I was honored this year to be appointed Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Libraries and Education Technology. As a lifelong library fan, I have particularly delighted in working with the l6 local libraries in my 106th Assembly District–all part of the terrific Mid-Hudson Library System.
The committee I now chair was created in 1997. It has jurisdiction over legislation affecting public, academic, school and private libraries. Its jurisdiction includes legislation affecting the administration and funding of libraries and library systems across the state and it helps libraries in sustaining and upgrading their infrastructure and staff resources.
New York State has over 7,000 libraries – some among the largest and the best in the country. In fact six of the forty largest libraries in the United States are in New York, more than any other state. New York’s largest library, the New York Public Library, contains over ten million volumes and is among the top research institutions in the world.
Libraries are an integral part of the education and cultural development of New Yorkers. They are also essential community hubs in rural regions like mine as well as urban areas where people are both in need of access to and increasingly isolated by technology. I am very aware that in challenging economic times libraries, in fact, play a more critical role in their communities, throughout the state.
Libraries today are some of our most forward thinking of institutions — think laboratories or “labraries.” I know some of our libraries, as well as the NY Library Association are working on ways to not only be more sustainable, but to lead on sustainability. This means not just energy efficiency and recycling, but also economic sustainability, empowered communities and social equity — libraries are arguably also our most democratic of institutions. Our library systems are pioneers of shared services, adaptive reuse and the Think Local movement.
In more than two-thirds of New York communities, public libraries are the only source of free Internet access. For many low-income families, the local library is the primary source of Internet access. Without such access, many New York residents would find it difficult or impossible to have story time with their toddlers, get through school, apply to college, find employment opportunities, file their income taxes, and become informed voters.
The recent repeal of federal rules that protect consumers’ unfettered access to internet content, has significant implication for libraries. With the repeal of the neutrality rules, ISPs could charge more for content and/or for faster service for that content. Libraries are already under tight budgets and the prospect of having to pay more for the access they currently have may be more than they can handle. I see this as possibly the biggest statewide challenge for our library systems and I’m proud to co-sponsor legislation to codify net neutrality policies in NY State.
As we approach the 2020 Census, I also see a key role for libraries both in the planning and execution of the census process. The census count is transitioning from regular door-to-door outreach to survey citizens to now more people submitting their surveys online. This shift could very well disenfranchise both rural and urban communities, resulting in undercounts in immigrant communities and communities of color where there may be limited access to computers and the internet. In many of these neighborhoods and towns, libraries are uniquely positioned as a place of trust and accessibility and could well become the place to be counted.
As we continue working on the 2018-19 state budget you can be sure I will be advocating for increased funding for our libraries and recognition of the essential work they do in our communities. #LibrariesMatter