New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan and the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library are calling on New York State to reverse course on proposed cuts totaling $25 million in funding for public libraries.
Speaking Friday at a press conference at the Kenmore Branch Library, Ryan and B&ECPL Director Mary Jean Jakubowski said the funding cuts proposed in the Executive Budget for 2020-21 would be especially damaging in a Census year.
“This year, the Census is aspiring to go online as much possible, but we know with the digital divide, that’s going to be a problem,” Ryan said. “Into the breach steps our library systems.”
A 2018 Census report found that internet penetration rates are as low as 36% in some parts of Buffalo. Analysis by The Buffalo News also found that the city has some of the slowest internet speeds in the country. Ryan said libraries are a critical counterweight to those trends and that they continue to evolve to stay relevant.
“It wasn’t too long ago we were having this conversation of, you know, ‘Is there a spot for libraries in our modern age with digital books and Kindle readers?’ But it turns out that library attendance is higher than it’s ever been.”
Still, the proposed state budget includes a $20 million cut to Library Construction Aid and $5 million cut to Library State Aid, or operating costs.
Jakubowski said if the budget were implemented as currently outlined, the effect to B&ECPL’s operating costs would be about $152,000.
“That’s the equivalent of the operations of some of our smaller libraries, so clearly there would be a significant impact,” she said. “We would look and find ways to absorb those impacts but I don’t think we should, and I don’t think our communities deserve to have the funding cut.”
As for the other larger pool of money at stake, Jakubowski said her system alone has about $120 million in critical construction projects to complete over the next five years.
Ryan, who serves as chair of the Assembly’s Libraries and Education Technology Committee, said he’s submitting a counter proposal for his house’s budget that would restore the cuts and include an additional $17 million for the state’s public libraries.
The final state budget is expected to be passed by April 1.