Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State

cover, print version of Trustees Handbook

Creating the Future: a 2020 Vision and Plan for Library Service in New York State; Excerpts Relating to Public Libraries


In April 2010, the New York State Board of Regents challenged the library community to rethink the State’s vast array of library services to ensure that they are aligned with modern expectations and the expanded functions needed in today’s society, operate with improved efficiency, and are prepared for the future as an essential and vibrant part of the State’s educational infrastructure.

Working through the Regents Advisory Council, library users, trustees, and staff have spoken out with regard to their libraries, offering not only affirmation of the importance of libraries, but also numerous suggestions for progress and models of success.

Libraries – An Investment in Our Future

Libraries provide the physical and virtual spaces that are an integral part of an overarching system that provides continuous opportunities for learning from birth to senior age. By offering all New Yorkers the opportunity to acquire the knowledge they need to be informed and engaged participants in an open democracy, libraries empower individuals.  Library “profit” is demonstrated through both the promotion of economic enterprise and the social return on investment. 

Libraries continue to undergo tremendous transition as they move to virtual services in response to changes in technology and the expectations of their patrons, and as they facilitate not only the use of existing information, but also production of new information through online communities and efforts to preserve local history.

One significant change is the increasing convergence among traditionally different types of libraries in the services they offer. Such convergence includes online access to digital resources, the re-tasking of library space, the need for staff skilled in virtual librarianship and collaborative learning, as well as more customary types of service.

Because of the continuing centrality, complexity and diversity of today's knowledge creation and information distribution environments, it is important that our students and residents be equipped with both print and digital literacy skills -- how to find, evaluate, and effectively use information from a variety of sources and formats. Literacy – and in particular digital literacy -- lies at the heart of the mission of all libraries.

Regardless of the many levels of technological change, libraries remain the embodiment of Americans’ “right to educate themselves,” a critical necessity in a knowledge economy where everyone must relentlessly improve their skills throughout their lifetime. The library is what makes lifelong learning for all residents both possible and practical, including, and perhaps especially, for those with special challenges such as the disabled, homeless and economically disadvantaged. People unable to respond to new challenges and invest in their own abilities are likely to become an economic liability, unable to participate fully in society.

Libraries continue to represent a community investment in a vision of a better tomorrow through sharing information, knowledge and, hopefully, wisdom. They are the repositories for the collective memory of our communities, our state, and our nation, and offer us an institution that reflects the American dream of self-help and equity.

Today’s libraries are busier and more vibrant than ever because of, not in spite of, the dramatic impact of digital technology. But even though they have a well-established and well-respected brand, libraries suffer from outdated public attitudes based on misperceptions that are limited to their traditional roles, stereotypes and the constant assault of competing commercial information providers.

Universal Recommendations – For All Libraries

The themes of Access, Information Literacy and Sustainability are woven through all libraries in our state and nation. Though each serves its unique community, all share these values.

Models for Success:

Over six decades ago the State of New York outlined its vision for universal access to information for all residents through its creation of library systems.  This remarkably successful model has evolved to embrace nearly all the libraries within our state, creating a framework and foundation for the fulfillment of this dream.  The notion that any and every child or adult may follow their curiosity to its fullest extent, accessing resources from around the world, is today a reality for most, but not all, of our state’s residents.  Vibrant libraries of all types, enjoying the robust support of their community or constituency and working in partnership with their library system and its collaborative systems are able to bring these resources into their communities. We have the potential to fulfill this vision for all.


