April 2000

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From The Desk Of The Sub-committee Chair

Senator Hugh T. Farley

April 2000 issue of Trustee

As I write this, the Legislature is involved in two major library initiatives. With luck, when you read this, we will have made significant progress.

First is Governor Pataki's initiative to create a new State Office of Cultural Resources with responsibilities for libraries, museums, and archives.

Supporters of the idea make two major points. First, they note that libraries have been starved for State support for years. Even the State Board of Regents' blessing of plans for funding and new standards has not led to actual implementation. Any reasonable change, they say, may be worth trying. Second, they say that there are advantages to being "the big fish in a small pond." Long the stepchild in a giant agency dominated by massive issues of public education, libraries would become the leading component of a new advocacy advancing cultural resources.

Opponents also raise two primary arguments. They point to growing support of libraries by the Regents, including appointment of the Regents Commission on Libraries in the 21st Century and Regents' support for library funding increases. This is not the time, they say, to lose the growing support of the Regents. What is more, they say, libraries ARE education. Many libraries are actually parts of schools and colleges. Other libraries form what Senator Jacob Javits called, "the people's university:" the place where citizens unaffiliated with schools can obtain books and educational resources.

As we sort out the pros and cons of this proposal, it is important to recognize Governor Pataki's strong personal support for libraries. He worked actively in support of library legislation while in the Assembly and the Senate. In the "actions speak louder than words" department, his Executive Budget initiative providing full funding for the current Chapter 917 aid formula was not only one of the largest State funding increases in history, it also made Governor Pataki the first Governor since Tom Dewey in the 1950s to propose a library aid increase in the Executive Budget. The other major library issue before the Legislature is, as usual, funding.

The "Books, Bricks, and Bytes" proposal advanced by the New York Library Association has made its way into the form of a bill which I have the honor of introducing in the Senate. The Regents' "Libraries 2001" bill includes new funding proposals for library construction and for the "NOVEL" statewide library card.

Although I don't agree with all aspects of each bill, I make no apologies for the fact that each proposal would cost a lot of money. Most of us as taxpayers place libraries at or near the top of our list of government priorities. Both proposals allocate new funds toward the three major needs of our library patrons: acquisition and maintenance of library materials, restoration and rehabilitation of physical structures often in dire need of being brought to 20th (much less 21st) century standards, and new resources to ensure that free libraries are an active resource in the electronic information age.

I hope that we will see strong, united support for this legislation, not only from librarians, but also from the broad community of citizens represented on and by our library boards.

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