This information below & much more can be found in the Trustee Handbook.

The Library Network in New York State

Libraries and library trustees in New York State are supported by one of the most extensive and comprehensive library networks in the country. This network is both institutional and digital.

Public libraries are chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, one part of our vast statewide educational system. The Regents’ responsibilities include oversight of all educational and cultural institutions, including more than 750 public libraries.

The Regents appoint the Commissioner of Education, who is the chief executive officer of the State Education Department. Among the divisions of the Education Department is the Office of Cultural Education (OCE), comprised of the State Archives, Library and Museum and the Office of Public Broadcasting. The Assistant Commissioner for Libraries and State Librarian is responsible for the activities of the New York State Library and the Division of Library Development. The Division of Library Development coordinates and administers state aid programs as well as the rules and regulations that govern public libraries and library systems. The Division of Library Development also helps to develop new statewide programs of library service and provides guidance on charter changes and other matters that must be referred to the Board of Regents.

Nearer to the local library, and its first source of assistance and resources, is the public library system. Virtually all of the public libraries in the state belong to one of the twenty-three public library systems. There are three types of public library systems: consolidated, federated and cooperative.  Each has a different legal structure and relationship with its members or, in the case of consolidated systems, its branches.

A thorough comparison of the three different types of public library systems

Each public library system develops its own long range plan of service as required by Education Law, reflecting the needs of the libraries in the area the system serves. Local governance and control allows library systems to offer programs and services that vary greatly from one region to another. Nevertheless, all public library systems share the same common purpose and responsibility for the development and improvement of their member libraries. The systems are also responsible for providing library service in those areas without public libraries and coordinating resource sharing among member libraries.
Finally, each system is required to designate a central library or co-central libraries whose purpose is to house and offer resources in greater numbers and depth than usually found in local libraries.

Public library system services may include the following:

  • Online union catalogs of member library materials;
  • Interlibrary loan and delivery of materials;
  • Administration of computer networks and integrated library automation systems, including circulation, online public catalogs (OPACS) acquisitions and other sophisticated software modules;
  • Cooperative purchase and support of electronic databases, Internet access and telecommunications services;
  • Continuing education seminars, workshops and training for library staff and trustees;
  • Consultation on library administration, programs and services;
  • Specialized support for Young Adult and Children’s Services;
  • Centralized purchasing, ordering and processing of library materials;
  • Assistance in materials selection and collection development;
  • Materials cataloging services and advice;
  • Web page design and maintenance; printing and other duplication services;
  • Service to correctional facilities, nursing homes, and other institutions;
  • Outreach services to special populations and consultation on accessibility issues;
  • Assistance in, and administration of, state and federal grant programs;
  • Services to unchartered areas including contract library services, bookmobiles or other extension services.

New York State also supports two other types of library systems that work with the public library systems to broaden the variety of resources available to all residents of the state. Reference and Research library Resources systems (3Rs councils) were established to enhance resource sharing and to meet specialized reference needs. The 3Rs councils serve primarily as the systems for academic and special libraries but their membership also includes library systems, hospital libraries, and specialized libraries of all types. Individual public and school libraries may also join. The state is also served by forty-one school library systems sponsored by the BOCES and Big Five City School Districts. The school library systems provide support services, consultation, and assistance to both public and non-public school libraries.

See also: A thorough comparison of the three different types of public library systems

The statewide library network also has an important digital component. All public library systems and the State Library offer online catalogs, access to databases and locally developed digital resources that are available on the World Wide Web. Using the Web and various software products to link systems and databases, the State Library, the Library Systems and New York’s local libraries offer a seamless virtual library with access to library and information resources within the state and worldwide. This same resource also provides unprecedented opportunities for communication. Through electronic mail, listservs, and online discussion groups, trustees and others concerned with the development of public library service have a fast, easy, inexpensive way to communicate to every corner of our state and beyond.

Working together, the State Library, the public library systems, school library systems and the 3Rs councils offer the local public library and its patrons’ access to a vast array of services and resources from around the state and all over the world.

In addition to these resources library trustees have several statewide and national associations available to help them fulfill their mission.  Membership and active participation in these organizations not only provides assistance on the local level, but also adds significantly to the collective strength and wisdom of library trustees throughout the State and the nation.

The Library Trustees Association of New York State (formerly NYSALB) is an important source of support and information for local libraries. It is the state organization for library trustees, offering a range of valuable services. It advocates on behalf of library interests at the state level and offers training and workshops of interest to trustees through its Annual Trustee Institute and website:

The New York Library Association (NYLA) is the statewide organization of library professionals, support staff and advocates. It is dedicated to advancing the interests of all types of libraries and library service in New York State. By representing the library community before the State Legislature, it provides important planning and support in the development of library-related legislation and offers extensive continuing education opportunities through its annual conference and other programs.

Since many issues affecting libraries originate on the federal level there are also two national associations that work to inform and support libraries, their trustees and their advocates. The Association of Library Trustees, Advocates, Friends and Foundations (ALTAFF) is the division of the American Library Association dedicated specifically to library trustees and their particular concerns. The American Library Association is the national association for library professionals, trustees, advocates and support staff and is also an invaluable resource for information and assistance.

Each public library is part of this national and statewide library community. An informed trustee is familiar with the members and components of this community and uses the information and opportunities available to improve the programs and services of their local library.