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Handbook for Library Trustees of New York

The Library Network in New York State

Libraries and library trustees in New York State are supported by one of the most extensive and comprehensive library networks in the country. This network is both institutional and digital.

Each public library is chartered by the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York, one part of the vast statewide educational system. The Regents' responsibilities include oversight of all educational and cultural institutions, including more than 750 public libraries, over $1.3 billion in public library operating funds and over 6,000 public library trustees.

The Regents appoint the Commissioner of Education, who is the chief executive officer of the State Education Department. Among the major offices of the Education Department is the Office of Cultural Education, comprised of the State Archives, State Library, State Museum and the Office of Educational Television and Public Broadcasting. The Assistant Commissioner for Libraries, also known as the State Librarian, is responsible for the activities of the New York State Library, which includes the Research Library, the Division of Library Development (DLD) and the Talking Books and Braille Library. The Division of Library Development coordinates and administers federal and state aid programs as well as the rules and regulations that govern public libraries and library systems. The Division of Library Development also helps to develop new statewide programs of library service and provides guidance on charter changes and other matters that must be referred to the Board of Regents.

Nearer to the local library, and its first source of assistance and resources, is the public library system. Virtually all of the public libraries in the state belong to one of the twenty-three public library systems. There are three types of public library systems: consolidated, federated and cooperative. Each has a different legal structure and relationship with its members or, in the case of consolidated systems, its branches. 

Each public library system develops its own plan of service, reflecting the needs of the libraries in the area the system serves. Local governance and control allows library systems to offer programs and services that vary greatly from one region to another. Nevertheless, all public library systems share the same common purpose and responsibility for the development and improvement of their member libraries while saving local tax dollars. The systems are also responsible for providing library service in those areas without public libraries and coordinating resource sharing among member libraries.  Each system is also required to designate a central library or co-central libraries whose purpose is to offer resources in greater numbers and depth than usually found in local libraries.

Public library system services may include the following:

  • Interlibrary loan and delivery of materials;
  • Administration of computer networks and an integrated library automation platform (ILP), including circulation, online public catalogs (OPACs), acquisitions and other sophisticated software modules;
  • Cooperative purchase and support of electronic databases, Internet access and telecommunications services;
  • Continuing education seminars, workshops and training for library staff and trustees;
  • Consultation on library administration, governance, funding, programs and services;
  • Specialized support for Young Adult and Children’s Services;
  • Centralized purchasing, ordering and processing of library materials;
  • Assistance in materials selection and collection development;
  • Materials cataloging services and advice;
  • Coordinated collection development support;
  • Public awareness and advocacy leadership;
  • Web page design and maintenance; printing and other duplication services;
  • Service to correctional facilities, nursing homes, and other institutions;
  • Outreach services to special populations and consultation on accessibility issues;
  • Assistance in, and administration of, state and federal grant programs;
  • Services to unchartered areas including contract library services, bookmobiles or other extension services.

New York State also supports two other types of library systems that work with the public library systems to broaden the resources available to all residents of the state. Reference and research library resources systems (3Rs councils) were established to enhance resource sharing and to meet specialized reference needs. The 3Rs councils serve primarily as the systems for academic and special libraries but their membership also includes library systems, hospital libraries, and specialized libraries of all types. The state is also served by forty-one school library systems sponsored by the BOCES and Big Five City Schools. The school library systems provide support services, professional development, consultation, and assistance to both public and non-public school libraries.

The statewide library network works to ensure access to library resources for all New Yorkers. All public library systems and the State Library offer an incredible range of research and learning databases and locally developed digital resources online. Networking the State Library, library systems and New York’s local libraries offers access to library and information resources within the state and worldwide.

Library trustees also have several statewide and national associations available to help them fulfill their mission. Membership and active participation in these organizations not only provides assistance on the local level, but also adds significantly to the collective strength and wisdom of library trustees throughout the State and the nation.

The Library Trustees Association of New York State (LTA) is an important source of support and information for local libraries. LTA is the state organization for library trustees, offering a range of valuable services. It advocates on behalf of library interests, recognizes the accomplishments of trustees and educates trustees through workshops, the Annual Trustee Institute, regional presentations, print and electronic resources.

The New York Library Association (NYLA) is the statewide organization of library professionals, support staff and advocates.  It is dedicated to advancing the interests of all types of libraries and library service in New York State. By representing the library community before the State Legislature, it provides important planning and support in the development of library-related legislation and offers extensive continuing education opportunities through its annual conference and other programs.

Your library should have a budget line devoted to organizational memberships. Each library benefits from the advocacy and professional development work done by these groups.

Since many issues affecting libraries originate on the federal level library trustees should be familiar with the American Library Association and its United for Libraries Division. Both organizations work diligently to inform and support libraries, their trustees and their advocates on a national level.  

Each public library is part of this national and statewide library community. An informed trustee is familiar with the members and components of this community and uses the information and opportunities available to improve the programs and services of their local library.