October 1999

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President's Memo: What Did You Say?

by Parry Teasdale, NYSALB President

October 1999 issue of Trustee

Have you heard? One preliminary recommendation of the Regents Commission on Library Services is that all library district boundaries should coincide with school district lines. It's a thought-provoking suggestion, one of many this industrious Commission is likely to produce. The question each library board should ask itself is: What should we be telling the Commission?

In the first round of Commission hearings this spring, NYSALB filed comments on the need for trustee involvement and training (see President's Memo, July 1999). Our proposals did not call for a major alteration of the structure of libraries or for a huge new expenditure of state funds, although raising the profile of trustees statewide would be a radical departure from past practice. Because the Commission is still hard at work, we don't know how it will react to our suggestions.

As NYSALB's representative at the Albany hearing, I was proud to present our proposals. But as an individual trustee and as a citizen, I also had some personal thoughts I wanted to share with the Commission. After drawing a clear distinction between my roles, I presented two ideas I believe will help improve public library service statewide: the election by the public of all trustees, including those of association libraries (though not system boards), and more stringent standards for librarianship in small libraries.

Libraries spend public money and make policy for the public in institutions regulated by the state. So it's only logical that the people who govern libraries should be directly accountable to the public. I don't underestimate the difficulties of establishing such elections (who may vote? who pays for the elections? etc.), but I believe the benefits outweigh the obstacles. In addition to serving a high political principle, the direct election of trustees would end what amounts to de facto clubs running public institutions.

I also believe all library directors should have at least a four-year college degree. But that alone should not entitle someone to serve as a library director. The state should establish or accredit a short-term, intensive program to train persons with a bachelor's degree who have been appointed director of any library not currently required to have a director with an MLS. The program could take place semi-annually or annually. At least part of the cost should be borne by the state.

Don't agree with me? Have ideas of your own? There will a second opportunity coming up to file comments once the Commission adopts its preliminary plan. For details, contact the Commission staff at 10D45 Cultural Education Center, Albany, NY 12230, 518-474-1195,

Nobody has to participate in this process. We're all free to let people we may not know create policies we may not agree with that we, ultimately, will have to apply in our libraries. You could argue that there's no guarantee the Commission will adopt whatever suggestions we make. And that's true. You could also argue that if trustees remain silent, we most certainly cede the future of our libraries to someone else.

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