By Sarah Potwin
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s recent executive budget proposes a 3 percent cut in state library aid. Speaking as the executive library director of the Niagara Falls Public Library, I fear this cut will hurt Western New York libraries.
After a near decade of underfunding libraries, the governor’s proposed fiscal year 2019 cuts bring library funding to 2002 levels. However, libraries of today are now operating in a high tech climate expected by our citizens. To maintain technological services mandates trained staff with high-level expertise and a continued investment in new and emerging technologies.
Despite constant threats to funding, Niagara Falls Public Library as the Central Library of the Nioga Library System collectively strives to offer innovative services to our community. Last year, we began offering a "one on one" tutorials to demonstrate the ease our free e-book/audiobook/e-magazine download services. I am proud to say that the Niagara Falls Public Library users benefited.
Since October 2017, we increased our local history hours from nine hours to 20 hours realizing a 86 percent increase in patrons served. The Niagara Falls Public Library, through our shared membership within the Nioga Library System, is able to participate in an intricate automated library catalog system, aid in the coordination of digitizing world-class local history resources, join in the internet networks of 22 libraries, access shared databases in a cost-effective manner and be serviced by Nioga Library System onsite support to maintain each library’s technology.
Our neighbors, the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System, offer an equally dynamic service through their 37 libraries as well as their innovative activities.
Nioga Library System’s cooperative services guarantee equitable access to technology across the Niagara, Orleans and Genesee Counties. Because of our system, a resident of Corfu (population 709), a resident of Albion (population 2,500) and a resident of Niagara Falls (population 50,000) all have equal access to up-to-date computers, resourceful databases, adequate bandwidth and a modern collection of digital books and downloadable magazines.
Although libraries like Niagara Falls Public Library are modelling the benefits of shared service, the increased costs of delivering technology services are outstripping realized efficiencies. If the state is unable to provide funding to support local libraries and their library systems, our services will falter and stagnate. Thus, access to technology will lag in the communities that need access the most.
If we truly value equity, education and opportunity, then New York needs to place libraries at the top of its agenda. Libraries are how we guarantee that every New Yorker has access to the lifelong education they need to participate fully in this information economy. For libraries to maintain this critical role, we need to support the massive shift to a technological model of service. I urge all New Yorkers to speak up in favor of library funding. Reach out to your New York State representatives. It is my hope, and that of many New York library leaders, that we will secure full funding for 2018.
Sarah Potwin is executive library director at the Niagara Falls Public Library.