EDITORIAL: Where did you hear that?

TIME TO GO HOME. But the phone was ringing. The young woman demanded to know if I realized our newspaper boxes were spilling papers out all over the streets of the city. She sounded upset.
“Wait, wait, we don’t have boxes,” I said. She wasn’t listening. “You’re ruining Vancouver,” she said.
“Wha? I’m in Columbia County New York,” I said.
“Oh, that’s not near British Columbia, eh?” she said. “I Googled you. Sorryeeeeee….”
Mistakes happen, but the call, which came in this week, reminded me who I’d turn to if I wanted to judge whether a newspaper in Columbia County might have readers on the west coast of Canada. Sure, Wikipedia will dump all sorts of alleged facts on you, but why would someone like my caller, who misread her own online search results, benefit from having still more data?
There are people who know how to sift through our data smog and guide us to the best sources of knowledge available. They’re called librarians, and the ones who run our best libraries have advanced degrees, usually in a field called information science. Folks who snicker when they hear the connection made between science and library professionals don’t grasp a central fact of the digital age: if you can’t find the information you need, what good is it?
We have some great libraries in this county. They literally sing these days, with performances and programs of all sorts. They’ve expanded far beyond the traditional role of providing reading materials, allowing people to connect with the rest of the digital world in this woefully under-wired county. By adapting to the times they have and become more essential than ever to the survival of our communities. And though local support has grown, the state has lagged behind.
Last month the governor issued his executive budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins April 1. And so far it’s easy to see why 70% or more of voters in the state approve of the job Mr. Cuomo is doing. Without gimmicks or new taxes he is proposing to reduce overall government spending and redirect funds where they will do more good. Just look at schools.
After recent rounds of painful budget cuts, school districts will see small increases in state aid in the new budget. The percentages range from as little as 0.22% for the Ichabod Crane Central School District to as much as 3.84% for New Lebanon. Though the amounts are meager, the trend is right.
Like schools, libraries are governed by the state Board of Regents. Those that have taxing authority are subject to the 2% property tax cap and they serve the whole community regardless of ability to pay. But unlike schools, you never hit an arbitrary age when you can’t use the library anymore.
Yet while schools will get a little bit more of our state tax money, libraries, which cost only a tiny fraction of what goes to schools, get no bump at all. That might not sound like such a terrible thing given the state of the economy, except that state support for libraries has shrunk 23% since 2007, according to the New York Library Association. We want and need 21st century library service, and the state wants it at a 20th century cost. You don’t need a library scientist to tell you the math doesn’t work.
Most of the money the state sets aside for libraries helps fund library systems like the Mid-Hudson System, which provides essential services to all Columbia County libraries. No communities in this county could afford to replace the interlibrary loan program, the computer systems or the other services that the system delivers year round. Only the state can sustain them.
Libraries get shortchanged because they lack political clout. They don’t have big lobbying money to buy friends in the capital and they don’t cost enough to make lawmakers pay attention. They have to rely on is our voices speaking on their behalf. Library supporters will make their needs known to lawmakers on March 6. Ask at the library about joining the effort in Albany. If you can’t go that day, write or email your assemblyman, Senator Steve Saland and Governor Cuomo. Remind them that libraries need at least the same rate of increase that schools receive.
The governor is popular in most quarters for good reason. But do you know the state issue that rivals Mr. Cuomo in popularity? No need to Google it; the answer is more money for libraries.

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