Friday, December 10, 2010

Library Collaborations in New York State

Yesterday I was invited to attend a Public Policy and Advocacy Summit for the Academic and Research Library Community hosted by the New York State Higher Education initiative (NYSHEI). This is the 2nd annual meeting of the group and I commend Jason Kramer, Executive Director, for leading this initiative to coordinate efforts across organizations. Representatives from 21 entities attended, including state, private and non-profit concerns. The group came together with no formal agenda, and each party was given the opportunity to talk about policy and advocacy issues in their particular sphere of influence. I left the meeting feeling grateful to be an independent 501(c)(3) and not bogged down by the bureaucracy of state policies and procedures! Here's the conundrum state funded libraries and institutions in NY are facing.

First, as might be expected, the state of the economy means potentially enormous budget cuts for state-funded libraries. In New York, the state comptroller, Thomas Dinapoli, quoted the current deficit at nearly one billion dollars (as of mid-Nov., 2010). So of course some efficiencies need to be explored. Belts need to be tightened. Effective collaboration is one key tool in efforts to cut costs and reduce redundancies. And at no time in my tenure as a consortium leader have a I seen the climate so receptive to collaborative efforts as it is today. People realize that the status quo simply can't hold. The attendees at yesterday's summit are the leaders in the library community in NYS, and clearly have the will to collaborate. But procurement policies imposed by the state seriously hinder their ability to do so. I'm not up on the specifics of those policies but from what I could glean from the meeting, expenditures at different dollar amounts trigger different, and increasingly stringent, levels of scrutiny. The dollar amounts quoted represent fairly typical expenditures for library acquisitions. However, the procurement procedures bog down library expenditures to the point that the libraries are unable to be responsive to opportunities for collaboration when they arise. This really puts these libraries in a catch-22 situation. Their funding is cut, they identify viable solutions through collaboration, but they are unable to respond in a timely manner due to procurement policies, which makes them unattractive partners for collaboration!

The group identified this as a major stumbling block and therefore a key area for advocacy efforts. I'll report back on the results of their important work in the coming months.

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