January 2000

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From The Desk Of The Sub-committee Chair

Senator Hugh T. Farley

January 2000 issue of Trustee

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds..." Ralph Waldo Emerson

A hallmark of libraries in New York is the absence of consistency, foolish or otherwise. After twenty years as Chair of the Senate Sub-committee on Libraries, I still run across interesting permutations in governance, policy and philosophy.

This is a strength. Given our state's remarkable diversity, the diversity of library services enabled by strong traditions of local control and financing serves the specific needs of the people of each community. The emotional attachment of many people to "their" library is remarkable.

It is also a weakness. Absent a cohesive agenda, the library community will get left behind when statewide resources are allocated. Policymakers are reluctant to expand beyond platitudes, knowing that someone in the library community can always be found to criticize any specific action.

Can we maintain the strength of diversity while creating a new strength of unified purpose? Yes! Successful advocates build a strong three-legged stool. First, agree upon action proposals which are realistic and do the most good for the most libraries. Second, after agreeing, take the slightly modified advice of President Reagan and, "speak no ill of a fellow library advocate." Third, persist and persevere. Good things take time and effort.

What could be the foundation of successful legislation? Speaking personally from a lifetime of teaching and advocating for life long learning...

I'd like to see active library community support for rejuvenation of the State Library, both the Research Library and Library Development. The State Library is a keystone, holding together statewide services. The State Library has been slowly starved and it is in everyone's interest to restore the jewel.

I'd like to see opportunities for citizens to directly support their libraries. The incredible case of Corning aside, most evidence shows greatest community support when citizens can vote directly on library issues. Among public libraries, a ten percent increase in local funding -- a viable goal -- is the same as doubling state aid -- a worthy ambition, but unlikely in the short term.

I'd like to see flexibility in the use of state aid. We need minimums, along with the incentives to achieve excellence. Beyond this, funding should be flexible to meet the diversity of needs of different libraries. We are seeing a de facto flexibility as unrestricted legislative "member items" for individual libraries proliferate. The 1999-2000 budget includes over 100 "member items" for public libraries.

Finally, I'd like to see some way to ensure full, free library services for every school child and every citizen in the state. I know that opens up huge fiscal and emotional issues, especially involving elementary school libraries in New York City and public libraries dealing with adjacent unserved areas. But, as we once said about seemingly insurmountable barriers, "If we can put a man on the moon, we ought to be able to ...", in this case, guarantee library services for all New Yorkers.

That's a consistency which is not foolish.

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