Wednesday, February 24, 2010

For New Yorkers: Libraries, legislators and Muhammad Yunus

This is truly my own opinion and thinking, and not the opinion of the Regents Advisory Council on Libraries or any other person or organization.

Once a year, members of the NYS Regents Advisory Council on Libraries go to Albany and the Legislative Office Building (LOB) to talk to legislators about the importance of libraries and the need for adequate funding.

For as long as I can remember, the State has not given libraries as much state funding as requested or needed.  Thankfully, libraries have always "made do".   However, in the last two years, there have been four cuts to library funding and a fifth cut has been proposed by the Governor.  If the fifth cut is enacted, the State funding for libraries will return to the level of funding that libraries received in 1998.  Keep in mind, this is 2010. the saying goes, not pretty.

Yesterday we talked to legislators and their staff members about the need for libraries and the problems that inadequate funding is causing.  While libraries have been doing more for their patrons with less money, it is not possible for them to do more with even less money.  Less money will mean fewer new books, magazines and other resources.  It may mean that database subscriptions will be terminated.  Staff could be cut (again) and operating hours reduced.  It could be that some libraries will completely fail and close.

How can we have libraries fail at a time when our patrons are using library resources for their job hunting activities, including finding job openings, filling out applications, and working on their resumes?  What about patrons who are looking to libraries to help them acquire new skills?  And what about people who are downsizing and need to use the library's computers and Internet access?  Yes, we reminded people in Albany of all the ways our patrons are using libraries and they valued all of them.

No one in the legislature will say that they don't like libraries.  Everyone is very "pro" libraries.  Everyone I met with wanted to see funding restored.  Some of us heard that the "Democratic Committee" is in favor of restoring the funding, although I'll admit to not know who exactly is a part of that committee.  But no one stood up and said that he/she would be a champion for libraries as the budget is debated in the legislature.  No one took ownership.  The word "we" was used frequently but "we" needs someone to lead the effort.

After five hours of train rides and hours inside the LOB, I was back in Syracuse and attending a lecture given by Dr. Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank which is famous for its implementation of microcredit loans.  During his presentation, Yunus noted that disasters are places where creativity and new ways of thinking can flourish.  Many would consider the state budget to be a disaster and so is this a time for us to think more creatively?  It seems so.  For example, one assemblyperson suggested a different way of allocating money from the state budget for libraries, explaining that it might limit the impact of any budget decreases. In side conversations, it was clear that people are willing to think in new ways about funding, etc. I am not talking about creatively doing more with less, but using new thinking to change funding models, funding streams, etc. 

One more tidbit...because of the decreases in State funding, there is a possibility that the LSTA funds will also be decreased, which would impact the funding for NOVELny and the statewide database licenses. That could mean, I think, that State funds would be needed to fill-in an gaps or that fewer databases would be carried.  Yup...that wouldn't be pretty either.

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Phil Shapiro said...

Here's one possible way of funding libraries. Find some of the best writers, illustrators, animators, musicians and dramatists within a neighborhood. Bring them together in the library space after hours.

Challenge them to produce original rich media stories with compelling story lines. Then have these rich media stories sold via Apple's App Store for viewing on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

What might these stories look like? They might look something like this.

Could this revenue stream fully fund a library? Probably not. Could it supplement existing library funding? Quite possibly so. Would collaborative creativity within the library space create value for the community apart from the possible revenue stream? Decidely so.

To open up our minds, we might need to open up our libraries for such after hour experimentations.

Could there be anything to be more proud of for a neighborhood to fund its own library with its own creativity? We might need to invent a word for that.

Phil Shapiro, Public Geek
Takoma Park Maryland Library

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Apps for various smartphones can be very profitable, so don't discount the idea that a library could generate a useful funding stream by creating and selling apps. Great idea!