Tuesday, April 21, 2009

For New Yorkers: Report on the Meeting with the Regents Committee on Cultural Education, April 20

Yesterday morning, the Regents Advisory Council on Libraries (RAC) met with the New York State Board of Regents' Committee on Cultural Education. In addition to the members of the Committee, Chancellor Merryl Tisch was also in attendance. Norm Jacknis, chair of RAC, presented our report to the Regents, which focused on three areas:
  • Fiscal Challenges -- It is clear that many of our libraries are facing fiscal challenges at a time when our citizens are relying on them more. We urged "the Board of Regents to press right now to maintain and increase state and federal funding for our libraries and library systems. Along with funding for State Aid to Schools, the Board of Regents needs to make state and federal funding for libraries a Regents priority budget and legislative item, each and every year."
  • The Key Role Of Libraries In The Education Of All New Yorkers -- We asked that the Regents"ensure that libraries and library systems are recognized as full partners in the educational process and as necessary for student achievement. " As part of that we asked that the Board of Regents "strengthen and expand [the] present mandates for school library programs to include certified library media specialists at the elementary school level." We also asked that the State Library's role in providing electronic resources not be threatened.
  • The Need To Re-evaluate Library Services In The Internet Age -- It has been a number of years since the Regents Commission on Library Services. Given the changes that have occurred since 2000, we asked that the Regents consider creating a new commission. Understanding the changes that have occurred in technology, we hope that any new commission could work effectively together while limiting the need for face-to-face (costly) meetings.
The Regents in attendance were vocal in their general support of our report and specifically in the need to have strong libraries in New York State. They recognize that the fiscal challenges that we face will be with New York State for a while, but are hopeful in helping libraries get through this tough time. They clearly understand the role that libraries can and do play in education, both for those in P-16 as well as those who are re-tooling themselves for new careers. I was pleased with their questions, suggestions and comments.

I left the meeting (and the post-meeting informal conversations) believing that now is the time for libraries to form the partnerships with business, industry, etc., so that our position in society is clear to everyone, especially those who control library funding. With those partnerships in place, requests for funding will be met with fewer challenges. We need to understand that although education is important, our societal concern at the moment is with an unstable economy. We need to connect ourselves to those engines that keep the economy moving forward and demonstrate ourselves a necessary core of that work.

It is not enough to say that businesses need us. They need to be at the table with us. For example, we need to be working with the Department of Labor and others on providing services that our users require (i.e., for job searches). We need to open our doors and make our "house" a "home" for more activities and more partners.

In addition, I left the meeting realizing that the Regents need to hear more from libraries, and those who advocate on behalf of libraries. And that does include hearing much more frequently from the Regents Advisory Council on Libraries. The Regents have important work/decisions ahead of them and we need to be sure that they have the needed information for those decisions.

Finally, I want to note that New York State Librarian Bernard Margolis and Deputy
Jeffey Cannell were also in attendance yesterday and voiced support for RAC's report. Michael Borges, Executive Director of the New York Library Association, was in the audience. And I believe that State Education Commissioner Richard Mills was present for part of the meeting.

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