To assure that tomorrow’s libraries continue to be a vibrant and vital part of all New Yorkers’ lifelong learning experience, all libraries must:

  • Improve the marketing of library services to all clientele and communities by rebranding libraries while addressing the erroneous perceptions about the need for libraries in a digital world. (1)
  • Develop better tools for advocacy, and identify library champions at all levels of governance: university and school boards, town and city management, State Education Department, Board of Regents, New York State Legislature and Executive branch. (2)
  • Collaborate to integrate services and collections of all types of libraries while developing a transparent and seamless world of library services that are ubiquitous and instantaneous, yet personalized and flexible, serving all ages and needs. (3)
  • Seek operational and cost efficiencies in light of technological opportunities, energy efficient facilities, and online service delivery methods. (4)
  • Develop economic justifications for the investments that governments, communities, individuals and philanthropic organizations are asked to make in libraries, and enhance the role of libraries as economic drivers for their communities. (5)
  • Recruit technologically savvy staff and train current staff in virtual librarianship while influencing higher education to appropriately educate tomorrow’s service providers. (6)
  • Function at the front lines of e-resources (including e-books) purchasing, licensing, digital rights management, digital curation, resource-sharing, and preservation; and advocate for the delivery of open content as embodied in initiatives such as the Digital Public Library of America or the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities. (7)
  • Actively address issues concerning the privatization of information and its impact on traditional models of library services, defending residents’ rights to free access, free lending and the inter-sharing of materials among libraries. (8)
  • Create collaborative partnerships with all cultural and educational organizations in the state to offer our residents the most comprehensive educational opportunities available anywhere in the world. (9)

Public Libraries

Public libraries provide services that cannot be replicated elsewhere. They provide residents the right to free and equal access to information, a right now under duress with the development of commercial information services.  Some of these commercial services are free but of questionable quality; others of high quality but high price; and others are comprised of collections that are no longer owned, but rented. Libraries provide a guide through such a maze of misinformation for the average citizen. They are a beginning point for early childhood literacy, a center for each community’s history and culture, a key to the American dream for immigrants, and much more. The public values its libraries as a meeting place, a community center, and a learning place.  Residents desire more business hours; more traditional resources such as children’s programs and print books; and more e-resources such as electronic books.

Public libraries are also digital knowledge centers for communities, ensuring residents’ equal access to technology. This is especially true as the state transitions to e-government and many residents do not have access to the computers and broadband connectivity.  In many areas, especially rural areas, the public library is the only source of broadband internet connectivity for the entire community.

The quality of public library service remains unequal across the state. Reasons for this include community wealth, legal structure and lack of political support.

Models for Success:

Public libraries reflect the highest ideals of the communities they serve. The best public libraries are places where the love of learning is instilled at the youngest age and intellectual curiosity encouraged for all. They provide a path to navigate life’s challenges and help new Americans assimilate. As community centers they actively encourage civic engagement and cultural awareness while remembering the past by the preservation of community history. They actively strive to provide access to their facilities and their resources to all residents, especially for those who are physically or mentally disabled, economically disadvantaged or otherwise facing unique challenges in today’s competitive world.  Their success is grounded in their basis as a truly democratic institution, governed and supported by the people they serve.


The Board of Regents and State Education Department should formulate policy and support initiatives that will encourage:

  • The further proliferation of the Regents’ Public Library District Model to enable all public libraries to become fully funded and governed through citizen participation and public vote. (23)
  • All public libraries to proactively create and collect local content and serve as a catalyst for civic engagement to promote civil discourse and confront society’s most difficult problems. (24)
  • Collaboration with other libraries and community organizations to develop seamless information literacy initiatives, promote cultural understanding and protect local historical and cultural treasures. (25)
  • Support state and national digital literacy learning initiatives providing this 21st century skill to people of all walks of life, not just those enrolled in schools and colleges.  (26)
  • The provision of robust early childhood education programs and the provision of homework assistance as a core service; the alignment of outreach services with societal priorities, such as teen services and gang prevention. (27)
  • The provision of full access to library services by people with disabilities, including accessible buildings, homebound services, and assistive technology.  (28)
  • Investment in public library facilities in order to be able to respond to the changing needs of communities -- rewiring of older buildings, creation of larger meeting spaces and small meeting rooms, flexible storage solutions so that libraries can adjust as print to e-format ratios change and energy efficiency improvements to keep operating costs down. (29)

The full report: Creating the Future: a 2020 Vision Plan for Library Service in New York State; Recommendations of the New York State Regents Advisory Council on Libraries to the New York State Board of Regents

Last Updated: September 24, 2019