Fall 2002

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From The Desk Of The Library Committee Chair

Assemblywoman Naomi C. Matusow

Fall 2002 issue of Trustee

The needs of an increasingly diverse and technologically adept public are straining already tight library budgets. Libraries which rely on appropriations from local municipal budgets are especially challenged, as the national recession is forcing many towns and villages to cut back their budgets. Many libraries are now looking into transforming themselves into independent taxing entities, as school district public libraries or special legislative district libraries.

Both school district public and special legislative district libraries, often called district libraries, have the ability to present a budget directly to the voters and then, upon approval, collect taxes independent from other municipal budgets. These libraries tend to be the best funded of all library types. According to the Library Research Service, district libraries have a higher per capita funding than any other type of library. The Service analyzed libraries across the United States and concluded that when voters are allowed a direct vote on the library budget they are "more generous than the city councils, county commissioners and other decision making bodies to whom other public libraries must go for funding."

In addition to having a direct vote upon their budgets, district libraries have Boards of Trustees elected by the voters. This assists in creating community support for the library and its budget, as local voters appreciate having a voice in library leadership and policy. The New York State Board of Regents has endorsed the creation of district libraries statewide as part of its New Century Libraries initiative, stating that such libraries will not only stabilize funding but will also help in addressing the problem of unserved areas.

For those libraries seeking to make the change to a district model, the choice between school district public or special legislative district library needs to made first. Libraries that serve an area defined by a school district, where no other library also serves that school district, should follow the school district public library model. These districts are able to go directly to the voters of the school district for approval of the district and its new budget, without the need for state legislation.

For libraries that serve a population in an area that crosses over school district lines, or serve a part of the school district while another library serves a part of the same district, the special legislative district model will be necessary. These districts require state legislation to be passed and signed by the governor before they can present a budget to the voters.

Each district is unique, and while some basic generalities can be made about its creation, a simple how-to is quite difficult. The most important part of either process is to bring together all the people concerned. A unified team of library board members and staff, local elected officials, library patrons and friends and staff from the State Education Department and local Public Library System will have a much greater chance of success.

The Assembly Library Committee staff in Albany is always ready to help you if you have questions about how to proceed. Jim Farrell at the Division of Library Development is the expert on creating library districts and is available to answer questions and to serve as a consultant.

As the need for library services grow, the need for adequate funding becomes even more crucial. Forming district libraries is a great way to increase public involvement in the library, stabilize library funding and provide library services to unserved areas. By increasing library funding, we will be able to provide the variety of services necessary to encourage an even more informed community that will in turn ensure New York's future.

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