More than 800 library administrators and patrons from throughout New York traveled to Albany on Feb. 27 to demand that state officials restore library aid and allocate $200 million to libraries in New York’s 2019 fiscal year budget.
“The library community feels we’re falling behind,” said Mamie Eng, the director of Valley Stream’s Henry Waldinger Memorial Library, who has been attending the New York Library Association’s Library Advocacy Day for the past 15 years. “Without state aid coming to the library, we can’t keep up.”
This year’s conference came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would cut $5 million from the state’s library aid and $20 million from the state’s Library Construction Aid. According to the New York Library Association, which organizes the event each year, this would be the third straight year of cuts to library aid, which Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, a Democrat from Elmont, said is already at 2007 levels.
Eng said the Henry Waldinger Memorial Library depends on state funding to help support its programs and facility improvements. She also said that Waldinger is the only institution that provides services to all Valley Streamers, regardless of the school district they are zoned for, and offers residents internet access if they do not have it at home. That access may become even more important in 2020, Eng said, as residents will need to use computers to complete the U.S. census.
“We need the money, the resources,” she said.
Eng added that she decided to take part in advocacy day this year because she understood that other interest groups are also lobbying state officials for funds. “. . . We’re on the bottom of the priority chain, even though we’re part of the education stream,” she said.
As part of advocacy day, Eng and other library directors from the 22nd Assembly District met with Solages. Eng said that as a former supervisor of access services for Hofstra University’s Joan & Donald E. Axinn Library, Solages was “very, very supportive.”
Solages said that she thought it would be wise to invest in libraries because their programs give back to the community.
“Libraries are like the Swiss Army knife of our communities,” Solages said in a speech to the advocay day lobbyists. “[If] you need a social worker, they’ve got it. [If] you need someone to help you research, they have it. [If] you need someone to help you with a computer, they’ve got it. They have everything.”
She said she would support exempting library infrastructure aid for construction from the state’s 2 percent tax cap and that all libraries should be fully funded. Solages said she would advocate for increased library funding when members of the State Assembly, the Senate and the governor meet to formulate a compromise budget.
Meanwhile, Waldinger Children’s Librarian Jaclyn Kunz met with Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, a Democrat from Rockville Centre. In a statement to the Herald, Griffin said that she, too, supported restoring library funding.
“Libraries are an important, vibrant and supportive resource at the center of our communities,” Griffin said. “I will always advocate strongly to provide them the funding they need to operate effectively.”
Griffin also wrote a letter to Speaker Carl Heastie, asking him to restore the funding, and Solages worked with Sean Ryan, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Libraries and Education Technology, to formulate their own letter to the speaker.
“I look forward to working with you and my colleagues to ensure that libraries continue to be modern community centers that provide a wealth of print and electronic resources to every New Yorker,” Ryan’s letter read.
In the Senate, Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach, said he would “continue to advocate to ensure that our libraries have the resources they need.”
State officials are expected to pass a final budget on April 1.