Students sitting in the parking lots at night to access internet for their homework. Senior citizens maintaining their health with fitness classes. Teenagers expressing themselves through musical jam sessions. New Americans improving their English through language classes.
These are all the different ways public libraries serve their local communities. And the more rural or economically disadvantaged a community is, the more its public library is essential for it to thrive. Now, those libraries will have access to more state funding as they improve their facilities to serve their communities, because of a new bill Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law Tuesday.
The legislation, sponsored by Assemblymember Didi Barrett, D-106, will fund up to 90 percent of certain public libraries’ construction, renovation or rehabilitation projects. Most of such projects in the targeted communities pertain to installing broadband or updating library buildings to be more ADA-compliant.
“The current structure, which the most generous had been a 75% match, was still very challenging to a lot of libraries in rural area and even in urban areas where the community is economically distressed,” Barrett said. “Libraries continue to function as major hubs in these communities...even though physically they could be in quite challenging circumstances.”
Public libraries applying for the grant have to prove their eligibility by demonstrating the lower economic status within their community with data such as poverty rates, number of English language learners and high school graduation rates. Those looking for more than 75% funding have to prove their service area’s poverty rate is the same or more than the state average poverty rate.
“Libraries are cornerstones of any community and great equalizers that provide resources and access to information to all New Yorkers, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how rich or poor they are,” Cuomo said in a press release.
The North Country is one of the areas in the state that depend on public libraries.
“They may not have a grocery store or gas station, but they still have a library,” said Susan Mitchell, director of the North County Library System.
“You never go into two libraries and think they’re doing the same thing,” Mitchell said. “It really depends on what community they serve.”
Creating children’s and teen spaces has been another focus for public libraries, especially as they try to reach out to emotionally vulnerable teenagers and give them with safe spaces.
And as the 2020 Census rollout nears, and state and federal governments are hoping to get more accurate representation electronically, public libraries are being depended on to provide broadband access to those who do not have internet.
Kinderhook’s library has recently wrapped up a major construction project, bringing in fiberoptics to improve internet speeds within the building, widening the rows between book stacks to create room for people with disabilites and constructing two handicapped-accessible bathrooms.
“Our libraries are aging and have needs for updates and expansions,” said AnnaLee Giraldo, director of the Kinderhook Memorial Library. “Those kinds of things are really important when you’re the only community space in town.”