News from the NYS Assembly
Committee on Libraries and Education Technology

Sheldon Silver, Speaker • Sandra Galef, Chair • December 2003

Providing Equitable Access to Information

In the late 1990’s, the New York State Library introduced the New York Online Virtual Electronic Library, otherwise known as NOVEL. Any library with internet access in the State is able to link to NOVEL on the State Library website, allowing their card holders to access databases containing newspapers, professional journals, academic research, children’s magazines, and a plethora of other topics. This collection of databases, purchased and maintained by the New York State Library, gives participating libraries and their individual members access to hundreds of databases which would be prohibitively expensive for individual libraries to buy access to on their own. These databases represent the new age in academic research, as well as an important tool for citizens who might seek information on a specific topic.

Like so many things in New York, the libraries of the State are diverse, representing the geographic, economic and cultural differences that exist within the State. From the New York Public Library, world-renowned for the size and thoroughness of its collection, to the smallest library in rural upstate New York, these diverse organizations share a common goal: to provide maximum services and the most information possible to the population they serve. In many cases however, limited resources prevent individual libraries from expanding, or even maintaining, their collections. Through NOVEL, they can provide their users with access to a great deal of information through one source rather than multiple sources. NOVEL allows libraries to utilize their too scarce funding more flexibly and perhaps provide new services, rather than buying database access individually, or maintain multiple magazine and newspaper subscriptions to other services.

School libraries could possibly benefit the most from this program. Much attention is currently focused on the inequities in education funding. Too many students face huge disadvantages when applying for college admission and jobs because their school has failed to provide them with basic educational tools. That disadvantaged status does not end if these students reach college, as they now have no training to perform basic research because their schools did not provide them with the skills and equipment necessary to succeed at a college or university. By taking advantage of NOVEL, public and school libraries across the state can begin to remove these boundaries and provide users with access to information in a more equitable manner. For more information on NOVEL, or for information on how to get your local or school library involved in the program, please contact the NOVEL help desk at the New York State Library (1-877-277-0230), or log on to the Library website at

Left to right: John Frederick (Chief of Staff for Assemblyman Steve Sanders); Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, Chair, Assembly Committee on Libraries and Education Technology; and Assemblyman Michael Cusick observe students involved in a pilot program that provides all middle school students with lap top computers at the Michael J. Petrides Magnet School in Staten Island.

A Message from the Chair…

We began our first year working together with a difficult battle, ending in a significant victory. In January, shortly before I was appointed Chair of the Libraries and Education Technology Committee, the governor released his Executive Budget proposal which called for a 15% cut to library aid statewide. With the support of library advocates across the state, who contacted their legislators and the governor to voice their opposition to this proposed cut, my Assembly colleagues and I were able to work with the Senate to reject the governor’s proposal. We then overrode his veto, with the largest number of votes of any of the veto overrides, to restore this important funding stream.

This bipartisan cooperation was recognized in the September 15 edition of the Library Journal, a national publication, where Senator Hugh Farley, Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Libraries, and I were recognized as an example of how legislators can make a difference. I was very proud to receive this recognition, but also want to take this opportunity to share that recognition with my colleagues in the Assembly as well as the Senate. Neither Senator Farley nor I acted alone, nor could we have accomplished this important restoration without the support of our respective houses.

My appointment as chair of the Libraries and Education Technology Committee was not only professionally important to me, but personally important as well. As a former elementary school teacher, and a trustee of my community library, I have seen first hand the important role that access to a library plays in educational and community development. Sadly, I realize that far too many schools and communities across the state do not have libraries, or have libraries that are without basic resources, such as internet access, computers and an up-to-date collection of written materials. This shortage of resources is exacerbated by the fact that more than 40% of New York City’s 1,200 schools and more than 10% of the 3,050 upstate schools in New York are without a certified library media specialist.

School libraries are currently funded through the school aid formula, which under a lawsuit brought about by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity has been ruled unconstitutional. The New York State Court of Appeals has ruled that too many of New York’s children are receiving an education that does not prepare them to hold a job, serve on a jury, or perform other civic duties, consequently violating the provision of the State Constitution that guarantees every child access to a sound basic education. The Court of Appeals decision goes on to identify access to an adequate school library as one of the necessary components of a sound, basic, and equitable education. Therefore, it is important to continue to remind our legislators that as the state aid to education formula is reworked, an important component in establishing equity will be an increase in the $6 per student for school library materials aid that schools currently receive.

Library advocates protest the governor’s proposed $13.3 million cut to public libraries.
I look forward to continuing to work with the libraries of New York State to provide a steady and adequate funding stream to libraries. Many changes have come about in recent years that alter the ways in which individuals send and receive information, and I believe it is important that libraries continue to be able to provide access to information in all of its forms. I am interested in hearing from all of you, and hope that you will use the questionnaire to share your views with me.

Sandy Galef
Chair, Committee on Libraries
and Education Technology

2003 Legislative Highlights for Libraries

Assisting Localities with Library Construction
A new law enacted this year (Chapter 572/A.8364) will assist public libraries and public library districts by making state funds for library construction more accessible. Under prior law, libraries seeking a state grant for library construction out of the limited pool of $800,000 annually were required to complete the project for which the grant was awarded within one year. This act extends that timeframe, allowing libraries and library systems three years to complete their construction without endangering their state funding.

