Today, library advocates from across the state of New York are descending on Albany for Library Advocacy Day, sponsored by the New York Library Association (NYLA).

When 94% of New Yorkers say their local library is an important part of our educational system, why do we need to advocate?

Part of the reason is that, even though over nine out of every ten New Yorkers recognize the value of libraries, and even though libraries are experiencing a surging demand for services, the level of state library aid remains where it was 15 years ago.

Library shelvingIn addition, library construction aid has remained stagnant since 2006, providing no relief for libraries whose spaces are aging and unable to meet technology, accessibility, and higher-usage demands from their communities.

Certainly, the funding needs of New York’s libraries are critical.  Adequate funding is essential for libraries to reach their vision of empowering their communities with equitable access to resources, technology, and education.

Library Advocacy Day, then, is the opportunity for library advocates to share their vision with legislators, to offer solid plans for supporting the literacy, learning, and success of every member of their communities.

This year, the NYLA legislative agenda has three major areas of focus:

1. Expand access to school libraries and librarians – Did you know that NY elementary schools are not required to staff a certified school library media specialist, and that even middle and high schools are only required to do so by state regulation, not by state law? Did you also know that students who do have access to a certified school library media specialist score 15-20% higher in state English Language Arts tests by fourth grade?  Advocates are asking for passage of a bill to ensure that all students, K-12, have access to a school library staffed by a certified school librarian.

2. Ensure taxpayer access to publicly-funded research – In New York State, research that is publicly funded must be made available to the public; however, if the research has been published in peer-reviewed journals, libraries must purchase access to those journals. The public is paying twice for the same research results – through tax dollars and through library purchase dollars.  Advocates are asking for a bill to make taxpayer-funded research available after one year.

3. Permit collaborative capital improvements for small and rural libraries – Currently small libraries are not allowed to pool their needs with other small libraries to reach the capital improvements bonding threshold for New York State. Small local libraries could partner with other small libraries and be able to secure financing for infrastructure improvements that are long overdue.  Advocates are asking that the New York Library Association be able to aggregate multiple, small projects so that these libraries can meet the bonding threshold and address their infrastructure needs.

Coordination of Library Advocacy Day by the New York Library Association has several important benefits to our libraries and communities throughout New York.  By focusing on one day, NYLA is able to pull in advocates from all types of libraries across the state.  Their collective voice (and high energy and enthusiasm) get the attention of legislators and legislative staffers.  Their unified message and documented evidence provide a clear way forward for those who enact policy and provide funding to libraries.  Legislators are able to connect with their local constituents and have a conversation about things that matter in their home communities.

Perhaps most importantly, advocates get to tell their stories of children learning to read, teenagers writing poetry, business owners starting their own businesses, community members sharing their expertise, immigrants learning English, unemployed finding job leads, and lives being changed because of the libraries in their communities.

Advocates know that, despite their impact during Library Advocacy Day, the fight for strong libraries does not end with a one-day trip to Albany.

Advocacy is about sustained relationships, understanding the priorities of communities and legislators alike, commitment to a shared vision, and, above all, strong leadership.

Every member of the community, whether a university student, a business owner, a high schooler, or a public official, must be willing to stand up and speak out for libraries.  If we want strong communities, then we must have strong libraries.