By Senator Patty Ritchie
From a child using a book that opens their imagination, to a job seeker learning the skills needed to enter the workforce, libraries have long been the foundation of our local communities.
However, just as times have changed, so have the needs of our public libraries and the demands of their patrons.
Many of our libraries are in need of basic upgrades to make them more energy efficient, handicap accessible and able to support the changing and growing demands of technology.
They cannot make these changes on their own.
This is why, in my second year as the chair of the Senate’s Library Committee, I worked to secure record funding in the new state budget for libraries totaling $96.6 million.
That number includes the restoration of $4 million in cuts proposed in the Executive Budget and an additional $1 million in operating support.
That is the first year-to-year increase for libraries in three years.
In addition, the new funding included $20 million above what the Governor originally proposed for capital construction at individual libraries, for a total of $34 million in funding.
The effort to improve our libraries is much larger than just what is in the state budget though.
With nearly half of New York State’s libraries being 60 years or older, and in rural areas, I introduced legislation (S.3022A) that would help libraries more easily afford smaller construction projects by combining funding requests into one submission, allowing them to share financing costs, rather than each library paying the full amount.
I have also introduced two bills to help libraries lead into the future. One bill (S.7374) would give libraries a sales tax exemption for selling used materials.
The second bill (S.7376) requires certain internet service providers to offer free internet access to public libraries.
Budget deliberations may be over for this year, but our push to support libraries is not.
As a library patron, and chair of the Senate Select Committee on Libraries, I will continue to work for our state’s libraries and the services they provide their communities, allowing residents to not only learn, but empower themselves and their families.