Creating New Library Districts
This year the Legislature authorized the establishment of three new library districts in the Village of Stewart Manor, Nassau County (Chapter 271/ A.887-A); the Town of Mamakating, Sullivan County (Chapter 392/ A.8139-A); and the Town of Oyster Bay, Nassau County (Chapter 226/ A.8567-A). With legislative authorization, these potential districts are now free to vote as communities to decide whether or not they want to establish library districts. If they choose to do so they then have the right to vote on their library budgets. This gives communities a means to place local dollars directly in their libraries and have a direct impact on the available services.

2003 Budget Highlights for Libraries

The 2003-04 budget fight saw public libraries faced with a tremendous threat to their ability to continue to provide services to the populations they serve. The governor’s budget proposed a $13.3 million dollar cut to library funding across the state. In addition, the governor proposed that the State Library as well as the State Museum, public broadcasting stations and the programs administered by those entities be removed from the jurisdiction of the State Education Department and transferred to a newly created entity know as the New York Institute for Cultural Education (NYICE). This proposed public corporation would have shifted control of the library and other cultural institutions away from the State Education Department, which provides the cultural institutions of the state with a global perspective and influence. The governor would appoint eight of the 15 members to the proposed board.

The public and legislative response to these proposals was a resounding no. Local advocates from across the State came to Albany to attend a rally on the steps of the Capitol protesting the proposed funding reduction. The Legislature’s budget rejected the proposal to move the administration of the State Library while restoring the $13.3 million in funding. Following the governor’s vetoes, the Legislature then reaffirmed its commitment to this important funding by voting to override the veto of the restored library funding. In the Assembly, this veto override received more votes to override than any other item in the budget.

Left to Right: Libraries Committee Chair Sandy Galef; Members of Assembly Michael Benjamin and Richard Gottfried; and Tom Alrutz, (Associate Director for Central Library Services, New York Public Library), on a tour of the New York Public Library.

Communicating with the State’s Local Libraries

In an effort to hear first hand what is going on in libraries around the state, each committee newsletter will include a column written by a guest affiliated with a different library. This column was submitted by Janet Steiner, Library Director, Tompkins County Public Library, Ithaca, New York.

You’ve all heard that old saying, “Easier said than done.” As a member of the Regents Commission on Library Services, now charged with carrying out one of my own recommendations, I can testify that establishing a public library district in my county is a lot easier said than done!

Chartered library service areas do not fit together neatly in New York State. We are a messy group of different types of public libraries with overlapping boundaries, and yet we have pockets of underserved (and untaxed) citizens.

In Tompkins County, we count one county library, one school district library and three association libraries. No existing public library district model fits Tompkins County. Our five libraries have met for almost two years and even though we are determined to meet the Regents policy recommendation of becoming a public library district, we are beginning to realize that a new model must be created. This new model must respect our autonomy and desire for independence—but must also recognize that we serve the same group of citizens who should only pay one tax for local library services.

Public Library Districts offer the hope of improved financial support for libraries because citizens vote directly on the library’s budget. In Tompkins County, where our local appropriations are not sufficient to meet the needs of our users, we are hopeful that legislators and library leaders will work with us in creating a new funding mechanism which will result in improved funding and achievement of Regents policy.

Left to Right: Van Judd (Principal Librarian for Collection Management and Network Services); Mary Redmond (Interim Director, New York State Library); Libraries Committee Chair Sandy Galef; Janet Welsh (Assistant Commissioner, Office of Cultural Education); Ann Magnarelli (Assembly Staff); and Jane Somers (Head of the Talking Book and Braille Library) on a tour of the New York State Braille and Talking Book Library. This library provides access to Braille and recorded materials for nearly 40,000 visually impaired, physically disabled, and learning disabled individuals across the 55 counties of upstate New York. An additional population of more than 25,000 in the New York City and on Long Island are served by the Andrew Heiskell Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

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Please feel free to copy this questionnaire and share it with others in your school, library, or community who may not have received a copy. There is space for two people to answer on each form. The results of this questionnaire will be published in the next newsletter.

1. Do you think that all schools should be required to have a certified library media specialist on staff?

Respondent 1 ____Yes ____No

Respondent 2 ____Yes ____No

2. Would you support a constitutional amendment requiring the state to provide funding to libraries at the level they received the previous year, regardless of a potential loss of population to the area?

Respondent 1 ____Yes ____No

Respondent 2 ____Yes ____No

3. Is your library connected to NOVEL and if so, have you ever used it?

Respondent 1 (Part one) ____Yes ____No

Respondent 2 (Part one) ____Yes ____No

Respondent 1 (Part two) ____Yes ____No

Respondent 2 (Part two) ____Yes ____No

4. Please comment on your answers or share other thoughts about the funding or management of libraries in New York State:

Respondent 1

Respondent 2

Note: any contact information shared as a part of this document will not be disclosed to any outside entity. Please print and/or copy this questionnaire and mail to: Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, Legislative Office Building, Room 540, Albany, NY 12248. Thank you for your participation.

Committee on Libraries and Education Technology
Room 540 LOB • Albany, New York 12248 • 518.455.5348

New York State Assembly
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