A 2020 Vision for NYS Library Services

July 14, 2011 | News, Textbook Affordability

The New York State Board of Regents Advisory Council on Libraries has invited the library and education communities to discuss and answer the question “What’s Your Vision for New York’s Libraries in 2020?”.  Input and ideas will help inform the development of state policies and a new statewide plan for library services.

The following is the text of the response submitted by Curtis Kendrick, University Dean for Libraries and Information Resources.

For centuries New York has been a beacon of hope for those seeking expanded opportunities and better lives for their families.  And now, even as this migration continues for newcomers, all New Yorkers are finding the need to migrate to new modalities for employment, education, information, communication, interaction and entertainment.  What these new modalities have in common is that they increasingly rely on digital technology, and there are significant implications of this migration for libraries across all sectors in New York State.

Noted legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky has written that “an informed public is the greatest weapon of democracy.”  Over the next ten years the libraries in New York State need to become better positioned to arm our current and future citizens with the tools they need to compete effectively in a global marketplace for jobs, education, healthcare and prosperity.  We live in an age of information overabundance, but as we know, while information is ubiquitous, knowledge is less so, and wisdom rarer still.

Technology has led to the decentralization of authority for producing books, music, movies.  Individuals are creating their own content – wikis, blogs, YouTube videos etc.   As the band The Kinks noted, “There are stars in every city, in every house and on every street.”  Anyone can be an author or creator of content now as the barriers to entry are so low.   And with so many more creators, so much more information is being produced.  As the amount of available information multiplies, the problem of being able to find high quality, vetted information becomes magnified.  Add to that the array of technological devices that are introduced to the market place and it is no wonder that we are already suffering from information overload.  And it is about to get worse.  Predictions about how much data is produced every year vary, but there is marked consistency in reporting that these rates are accelerating dramatically.  If our citizens are challenged to keep pace now, one can imagine the severity of this problem by the year 2020.  We need to work now to pull together components, many of which are already in place, to develop a state-wide information infrastructure.

New York State has an opportunity through our network of libraries to build a comprehensive information services system.  Librarians are at the center of this comprehensive system, identifying high quality information resources, negotiating collaboratively with corporations to secure favorable pricing, working with the archival and museum communities to ensure perpetual access to our cultural legacy, and designing, developing and delivering high quality services with efficiency and economy.  As new technologies emerge, it is at our libraries where much of the public will first be able to experience the new tools.  And as new processes and procedures are developed for how to manage the coming information explosion, librarians, as was the case in the print-dominated world, are well positioned to be leaders in assessing needs and organizing new and more precise ways of accessing content and building bridges for our citizens to find precisely the information they need when they need it.

It is not sufficient any longer for librarians to simply guide people.  We also need to teach them how to become educated consumers and producers of information.  Librarians use the phrase information literacy, but it is really a form of critical thinking.  Teaching people how to find information, assess it and evaluate it, and use it legally and ethically is a daunting challenge, but one to which we must rise for New Yorkers to fulfill Thomas Jefferson’s vision that “an informed citizenry is the only true repository of the public will.”

Technology is also being utilized now to establish digital repositories where high quality content can be made available either instead of or in parallel with traditional distribution channels.  Were New York able to develop a state-wide digital repository it would lead to scale economies, reduced redundancies, and increased opportunities for collaboration across institutions.  Clearly there are many issues to resolve with such a transformation, but New York State can play a global leadership role in this transformation by drawing upon the skills and expertise of its librarian community.

Collaboration must be a key theme as we look forward over the next decade.  Across New York State our libraries have done an exemplary job of collaboration.  In the academic sector, the establishment of the New York State Higher Education Initiative (NYSHEI) has brought together academic libraries from both the public and private sectors.  NYSHEI has developed a concept for an Academic Research Information Access (ARIA) and has been encouraging the New York State Legislature to vote in favor of creating this legislation.  With full funding, ARIA would lead to State funding of $15 million towards high-end research resources.  The legislation currently before the Assembly and the Senate (S3736-2011/A5181-2011) includes the following:

The public and private academic and research libraries of New York individually license research and development information resources, access to which is vitally important to the furtherance of an innovation-based economy. The primary obstacles limiting access to these information resources both at institutions of higher education, and within the entrepreneurial community, are the high cost of licensing agreements and restrictive contracts that inhibit collaboration. New companies and emerging industries will be encouraged to locate their business in New York State adding to state revenues that are derived by the existence of such private and public sector commerce. Therefore, it is in the best interests of the economic development and higher education interests of this state to enact the academic research information access act.

The passage of the ARIA legislation would be beneficial to libraries and small businesses across New York State, and would be consistent with the development of the New York Comprehensive Information System proposed by State Librarian Bernard Margolis.

New York’s libraries are not waiting for the passage of the ARIA legislation to engage in deep collaboration.  In New York City, three leading institutions, Columbia University, New York University, and the New York Public Library have recently announced the Manhattan Research Library Initiative (MARLI).  Under the terms of this initiative scholars from any of the three institutions may borrow materials directly onsite at one of the partners.  Also in New York City, the library systems of The City University of New York and the Department of Education have launched a high school to college working group to help make the two systems more congruent.  At the state-wide level, many libraries are members of the Information Delivery Services project based at SUNY Geneseo. The goal of the IDS Project is to promote innovative resource-sharing strategies, policies and procedures that optimize mutual access to the information resources of all IDS Project libraries.[1] Additional support for the IDS Project would allow for even greater utilization of the vast resources, print and electronic, that are acquired by libraries in New York State.  In addition, state support for a physical delivery system to transport materials across the state would extend the benefit of a book purchased on Long Island being used by a community college student upstate in St. Lawrence County.

While these collaborations have much promise, there are obstacles to fuller collaboration as a result of New York State procurement practices.  The Regents Advisory Council on Libraries might consider advising the New York State Regents to advocate for streamlined procurement practices to facilitate joint procurements by entities such as CUNY, SUNY and the New York State Library.  There is an opportunity here for vast savings as a result of the leverage that could be brought to bear by working together in this fashion.

In summary then, the strategic plan for libraries in New York State over the next decade should include the following components:

  • Provide information literacy instruction across school, public and academic libraries
  • Advance the passage of the ARIA legislation
  • Support the IDS project including a statewide delivery system.
  • Work to streamline procurement practices in New York
  • Develop a state-wide digital repository to house and make available the rich array of materials being developed within the state

Read more about the Regents Advisory Council and the statewide plan.


[1] IDS Project Website consulted April 15, 2011: http://www.idsproject.org/About/AboutUs.aspx