For 10 straight years, starting in 2007, New York state has reduced aid to libraries. Now Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to cut another $4 million in library funding in the 2017-18 state budget, due April 1. That is unacceptable. Libraries are an integral part of our communities. The state should treat them as vital educational institutions rather than a convenient means to balance the books.
According to the New York Library Association, state education law requires that New York appropriate $102.6 million for libraries across the state, but our lawmakers in Albany are not doing that. In fact, the proposed state budget would cut library funding by a little less than 4 percent, to $98.6 million.
A 2017 Siena poll found that 92 percent of New Yorkers believe that libraries provide important, if not vital, services. According to that poll, library use over the past five years is up by 15 percent among women ages 18 to 34, 15 percent among Latinos, 15 percent among African-Americans and 20 percent among families with annual household incomes of less than $50,000.
What does that tell us? That cutting library funding would hurt many of the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
Libraries, which are funded primarily by property taxes, are community centers where those without the luxury — yes, luxury — of a home computer can conduct online research, communicate via email, even create on 3-D printers. And, of course, they can take out books, or sit and read a newspaper or magazine.
At libraries, older adults can have their income taxes done by nonprofit organizations. There are blood drives. Children can join the chess club. And let’s not forget the numerous lectures and films that are offered to inform and edify us.
After Hurricane Sandy, South Shore libraries became critical to our day-to-day living. They were places to find the latest information, recharge cell phones, warm up, grab a cup of coffee, and catch up with storm-battered neighbors.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, and Sen. John Brooks, a Democrat from Seaford, recently sent a letter to Cuomo urging him to reconsider state cuts to library funding. “Our libraries are precious to all of our citizens,” the senators wrote, “and they work hard to provide outstanding services with very little funding.”
That is why Cuomo must show libraries the respect they so richly deserve by providing the state’s fair and full share of funding.