Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rally to Preserve Library Funding

By Conor Greene

Scores of children, parents and local officials gathered on the steps of Queens Library in Flushing on Monday to draw attention to budget cuts the system is facing.

As a result of the city’s budget woes, Queens Libraries, along with libraries throughout the five boroughs, face devastating budget reductions. If all proposed cuts are enacted, six-day and even five-day service at many branches will be eliminated. To draw attention to this situation, library leaders have been holding rallies around the borough.

On Monday, hundreds including Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, Borough President Helen Marshall and members of the Queens Civic Congress gathered for a “Stand Up for Libraries Rally” at the Flushing branch on Main Street. “One of our nation’s most precious resources is access to books and educational material,” said Crowley (D-Middle Village). “It is simply outrageous to cut library hours… The library is a cornerstone of a quality education for any student.”

With the city and state facing huge budget deficits, Queens Library is facing a $13.9 million reduction in its funding. As a result, the majority of branches in Queens will likely be closed on weekends starting July 1. In addition, Queens Library’s staff will have to be reduced by 279 positions, or 24%.

“Our library system here in Queens is the busiest in the world and provides a multitude of services to America’s most diverse population. Today’s rally is aimed at focusing attention on the consequences of a proposed budget reduction of $17 million. Among other things, the library’s workforce would be reduced, every community library would be closed on weekends and building maintenance would be curtailed,” said Queens Borough President Helen Marshall.

Queens Library has the largest circulation of any library system in the country, serving about 2.2 million residents annually at 62 branches. In 2007, more than 450,000 people attended the free programs offered by the library on a variety of topics.

“This will essentially shut people out from library services,” said James Van Bramer, chief external affairs officer for Queens Library. “For the sake of our kids and our job seekers, the mayor needs to look at all citywide agencies and must first cut wasteful spending rather than cutting out hours for learning… That is not something that should be happening in a difficult economic time.”

Crowley noted that a significant number of residents in neighborhoods such as Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and Richmond Hill rely on library services. “Cutting library hours will have an economic impact on our community: professionals rely on Internet provided at libraries to do their work, and adults use the library’s resources to look for job opportunities.”

In April, Crowley rallied with second grade students and teachers from PS 87 to protest proposed cuts to weekend and extended hours. Later that month she wrote to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg urging them to find a way to keep the Queens libraries open. She is also fighting to secure millions of dollars in capital funding to upgrade library facilities. “For the sake of our kids and our job seekers, the Mayor needs to look at all citywide agencies and must first cut wasteful spending rather than cutting out hours for learning,” she said.

More than 60,000 residents have signed a petition supporting library funding, and another rally is planned for outside City Hall on May 28. The system has already endured about $5 million in budget cuts, forcing officials to eliminate the mobile book service and close the art gallery in the main branch in Jamaica.

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