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January 10, 2018
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JP O'Hare

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Written Testimony from Commissioner Elia for NYS Assembly Committee on Libraries & Education Technology

Statement of Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

New York State Education Department

Good Morning Chairwoman Barrett and members of the Assembly present here today.  I’m MaryEllen Elia, Commissioner of the State Education Department.  I am pleased to be here today to testify on behalf of the Board of Regents and the State Education Department.  I am joined by Deputy Commissioner of the Office of Cultural Education, Mark Schaming. 

I want to thank you and your colleagues for restoring the $4 million in state aid provided to our libraries and library systems in last year’s state budget.  Your investment in libraries and library systems are an acknowledgement of their importance not only as educational, local and cultural institutions, but as contributors to our economy.

The State Library, library systems, and individual libraries work together to allow New Yorkers to freely access library materials and services that many communities would not otherwise be able to afford. While the primary point of service delivery is your local public library, school, college, or special library, these local libraries connect through three types of library systems. These systems represent a very efficient and reliable means of sharing resources, providing centralized and cooperative services which would otherwise be beyond the reach of any individual library. These often behind-the-scenes services of the library systems are the backbone which permit 7,000 individual libraries to provide state of the art technology, book and material delivery, publicity and promotion, skilled staff and a wide range of other services, including the Summer Reading at New York Libraries program in which many members of the legislature participate.

The Summer Reading program is one of the most popular programs of the State Library.  The State Library offers high-quality summer reading educational materials and supports which are tailored by libraries to fit local needs. Schools are strongly encouraged to collaborate with their local public library to keep students engaged in reading and learning during the summer months to avoid the “summer slide.”  Thank you for enacting Chapter 174 of the Laws of 2017 allowing New Yorkers to contribute to the Love Your Library Fund via a personal or corporate income tax checkoff.  The Love Your Library Fund is used exclusively to support the statewide summer reading program. Passing this new law in 2017, the 25th anniversary of the statewide Summer Reading Program, is a great tribute to the program’s success.  I have made it a priority to increase participation in this program, and this past summer we crossed an important threshold: 2.2 million participants in the summer reading program, an increase of 94,000 participants over 2016’s program. Working together in partnership, we should all strive to ensure our libraries have stable and sustainable funding, allowing programs like Summer Reading to continue to grow.

Thanks to your efforts, current funding for Library Aid now stands at $95.6 million.  The Board of Regents recommends that as part of this coming state budget you provide the statutory amount of funding, which would result in a $102.6 million funding level. The State Library and the library systems will continue to use public and private funds to help libraries collaborate and better leverage and extend the reach of these resources.

I also want to thank you for your support of the State Aid for Library Construction Program by again providing an additional $5 million in this past year’s budget raising the total available from $19 million to $24 million. Your investment in this program over the years has leveraged millions more to improve public library facilities throughout the state so that they are safe, accessible, and efficient. However, funding needs nearly always run ahead of available resources, and this year is no different. There remains a pressing need for additional state support.

A Needs Assessment survey conducted by the State Library in 2016 indicates an estimated cost for basic public library construction and renovation in New York State at over $1.7 billion for the next four years.  The 2016 survey data shows that:

  • Over 51 percent of the 1,067 public library buildings in New York are over 60 years old, and 31 percent are between 30 and 60 years old; 
  • Approximately 21 percent are not fully accessible to wheelchairs;
  • Many public libraries need to upgrade electrical and wiring for public access computers and broadband infrastructure, and
  • Many libraries do not have sufficient space to house collections and/or offer public programs.

Technology has become a key aspect of library services. Libraries strive to ensure digital inclusion for all our citizens, so every New Yorker will be digitally literate or digitally fluent and able to freely access online information and online educational opportunities, regardless of where they live or their economic circumstances.

Thanks to a change to state law in 2015, broadband infrastructure is an eligible cost under the State Aid for Library Construction Program. While some progress has been made in some parts of the state, great demand for improved connectivity exists. The state’s libraries are still nowhere near reaching the long-term connectivity goal for public libraries first approved by the Regents in 2012 -  that every public library building in the state will have adequate, affordable and sustainable connectivity capacity, with a minimum of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) to each library building.

Our current interim goal is for 80 percent of our public libraries to provide at least 100 Mbps high-speed internet access to their communities by 2021.  While there has been some improvement in the past few years, less than 100 library buildings in New York State now offer this level of high-speed capacity.  A quarter of our libraries have connections of less than 10 Mbps. These inadequate connections are distributed over multiple computers, and is relied on to support both library operations and free public access in addition to wireless connectivity and teleconferencing services. The good news is that the number of libraries with connections of 50 to 100 Mbps has more than tripled in the past three years, from 53 to 177 buildings.  However, great demand for improved connectivity still exists.

Additional funding for the Library Construction Program will help even more libraries and local communities leverage matching funds to improve their broadband infrastructure. Public libraries are the hub of community education and lifelong learning, particularly in economically disadvantaged areas. Communities expect their public libraries to offer a variety of needed community services in accessible, safe, energy-efficient facilities. Libraries are expected to maintain their capacity to meet the public’s growing information needs, including the needs of small businesses, people seeking current health information, parents seeking early literacy activities for their children, students seeking additional learning opportunities and adults entering the workforce. Public libraries play an essential role in supporting local communities and local economies across New York.

Therefore, the Board of Regents recommends as part of this year’s budget priorities a $6 million increase in capital funding for the State Aid for Library Construction program from $24 million to $30 million. These funds are essential to help libraries modernize their technology infrastructure and facilities in order to meet the information needs of library users.

In closing, I want to bring to your attention that the New York State Library will be celebrating its 200th birthday in April 2018.  Established by the Legislature at the urging of Governor DeWitt Clinton, our State Library is the third oldest state library in the nation. We have much to be proud of in New York, as our state has some of the finest libraries and library systems in the nation, indeed in the world.  But we must not rest on our past achievements.  We still have much work to do together to ensure that our investments in libraries, in learning, in knowledge, in heritage and history provide equitable access to information for all New Yorkers not just today or next year, but long into the future.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to provide this testimony to the Committee.  We hope to continue to work together to enact the Regents’ priorities to increase the capability of our libraries across the state to help meet the growing demand for information services for all our residents and the communities in which they live. We look forward to your questions.