Libraries are New York State's portal to the information age. With proper funding and support they could be accessible to every New Yorker, individual and business alike. Our investment in our libraries, the bedrock of our information resources, has not been keeping pace with the demands of the times.
Fully 1.3 million New Yorkers live in areas that are served by no public library whatsoever. The public libraries serving millions more can't afford to stay open for the night and weekend hours needed by working families. More than 900 school and 400 public libraries fall below contemporary standards; many are badly in need of repairs and equipment upgrades, and many also lack the trained staff, Internet connections and computer stations their patrons need.
This bill would make a comprehensive, strategic attack on all these problems. It represents two years of study by the Board of Regents and a special Regents Commission on Library Services. It would immediately tackle the library blackout facing New Yorkers who live outside areas served by existing public libraries. Local communities would have the option of expanding existing library districts, creating new districts, or consolidating their efforts in countywide service territories. It would provide $30 million over the next three years to support district expansion, and $148 million over the same period to expand hours, staff and collections at existing and new libraries. Some $51 million would be allocated to create NOVEL-the New York Online Virtual Electronic Library-linking public, school, college, hospital and other libraries in a seamless network that would provide access to collections statewide, and group purchasing of costly electronic databases and full-text search engines.
This bill would also allocate $6 million for training library staffs, particularly in the use of Internet and other electronic information sources. It would provide $70 million over three years to build or repair library capital facilities. And it would reform the state's aid formula for library budgets, to ensure that it is need-based.
Almost a century ago, Theodore Roosevelt said that "no community can afford to be without a library." Today, with libraries serving as our portals to the information age, his advice is even more compelling. It's time-past time for the legislature to put his vision to work.