A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

Children are back to school and trying to adjust, in many cases, to online learning and other challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the educational resources available at our local schools, our public libraries are also key to helping develop well-rounded, successful students. A trip, virtual or in person, to the local library may be on the horizon.

A very important advisory – before visiting your local library, be sure and call ahead or check online regarding updated policies. Due to the pandemic, many libraries are operating by appointment only or have other restrictions in place.

September is Library Card Sign-up Month, a time to make sure that all children have the smartest card of all – a library card. Observed since 1987, Library Card Sign-up Month is a time when the American Library Association (ALA) and libraries across the country remind parents that a library card is the most important school supply of all.

Library cards are generally free to those living in the library’s service area. Some libraries may require some form of identification, proof of residency or the signature of a guardian. In most cases, borrowing privileges are granted on the spot.

As soon as you set foot inside a library, there is a feeling that anything is possible. Our local libraries provide genuine connections to the past, and in many cases, they are among the oldest buildings in our communities. They also offer a gateway to the future, providing users young and old with essential learning tools.

According to the American Library Association, libraries play an important role in the education and development of children. Studies show that children who are read to in the home and who use the library perform better in school and are more likely to continue to use the library as a source of lifetime learning.

Libraries have evolved a great deal over the years to continue to meet community needs, especially in the rural areas I represent. Electronic lending has skyrocketed and many people utilize the Internet at their local library to job search or catch up on news from around the globe. Others stop by to research their family trees or simply enjoy some quiet time with a good book. The library is also a gathering place where a vast array of education programs and other events are always available.

In our rural areas, libraries truly are community centers, serving as the hubs for countless activities. Each has developed its own special programs for families and children that entertain and educate, helping foster lifelong readers. In short, a lot is happening at your local library, and the best part is that it is all free with a library card.

During my time in the New York State Senate, I have advocated for state grants to help maintain and renovate our local libraries. Assisting libraries with state funds takes the burden off local taxpayers while preserving and improving these valuable resources for generations to come.

Public library construction grants help local libraries and library systems construct new library buildings, create additions to existing structures, update electrical wiring to accommodate computer technology, meet standards of energy efficiency, renovate facilities to provide full accessibility to library users with disabilities and provide meeting rooms to accommodate community needs. New furniture, shelving, and equipment, including computer equipment, can be purchased for new or newly reconfigured or renovated space. Renovations designed to provide accessibility for those with disabilities are a high priority. Broadband infrastructure projects are also eligible.

Unfortunately, due to fiscal issues state aid for libraries was cut slightly in this year’s state budget. I am hopeful that our revenue picture will improve quickly and funding for libraries will be restored in the next fiscal year. New York’s public libraries are aging, with more than half of the buildings across the state over sixty years old, and in urgent need of renovation and upgrading.