Revised edition of Public Library Districts; an Introduction and “How-To Guide”
Updated and expanded for the New York State Library Division of Library Development by Rebekkah Smith Aldrich and Jerry Nichols
“Access to a Library and the world it may open should be a basic right. Working to make this a reality has been my privilege.”
Marianne Taylor, Trustee, Vestal Public Library
“Secure funding made a huge difference in how we serve our community. We could put all the energy that had gone into annually scrambling for funding into improving library services. Being free of funding uncertainty made it possible to think bigger and better and plan long-term without worry.”
Jeanne Buck, Director, Reed Memorial Library
This guide is the second iteration of the web-based resource Creating Public Library Districts in New York State: a "How-To Guide" first developed by Dick Panz, former director of the Monroe County Library System, at the request of the New York State Library’s Division of Library Development (DLD). Dick, with input from DLD, Public Library System staffs and the New York Library Association Library District Task Force, assiduously wove together information developed over the years by colleagues around the state, and from individual libraries who had gone through the transition. Prior to its publication such information was scattered and incomplete.
Prior to the mid-1990’s interest in changing the legal structure of a public library was limited to exceptional situations. Creating new libraries that did not conform to school district boundaries was challenging, at best. But the remarkable growth of, and demand for, library services, the need for new technologies and newer, larger facilities inspired many association and municipal libraries to seek avenues for direct public tax support and direct public representation. In 1999 a tipping point was reached with the revision of Commissioner’s Regulation 90.3 to forbid the sale of library cards to residents of the library’s regional system and an allowance for regional systems to better address the inequities of requiring “free” access to those non-residents who did not contribute to the support of their own public library. This was a turning point for New York State, acknowledging that equitable access to library service was a priority for all New Yorkers, not just those who could pay out-of-pocket. When the New York State Board of Regents endorsed the “Public Library District Model” in 2000 the stage was set to encourage all public libraries in our state to be independent and truly “public”. Since then nearly 60 New York State libraries have been created or re-established as public library districts. Thousands of previously unserved residents now have their own library. Residents across regions are now contributing equitably towards local library service rather than bearing the burden for segments that had previously not contributed. And many more association libraries have obtained a direct public vote on their budget and on their trustees, and so have assured stable funding and representative governance for the years ahead.
The purpose of the Guide is to convey not only the technical aspects of stabilizing library funding and governance structures but, perhaps more importantly, the “lessons learned” over the past two decades by those trustees and library administrators who understand that they are responsible for the future of their institution, long after they are gone. The times we now live in demand such vision once again and it is our hope that this toolkit provides guidance and empowerment to help the library leaders of today ensure access to local library services for the communities of tomorrow.