Budget Woes Force Queens Library to Reduce Hours
By Conor Greene
Starting next month, fourteen Queens Library branches will only be open from Monday through Friday, with weekend hours eliminated due to budget constraints. The effected locations include Ridgewood, Kew Garden Hills, North Forest Park and Ozone Park.
According to a release issued by Queens Library, the decision was necessitated by reductions in city and state funding over the past two years. “Reducing service hours is a painful course of action,” said Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante. “Queens Library has been in a hiring freeze that began in 2008. At this time, we are forced to reduce our service schedules as our workforce has been reduced.”
The other libraries to be closed on weekends beginning February 1 are: Arverne, Astoria, Baisley Park, Court Square, East Elmhurst, Lefrak City, Queensboro Hill, South Hollis and Windsor Park. All other locations will maintain their current service levels, including from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays. In addition, Queens Library at Central in Jamaica is open on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. Many services are also available online at queenslibrary.org.
News of the service reductions didn’t sit well with local elected officials, some of whom successfully fought against a similar plan last spring. Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who represents Ridgewood, said that keeping educational services running effectively for families will be a top priority in the upcoming budget discussions.
”It is disappointing that the Queens Library – with the largest attendance in the country – has to suffer weekend hour reductions after the City Council worked tirelessly to restore funding to keep hours open and to provide much needed upgrades,” said Crowley, who led a rally in April in front of the North Forest Park branch as a result of planned reductions at that time. She also provided $800,000 in funding for renovations at the Ridgewood branch, which are currently in progress, along with $400,000 for upgrades at the Glendale branch.
Jimmy Van Bramer, who served as the library’s director of external affairs before winning November’s election to represent the 26th District on City Council, echoed the sentiment that the reductions are not acceptable. “I have long been an advocate for strong, well-funded neighborhood libraries,” said Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). “It is unacceptable for any library to close and I will work tirelessly with my colleagues and the Queens Library to enhance library services all across my district.”
In the Ozone Park area, Councilman Eric Ulrich agreed that the hour reductions are disappointing. However, he said residents must be realistic given the economic climate and should be prepared for further budget cuts that could impact a variety of city services. He noted that one branch was picked from every City Council district and reminded residents they can travel to other local branches such as Howard Beach or Richmond Hill for Saturday service.
“I’m very disappointed, however I do believe this is just a sign of the times,” said Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who recently provided $1 million for capital improvements at the Ozone Park, Howard Beach and Broad Channel branches. “While we certainly want every library to be open six days a week, given the economic situation the city and state is currently in, it is just not feasible or sustainable to keep every library open six days a week… We have to make very difficult decisions, and these are not decisions that people are going to be happy with but will have to accept them because of the position we’re in.”
Queens Library is an independent, not-for-profit corporation serving a population of 2.2 million residents. With a record 23 million items in circulation for fiscal year 2009, the library has the highest circulation of any public library system in the nation and one of the highest in the world. For details, visit queenslibrary.org or call (718) 990-0700.