Spring 2007

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President's Memo

By Norman J. Jacknis, NYSALB President

Spring 2007 issue of Trustee

NYSALB has had a decades-old rule that imposes a limit on the terms anyone can serve.  This May at the Trustee Institute, the limit on my term as a director of NYSALB and as President will be reached.  So this is my last President’s column for the Trustee.

I will still be active in the library community as a member of the “three Rs” council in my area, the library system, my local library and the Regents Advisory Council on Libraries.  But the end of my leadership role in NYSALB is the kind of event that leads one to reflection.

There have been three trends over the last several years, none of which is going away any time soon.
First is the changing legal and political status of our libraries.  In the past, many boards just kept things going relatively quietly. Many were association libraries, like mine, which had been especially able to keep out of the public eye.

Now we can no longer do this.  We are more involved in controversies, such as Internet filtering.  Library services now are dependent upon funding from both local and state officials or even direct public votes on our budgets.  The result is that trustees face increased public exposure and the requisite need for leadership and political skills.

Yet, this is not what many long time trustees thought they were getting into.  Many – although a decreasing number of – trustees feel uncomfortable in this more public role.

Second is the impact of technology.  Clearly all aspects of our lives have been affected by the increased use of communications and information technology.  But our libraries have especially been impacted.  We’re seeing our patrons look to libraries for Internet access and assistance with Internet access.  An increasingly larger portion of new purchases are for media other than printed books.

Again, many – although hopefully a decreasing number of – trustees feel uncomfortable with the new technologies and the issues that are introduced along with these technologies. 

And we are still in the early stages.  Over the next few decades, there will be intellectual property issues that will affect the budgets and legal liabilities of libraries which awhile ago lived in the more certain world of “fair use” of copyrighted material, mostly printed books.

Even the technology that libraries will start to use in the near future, such as Wi-Fi access and RFID tags on books, may raise concerns about privacy among our patrons.

The third trend, which is not so new, is the continuing “ups and downs” of library funding.  After years of relative drought at the State level, last year things improved and this year they look even better.  But the ups and downs have made planning for library services more difficult.  This chaotic situation will only improve when there is some consistent, predictable funding for the whole network of library services from the State library, to the 3Rs, to the systems to your individual library.

The common denominator among these issues is the ability – or lack of ability – of library trustees to change with a changing library world.  In part, this is why NYSALB has put such emphasis on training of trustees, so we can learn how to deal with these trends more successfully.  In part, this is why NYSALB even exists, so that library trustees can learn from each other and also speak with a stronger voice for their concerns.   It really is the collective wisdom of library trustees all over the state that is valuable – which is why NYSALB has worked so hard to create various ways for trustees to share their wisdom with each other.

And, in part, library boards will need to keep this changing and challenging environment in mind as new trustees are selected or elected.  We often hear about the need for diversity and new blood on library boards.  The focus is usually about diversity of ethnic groups on the boards, which is certainly needed as we serve a diverse public.  But, considering the changing and challenging environment we face, diversity on our boards needs also to be extended to those – including younger people – who have the skills and temperament to address these long term challenges.
Many boards have begun doing this already, which brings me back to a personal reflection.  Although I’ve always been an avid reader and user of library services, it was skills in technology that was the motivation of those who asked me to first become a trustee.  I’ve obviously gone on to greater involvement in the library world and, I hope, help make my contribution to our common understanding of the issues we face.

I thank you for the opportunity to do so during my years with NYSALB.  I wish all of you even greater success for your libraries in the future and continued fulfillment in your role as trustee. 


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