wellness, assist with research and development and, of course, support high achievement in teaching and learning.  Improvements to the state’s procurement laws will help libraries and library systems continue to demonstrate a commitment to stretching their limited resources. With a long tradition of mutual support and collaboration libraries are well positioned to work together with others within government, as well as outside government, to maximize their investments. Changes to the state’s procurement laws that encourage these efforts are welcome as libraries deal with lines of people anxious to connect to this oxygen source. Libraries are vital to helping workers to keep their jobs or get new ones, students to do homework, writers and researchers to do research, senior citizens to get information about health and aging, and all of us to keep up with the news or check our e-mails through access to the Internet. For some, the library is their only source for the information they need.

Today’s hearing asks how libraries and library systems can use various methods, including the state government’s procurement system, to save money and, importantly for their customers, deliver more information resources. My remarks today are focused exclusively on the acquisition and licensing of on-line information resources. Libraries purchase books primarily through a  commodity model.  It’s simple. The more books they buy, generally at the same time, the lower the unit cost. There are not many variations. The vendors know that given the numbers of books sold they can predict their market and set their prices accordingly. On-line information resources are quite different in many ways and cannot easily be acquired using the same procurement model. Today, as a result, each state agency, which may be independently licensing the information resources it needs, is often unknowingly and unnecessarily duplicating other agencies’ procurement and creating added expense for state government, and ultimately the taxpayers. This kind of duplication is happening at other levels of government as well. I will suggest an approach that might be considered to address this matter.

The New York State Library currently uses $2.9 million in federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds for a pilot project called NOVELny. NOVELny is a widely accessible, highly efficient platform that offers over eight database families containing articles from thousands of published sources to every library in New York and directly to every individual, who can login using a driver license or non-driver ID. NOVELny is a form of 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week oxygen for every New Yorker.

Because NOVELny is a pilot project, the 8 percent reduction in the amount of state funds in this year’s budget for libraries may reduce the federal funds it also receives to support it. This maintenance of effort shortfall as well as possible changes in federal rules places this funding in jeopardy. I believe strongly that expanding NOVELny would enable the State Library to develop and administer what I have begun to call the New York State comprehensive information system (NYSCIS). At last count over 5,500 libraries (out of about 7,000) actively rely on the NOVELny databases regularly and continuously. These databases were used 29.6 million times last year. For many libraries these are the ONLY electronic databases they can provide to their users. Libraries are required to buy a license to use or offer an electronic database. These licenses are expensive, often costing in the thousands of dollars. And, they must be renewed. Many libraries, especially our smallest, just do not have the money for these licenses. With NOVELny, the New York State Library buys the licenses so that libraries and the public can access these databases.

So, building on NOVELny as a foundation, how can our procurement system be tuned to permit state agencies, public libraries and library systems, school libraries and systems, BOCES, academic libraries and others to join together, with State Library coordination and administration, to build a far-reaching vision of the New York State comprehensive information system (NYSCIS) providing hundreds of databases, including commercial, state-created and state-supported, federal, community and “free”? Like the current NOVELny model, many of these databases would be available to any New Yorker at no cost, some would be subsidized with state or federal support and some would be wholly supported by contributions from libraries and library systems. This contributory or collaborative mode of database procurement would require changes to the state’s procurement rules.

Other states have advanced different modes for the delivery of statewide access to information. Most now use state and federal funding for this critical part of the new information landscape. Even Colorado, with about 4.8 million people – compared to New York’s 19 million – spends $1 million in state funds for library database support. Alabama, with only 4.5 million people, spends $3.5 million annually in state funds. Both Texas and Iowa have procurement structures that permit the public and academic libraries to contribute to the cost of statewide databases.

NYSCIS ideally would be built on a foundation of fully state-funded databases beginning with those now purchased by a wide range of state agencies and organizations, including databases in the law, medicine and health, and the environment. This would require the licensing of these databases for statewide use whenever possible. To provide coverage for the entire state, procurement would need to extend beyond the authority and scope of any single agency. As with NOVELny the State Library could be vested with oversight of these statewide resources. The State Library has begun to informally bring together many of the state agencies that purchase databases. This type of activity would need to be formalized to represent the widest range of input and discussion. Some central coordinating function would be required for efficiency and for communicating among agencies for this type of procurement. In this way the state’s existing investment would be leveraged to maximize access by everyone.

Database producers, publishers and distributors operate in a wide variety of business modes and models. These need to be understood for procurement to be quick, flexible, adaptable, transparent and efficient.  New databases are being created that offer enhancements over older ones. Vendors merge and databases morph as a result. Contracts and procurement rules need to allow for quick changes.  Reassessment of a database’s value needs to be regular with changes made when required. It needs to be clear to users what the databases include and where there is duplication and overlap. Broad assessment of their usability and reliability needs to be part of the on-going administration of the databases offered.

NYSCIS would also offer a wide variety of information resources acquired at the state level for statewide use, both with state funds and funds from local libraries and library systems. New York’s 755 individual public libraries, 64 public and school library systems, nine Reference and Research Library Resources Councils, individual academic libraries, the state university libraries, and the state’s health science and medical libraries would all be asked to provide matching support. Ideally, the procurement rules would permit any and all libraries to bring financial resources to the table to help fund statewide database access. By pooling these resources libraries would be able to acquire more access at a lower price. The delivery of these database resources from one robust state-supported platform would free individual libraries and library systems from the significant costs of negotiation and procurement as well as from some of the related technology costs. Having more database resources available on-line, while not a substitute for an accessible, open and inviting library facility, is nonetheless a welcome way to bring more oxygen into places now starved of information resources because of our economy.

The New York State Library is currently investigating how other states procure statewide database access. This information will help us work with the legislature and the library community to position New York to provide the type of access necessary for our residents to be competitive in today’s information economy.  I know you will hear from the New York Library Association and the New York State Higher Education Initiative about their work, which builds on our efforts to maximize our state’s information resources for all. We applaud your interest and your efforts, now and in the future, to equip the library community with tools that will help it be efficient, resourceful and public service-focused in meeting our collective mission to provide the best, most up-to-date and valuable information to all New Yorkers.

Last Updated: August 14, 2009