Winter 2001

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From The Desk of Sub-committee Chair

Senator Hugh T. Farley (Chairman, Senate Subcommittee on Libraries)

Winter 2001 issue of Trustee

State Library Aid Increase Distributed -- Where Do We Go Next?


The obvious legislative news for libraries this month is the "Christmas in early November" announcement of the allocation of this year's $5 million increase in State aid to libraries.


In broad strokes, the increase was distributed as a $3 million (3.38%) increase in formula State aid for all libraries, a $1 million (125.00%) increase in State aid for public library construction and renovation, and a $1 million (166.67%) increase in State funding for school library system automation.  This process generated a "double whammy" increase for some programs.  For example, public library construction funds benefited from both the 3.38% formula increase and the $1 million enhancement, rising from $800,000 per year to $1,827.040.


What lessons does this offer us, and what glimpses of the future does it provide?


First, it confirms the continuing interest of State government -- the Governor, the Legislature, and the Regents -- in support of all of the State's libraries.  While I'll still be among the first to argue that our libraries are woefully underfunded, and that the ad hoc process of State aid increases is inefficient and insufficient, the facts remain that Governor Pataki's initiative for full funding of Chapter 917 combined with recent legislative additions reflect a continuing period of increases in State aid to libraries.


And, since State aid is arguably symbolic -- remember that a one-hundred percent increase in State aid is equivalent to a ten percent rise in local funding for most public libraries -- the picture of continuing State interest should help trustees to leverage State aid as an incentive for local voters and local funding sources.


Second, the fact that most of the aid increase was distributed through an across-the-board increase in the existing library aid formula emphasizes the legislature's deference to the library community in the allocation of resources.  The formula has been developed over the years through a series of consensus laws culminating in the current Chapter 917 allocation process.


Mindful of the careful balancing act among various types of libraries and systems, among different programs and priorities, and between strengthening existing functions and embarking on new initiatives, the legislature has chosen to defer to the library community.


The visibility of this decision argues strongly for a restoration of consensus-building within the library community.  As we look for a lesson for the future, this action suggests that State government might be inclined to postpone future funding initiatives in the absence of agreement within the library community.


Finally, the specific allocation of funds for public library construction (and renovation) and for school library system automation shows that the Legislature is willing to take the lead when issues move toward widespread recognition.  Construction funding follows the widely-publicized findings of a State Library survey which identified serious physical plant shortcomings in the vast majority of public libraries across the State.  Automation funds respond to public outcries for twenty-first century information resources for the youngsters who will lead in the next century.


In sum, last month's Legislative action reinforced the State's commitment to local library decision-making.  Trustees can take a leading role in building the consensus which permits libraries to speak with one voice.

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