MHLS Home Trustee Resources: Across the Board
The Future of the System
Winter 2009

Across the Board | Winter 2009 | Topic: The Future of the System
The Mid-Hudson Library System's Quarterly Newsletter for Public Library Trustees

1998 2008 Percent Change
Visits 2,602,496 3,677,785 41.32%
Average Building Size 2,361 5,671 140.19%
Reference 499,127 743,460 48.95%
Circulation 2,711,946 4,209,742 55.23%
Program Attendance 161,808 280,557 73.39%
Receipts: Tax Dollars 8,194,229 19,587,520 139.04%
Receipts: Total 11,809,172 24,782,364 109.86%

Where we were
Before looking at the future, let's look at where we have been. The table above shows changes between 1998-2008. We have seen dramatic increases in average building size, funding for member libraries and major increases in three main services: reference, circulation and programming. Technology has experienced enormous change as well. In 1998 we were on a text-based GEAC library system with less than half of the member libraries online. We had no online catalog, had not enabled patron-placed holds, and there was no remote access to databases. Since then, libraries have added public access computing, high-speed internet connectivity, and virtual branch capabilities through their web sites to their menu of basic services.

Where we are now
In 2009, over two-thirds of our libraries have stable funding from winning public votes, 40% of libraries have expanded their buildings in the last ten years, and three more are currently under construction with more projects on the way.

At the Directors Retreat in September 2009, background on the formation of the System, the legal requirements, and the funding were discussed to create a shared knowledge base for directors. Afterwards the group worked to identify the role the System has played in their libraries over the last ten years. Number one, not unexpectedly, was delivery and holds, as well as Millennium (the automated circulation system.) Close behind the resource sharing tools were the MHLS consultations on planning, facilities, legal issues and the "rant, rave and cry" for Boards and Directors. The MHLS Continuing Education program was also rated highly, including work the System has done in the area of Board development. When asked about the role the system has played terms like "Facilitator," "Catalyst," "Guide," "Coordinator," "Educator," "Advocate," and "Supporter' were used.

Our dramatic success in building quality library service in our area has been the result of the partnership forged between the System and member libraries, supporting each other and incorporating new ideas and technology while maintaining a high commitment to the traditional services our communities have come to expect from us.

The Future
The economic downturn has only accelerated the trend towards increased library usage.

This suggests a robust future for libraries, which triggers the need for continued growth in staff expertise, technology and space. For libraries to meet these challenges boards must plan for growth, including more and better-trained staff, increased bandwidth and technology support, and more diverse programming. Regular budget increases are essential to meeting these demands.

For the System, supporting libraries will continue to require automation support, more delivery, more continuing education, and more support for innovation. Unfortunately, unlike the 109% increase in libraries' receipts during 1998-2008 , System aid only increased just 19% - inflation for that period was 32% - leaving the System budget several hundred thousand dollars below what it should be merely to maintain the 1998 level of service. The growth in delivery service alone more than negates our 19% increase.

There are only two sources of stable funding for the System: New York State and member libraries. In 2010 members will begin contributing to the System operating budget using a formula devised by the System Funding Task Force. Recognizing that the state will most likely be unable to meet its financial obligation to the System, the Funding Task Force is examining the System model. The intention is that by the end of 2010 a process will be in place to consider what services the System should be providing and how to increase fees, if necessary. Questions that need to be addressed include:

As a starting point for these questions, we have invited five System directors from around the state to explain how their systems make decisions about service and how they fund them. The results of this discussion should create some direction for our System's future. After that, we will vet the results to the directors and member library boards. Although the cause of this process is unpleasant - the funding shortfall - the examination is a valuable one. For fifty years, we have been working to build resource sharing and improve libraries. Over the last ten years we have seen all of our libraries grow and, thanks to Request-a-Title, experience increased use.

Now we must find ways to continue supporting resource sharing at a time when many more resources are available and technology is changing rapidly. We must find ways to support library growth at a time when libraries are experiencing increased usage that requires more space, hours, staff and transparency. The model we hope to have in place by 2012 will address this, making it possible for all residents of the Mid-Hudson Valley to have access to quality library service.

Ideas for 2010
If you are true to your mission, we believe you will come out stronger as the economy improves, and your community will remember that you were there when it mattered.
-2009 MHLS Advanced Trustee Session

Libraries have not only survived but thrived in 2009. Trustees in attendance at the 2009 MHLS Advanced Trustee Education Series, "How to Deal with the Economic Situation," shared that they are seeing increased usage of their libraries on all fronts - new library cards, computer usage, and program attendance. More people are recognizing the value of libraries and making use of them. We see tremendous opportunity for libraries to build their base of support in their communities in 2010.

Strategies, Tips & Opportunities:

  1. Convert "new faces" into "regular users."
    Idea: Create a New Patron Package to connect new people with all they can do at your library.
  2. Adjust policy to accommodate patron needs.
    Idea: Extend computer usage time for job seekers.
  3. Learn about changes in patron behavior from your frontline staff.
    Idea: If patrons report cutting back on DVD rentals or their Internet connection to save money at home, be sure to publicize the availability of those items at the library throughout the community.
  4. Find out what's going on in your community.
    Idea: Create a "Community Taskforce" to get firsthand accounts of how the tough economy is impacting people locally.
  5. Talk to legislators at all levels of government.
    Idea: Invite local legislators in for a tour of the library, have patrons there to tell them how important the library is to them in these tough times.
  6. Conduct a PR Audit.
    Idea: Use the same slogan on everything - "Your Library in Tough Times: Here to Help"
  7. Use your newsletter and enewsletter to drive home the message.
    Idea(s): Reminders about basic services that save household dollars; underlying message of director or board president's article; first-hand story from a patron about finding a job using the libraries computers; "5 Ways to Save at Your Library" from the MHLS Spring 2009 Across the Board.
  8. Program Partnerships
    Idea: Partner with the county Office of the Aging or local Cooperative Extension to bring programs to the library about living well and eating well on a fixed income. Or host a program at the local Farmer's Market!
  9. Cut energy costs.
    Idea: Book an energy audit through NYSERDA ($100) []. Borrow the thermal leak detector or Kill-a-Watt detector from MHLS by contacting Rebekkah at or 845.471.6060 ext. 239 to book this equipment for use at your library.
  10. Prepare talking points for the Board, Friends and Staff.
    For example: Libraries are the #1 point of Internet access for those who do not have it at home.
    Why is this significant? In 2006, only 44 percent of the top 100 U.S. retailers accepted in-store paper job applications.
    [Source: Advocating in a Tough Economy Toolkit, American Library Association]


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