On February 25, representatives of the Southern Tier Library System traveled to Albany for Library Advocacy Day, an annual opportunity for library staff, board members, friends and constituents to meet with legislators and make the case for state support to libraries. The main legislative goal of the event is to achieve full state aid funding, which is currently languishing at 1997 levels. Other specific issues raised this year by the group, led by STLS Executive Director Brian Hildreth, included increased aid for library building projects, extending broadband service to communities in the STLS service area, and augmenting the 2% cap on tax funding increases that we’re currently limited to. I accompanied the group to represent Penn Yan in the halls of the capitol, along with Library Friend Susan McGill.
Each of the lawmakers that the group met seemed sympathetic to our cause and listened with interest to our points. Some pointed to immediate action that they could take on behalf of libraries, such as raising our concerns with the relevant committee chairs and working across the aisle to make change happen. Others pointed to the recent circumstances holding up the state budget process, such as the passing of former governor Mario Cuomo; while that important legislation remains in limbo, elected officials can offer few specifics about the ultimate shape of library aid funding.
The legislators shared our reason to be guardedly optimistic, however: the process last year saw the governor’s proposed cut to library aid raised to parity with the previous year’s budget. Judging by that precedent, there is hope that this year could see a slight increase in aid.
One sentiment was shared by all the lawmakers we met: they were impressed by the size of our group and the way it represented a wide swath of central New York. At about fifteen members strong, we did seem to be one of the larger groups present, at least as far as I could see. Sue and I joked that next year we should get more Penn Yan-area folks to swell the group’s numbers even more. I think she helped make an extra impression, providing each legislator with a copy of a recent Finger Lakes Times article that makes a nice mention of our library, underscoring what a busy and vital part of the community we are. You can’t ask for a better tool to demonstrate the value of libraries!
It was a great experience for me, as a young librarian, to observe some of the ‘higher-level’ concerns of the profession; it’s all too easy, if natural, to get mired down in the day-to-day affairs of your own library and lose sight of what’s going on with the broader scene. It’s important to remember that the issues we raised will have a direct impact on our operations in Penn Yan and everywhere else in the system--in the funding to support materials and programming budgets, in the ease and speed with which patrons can access the Internet, and in the money needed to repair and add to our physical stock of library buildings. I came away from the day with a greater understanding of how we get the funding to address all of that, and how perilously close we are to losing it every year. But I also came away with an understanding of how the dedication and passion of library advocates can turn the tide, year by year.
I’d like to express my appreciation to Senators Catharine Young and Thomas O’Mara and Assemblymen Christopher Friend, Joseph Giglio and Phil Palmesano for meeting with us. Big thanks as well to the tireless Brian Hildreth for leading the charge (and most of the discussions!). It was a great first time for me and I look forward to attending Library Advocacy Day for years to come.