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EDITORIAL: What about libraries?

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THIS IS A BIG STORY, $227 billion big. It’s Governor Kathy Hochul’s proposal for the 2024 fiscal year budget, which begins on April 1.

Don’t devote too much mental energy into understanding the details of the state legislative calendar or other functions of state government. The more you know the more you will feel as if some of the rules were written to frustrate voters. But this is the only state government we’ve got. And besides, this editorial is addressed to one hardly noticeable slice of the budgetary pie: state funding for library aid and construction.

The governor’s proposal, which the legislature is now considering, would spend $96 million for library aid with another $14 million for library construction projects. Those are the same funding levels as last year. But it follows multi-million-dollar cuts the previous year, according to the New York Library Association (NYLA).

All right, $110 million is probably more than anyone reading this plea has lying around. But this money isn’t meant to fund local libraries. Much of the funding goes to the operation of the regional library systems. Our system is the Mid-Hudson Library headquartered in Poughkeepsie. It serves 66 member libraries in all or most of the libraries in 5 five counties.

A lot has changed since I served as a board member of the Mid-Hudson Library System decades ago. That was when systems like Mid-Hudson were replacing 16mm films of feature films to make room for videotapes to share with the public. Now they deliver e-books and e-magazines and documents and entertainment on platforms I’ve never heard of. So please allow me to interrupt this reverie to remind us all that without library systems there would no local libraries for the people of this state. With no library systems the ability to pay would determine who gets access to our intellectual resources. Silence would replace the flow of knowledge.

It’s not the money that’s so troubling, as if restoring a few million dollars in the budget proposal would ensure a bright future for the state’s public libraries. It’s the attitude that places such a low value on our intellectual supply chain.

This is no time for backing away from library service. As a community, state, country or a planet we can’t effectively wall ourselves off from all kinds of disinformation variants. But libraries and the systems that support them can and do create spaces for hope.

This state budget isn’t cooked yet. Changes can happen if the calls are loud enough. U.S. mail is reliable; email is quicker but you never know if a legislator will read it. Connect with your Assembly member and your state senator. Incumbent politicians have local offices. Calling or visiting the office is a place to leave a note or a message.

NYLA is calling for $147 million for Library Aid plus $69 million for library construction. It will have to be shaved from other budget lines. That’s what legislators are for but only if you ask them.

More is at nyla.org

Assembly District 106: Didi Barrett (D)

Assembly District 107: Scott Bendett (R, Con)

Senate District 41: Michelle Hinchey (D)

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