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One Dollar Of State Investment That Delivers

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Senator Tom O'Mara

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Not long ago, I welcomed the opportunity to join local Assemblyman Phil Palmesano to announce a package of state grants to many of the region’s public libraries. These grants, we both have long agreed, are among New York State’s smartest and most effective investments. This specific funding is distributed through New York’s Library Construction Grant Program. 

The 2018-19 state budget increases funding for this vital program to $34 million. Overall, this year’s state budget is a strong one for libraries. Although Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed to cut state library aid this year, the Legislature rejected the governor’s cuts and, instead, increased funding. The final budget provides $96.6 million in state aid to libraries, including the $34-million investment in capital and construction aid. 

I have also worked over the past three years to secure additional funding totaling more than $380,000 that has been allocated to individual libraries comprising the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes Library Systems. A public library is a vital community resource. I’m hopeful these grants will help local libraries in the face of difficult fiscal challenges.

According to the New York State Library, which administers the construction grants, surveys have estimated that the cost of public library construction and renovation needs statewide totals more than $1.7 billion. More than 51% of the over 1,000 public library buildings across New York are over 60 years old. Another 33% are more than three decades old. Many of the state’s local public libraries are unable to accommodate users with disabilities, and cannot provide Internet, computer, and other electronic technologies to users because of outdated and inadequate electrical wiring. They also do not have sufficient space to house the library's collection and lack sufficient space for public access computers.

Construction grants are critical to the mission to help individual libraries and library systems make renovations and upgrades, update electrical wiring to accommodate computer technology, renovate facilities to provide wheelchair accessible entrances and become fully accessible to persons with disabilities, and provide community meeting spaces.

Three years ago, Assemblyman Palmesano and I sponsored a new law (Chapter 480 of the Laws of 2015) that, for the first time, included “installation and infrastructure of broadband services” as a specific project category eligible to receive funding through the Library Construction Grant Program. Prior to the law’s enactment, libraries were unable to access funding through the popular grant program specifically for broadband purposes including cable, wiring and modems, and network terminals and access points.

A public library is a fundamental resource for area families, seniors, and countless other community residents. We are always hopeful that these grants will help local libraries better afford and address their renovation needs. Public libraries, especially in many rural, upstate communities and regions, are New York’s leading digital literacy educators, just one of many vital community roles our libraries fulfill. This role is likely to expand in future years. These ongoing investments will help more and more public libraries stay ahead of the curve to continue meeting the increasing demand. 

In recent years, I have been particularly proud to receive the New York Library Association’s “Outstanding Advocate for Libraries Award” and to be one of only seven state senators to receive the “Library Champion Award” from New Yorkers for Better Libraries.

Most importantly, these recognitions are reflective of the strong commitment that’s needed in Albany for libraries – a commitment that must keep growing. It’s why I have been especially supportive of library aid, which is fundamental to helping libraries and library systems make renovations and upgrades to their facilities. Library aid is an investment in economic growth and workforce development, overall educational quality, and it produces a substantial return by making an enduring, positive difference for many local communities.

Here is the key fact from the state Education Department that makes the case: Every dollar invested in state library aid returns seven dollars in local library services

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