The Friends of the New York State Library arose when the library was at its most desperate.
It was 1993. The library had been around since 1818, and the State Legislature had supported it with over $300 million in the nearly two centuries of its existence. After the Capital fire in 1911, they appropriated $1 million (a lot of money at the time) to replace and strengthen the library’s collection.
But this year was different. This year, the Legislature and Governor Mario Cuomo proposed a budget for 1993-1994 that eliminated the library’s acquisition budget entirely. Fred LeBrun, a writer for the Albany Times Union reported on this phenomenon in an article on April 2, 1993, noting the damage that the reductions would have on the library’s services. On April 5, 1993, he asks, “Where are the effective advocates for growth? Who are the noisy champions?”
These “advocates for growth” and “noisy champions” were soon to appear. Several proactive friends of the Library stood up to inject new energy into the Library’s advocacy efforts.
The original committee of friends included Morris Moses, a retired engineer and author, and Helen V. Collard, retired from the State Library serving as co-treasurers; William F. Kennedy, Pulitzer-Prize winning author as honorary chair; and Richard V. Halsey, Professor at the University at Albany serving as chair of the organizing group (predecessor to the Governing Board).
As advocates for the library, this committee helped restore $500,000 to the acquisitions budget that year.
In August of 1994, the Committee developed into a formal organization, and in 1996 the first Annual Meeting was held where officers were elected to the Governing Board. Since its inception, the Governing Board has met regularly, continued to advocate for the Library’s needs, sponsored public programs, and in partnership with the State Library, published a quarterly newsletter, the New York State Library News. However, it wasn’t until November of 1997 that their present name was adopted: The Friends of the New York State Library. On February 10, 1998, the New York Department of State incorporated their non-profit organization, and The Friends were born.
Recent special projects include raising money to match a “Save America’s Treasures” grant for the conservation of the State Library’s Van Rensselear Manor Papers, funding the preservation and framing of the ca. 1632 Van Scheyndel map of Rensslaerswijck, and cosponsoring the Joseph F. Shubert Library Excellence Award. The Friends continually work in cooperation with the New York State Library to inform the public, the Governor, the Legislature, the Board of Regents, and others about the Library’s accomplishments as well as the resources needed to ensure that the State Library can continue to serve the government and people of the state.