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Public Library District Toolkit: Strategies to Assure your Library’s Legal and Financial Stability

Introduction: Ensuring your Library’s Future

"It is the library board who is accountable to the local community for obtaining sufficient funding to provide appropriate public library services; both for the present and well into the future. Public libraries demonstrate a community’s commitment to a better tomorrow, and it is the trustees’ responsibility to assure that their library will be a strong and viable institution for their children and grandchildren. A public library is a public service and secure, reliable public funding is the most appropriate way to pay for it. A public library is not a charity!"

-Handbook for Library Trustees in New York State, 2018.

Every public library trustee has the responsibility to not only oversee the provision of quality library service to their community today, but to provide for viable and vibrant services in the decades ahead. The recent challenges faced by our world, our country and our communities must be recognized as a wake-up call for all institutions to re-examine how they do business to ensure their sustainability.

Public libraries are more than their buildings, collections, staff and trustees- they are institutions that embody the ideal that everyone is entitled to free, unencumbered access to information, education and culture; in whatever format or manner that best serves them. They embody the belief that well informed citizens are the foundation of a democratic society and that it is a library board’s mission to strengthen that foundation. They provide the platform to strengthen community resilience, bridging divides to increase empathy, understanding and respect for one another.

But despite the best intentions of dedicated trustees, their library will wither and die without sufficient resources. It is your primary task as a trustee to assure that your Library can offer a relevant, responsive and investment-worthy public library service program well into the 21st century.

This may well involve significant compromise and change. It may require you to transform the legal structure under which your library has operated for over a century, and to hold your library to higher legal standards. In some cases it may require giving up some independence and joining with your neighbors to serve several communities; and to serve them well. And sometimes it will require you, as a trustee, to step aside for the long term good of the institution.

Every public library in New York State is required under the Minimum Standards of Service for Public Libraries adopted by the Board of Regents to develop a community-based long range plan and re-evaluate it on a regular basis. Among other objectives, such plans must provide strategies for the library to have a sustainable and resilient governance and a financial foundation for today and for the future.

The purpose of this guide is to assist libraries in the exploration of their options to stabilize their library’s future using strategies that have a proven track record to provide such a foundation for many of the public libraries in our state. This guide explains the various options available and provides information on the steps necessary.