Thursday, April 9, 2009

Students Rally Against Library Cuts

Weekend Service Threatened by Budget Woes

By Conor Greene

Chanting “No more budget cuts” and “save our libraries,” dozens of second graders from PS 87 rallied in front of the North Forest Park branch of Queens Library on Tuesday to bring attention to huge cuts the system is facing.

With the city and state facing huge budget deficits, Queens Library is facing a $13.9million 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%.

“The weekend is for many people the only time they can use the library,” said James Van Bramer, chief external affairs officer. “This will essentially shut people out from library services.”

About 55 students and their teachers marched along the sidewalk in front of the North Forest Park branch on Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills, holding signs urging officials to find a way to fund the libraries. They were joined at the rally by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who called access to books and educational materials “one of our nation’s most valuable resources.”

“Cutting library hours, especially on weekends, will significantly diminish the learning experience for students and community members,” said Crowley. “Where will students go after school when their parents are still at work? We need libraries to be open after school so students can do their homework and conduct research.”

The councilwoman told the students, who planned the rally after learning about democracy and the right to protest, that they “were making a difference” and helping residents of all ages by drawing attention to the budget cuts. “I’m so proud of you today and will tell the mayor how important it is to keep the library open… We all need libraries,” she said.

Crowley and Van Bramer noted that it is particularly difficult on residents to have library services cut during such a poor economic climate. “Libraries are also important for adults, especially those looking for job opportunities,” said Crowley.

“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.” Van Bramer said the cuts will prevent the library system “from serving the people of Queens the way we need to… That is not something that should be happening in a difficult economic time.”

As the July 1 deadline approaches, Queens Library officials plan to continue spreading word of the impending service cuts. “We’re working hard to advocate the restoration of the funding,” said Van Bramer. However, a problem they are facing is that “people become immune” to the threat of budget cuts and assume it’s just political posturing. “My concern is that people realize this time that it’s for real. We could face some drastic cuts,” he said.

Queens Library serves about 2.2 million residents annually at 62 branches. It also offers services at seven learning centers and two family literacy centers. In 2007, more than 450,000 people attended the free programs offered by the library on a variety of topics.

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